I’ve written at length about the “games as a service” model before, wherein video games are continually updated with new content every few months. One of the longest-running examples would be World of Warcraft, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game initially released in 2004 that continues to receive content updates to this day. Games like WoW and Eve Online pioneered the space with their subscription-based sales model.
Such titles were popular with hardcore computer gamers, but had little appeal to more casual players. In recent years, games like Fortnite and Destiny have managed to introduce tens of millions of gamers to their continually updated gameplay model. Some games are even free-to-play – but development teams have to eat, and publishers have an even more voracious appetite, so the true price comes later down the line.
For titles such as Apex Legends and Rocket League, gamers truly can play endlessly at no cost – their characters, vehicles, title cards and whatever other cosmetics may not be terribly fancy, but they lose nothing in terms of tangible gameplay. But then there are games like Destiny 2, which are free only if you’re comfortable playing a small fraction of them.
Bellevue-based developer Bungie not only asks for Destiny 2 players to buy its various expansions to get the whole experience – a fairly normal concept – they also routinely “vault” content, outright deleting sections of the game. According to game director Luke Smith, “shelving content into the vault is about making space for awesome new stuff. So each year when a new expansion set comes out, things are going to leave.”
Bungie has made it no secret that part of the reason this is done is to keep the game’s file size down – at its largest, Destiny 2 occupied a whopping 165 gigabytes on peoples’ hard drives. But this excuse rings hollow considering other developers have found a way around such issues by allowing players to install and uninstall portions of their game at will.
The most notable example of this is Halo: The Master Chief Collection, which is ironically an all-in-one collection of Bungie’s Halo games. The compilation was created by 343 Industries, a development studio that many would consider far less competent than Bungie. Not so with regard to file size woes, evidently.
I believe the real reason behind Destiny 2’s “content vault” is to sell the expansion packs. Once players clear what’s left of the now-anemic base game, there’s not much left to do – so it follows that anyone hooked on the gameplay loop would then purchase various expansions, which without taking advantage of the occasional sale, could run a person as much as $150.
OK, that’s a little sneaky, but just wait – it gets worse! Even portions of the expansion packs are vaulted at this point. So players are effectively buying content that Bungie can decide to take offline at will. Destiny 2 can only be played online, so once your favorite mission is gone, it’s gone – no playing it solo or anything.
Smith attempted to soften the blow in a 2020 interview by stating, “I can totally imagine, down the road, players having some ability to inform or influence what comes back” – but it hasn’t happened.
I binged Destiny 2 when it was released in 2017, and after a long break I attempted to return to the game upon the release of its Beyond Light expansion in late 2020. As expected, I struggled to learn all of the new mechanics, but far worse, I also discovered the story was a disjointed and confusing mess that was impossible to follow.
Those few who defend Destiny 2’s content vault claim it’s Bungie’s way of trimming the fat by preserving only the best content while discarding the rest. That may well be the case, but it’s undeniably scummy to lock players out of missions, items and even entire planets that they paid for. It’s a total racket, and I’ll gladly die on this hill.
Riordan Zentler can be reached at email@example.com.
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