Bungie is a game development studio made famous by creating the Halo series for Xbox. It surprised a lot of people when they have left that extremely lucrative franchise behind and wanted to create something new. Their new game is called Destiny and it has me really intrigued. I have been lucky enough to get early access to the game on two different occasions and noticed a few really interesting things about what they are doing with this new franchise that draw strong parallels to what I see happening in other forms of digital design and storytelling.
The 10 year story – gaming as branding
The first thing that got my attention was that the designers at Bungie talked about how they want the story in Destiny to play out over a 10 year span. That was a staggering goal to me as I have never heard any game set out to tell a story across that kind of scale and time span. But then it hit me that Bungie was doing something really smart – they were building their game like a brand. Most gaming franchises try to build a brand over multiple games with big gaps of time between those games. This causes the brand strength of the gaming franchise to rise and fall across the lifecycle but in the end it usually weakens due to time, a maturing audience and declining game quality as the franchise ages. But Bungie realized we live in a brand economy and that people like brands, they want to bond with brands and if they eliminate those gaps in time between the games then they can make a lot more money off of this one game than by breaking it into multiple installments. It is really smart but it will be interesting to se of they can make this strategy pay off and if they can really hold the audience for that span of time.
Multi platform, multi generation design
Bungie has said that from the beginning they have been planning not only for Destiny to span multiple platforms (PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One) but they also plan for it to span multiple console generations so the storyline will continue to PS5 and Xbox Two(?). This is again the first time I have heard something like this from a game designer and here again I see huge parallels between their strategy and digital design. I am constantly working to design apps and responsive web sites that can span multiple devices, across multiple generations with multiple screen sizes and constantly changing specs. So here again Bungie is learning from other digital media to make their game strategy smarter. I think that just as consumer will stay loyal to one smart phone platform, they will also be much more likely to stay loyal to one game if they know that there is along term plan to keep the game alive across a long period of time. As a gamer I have always hated that my favorite games had such a short shelf life where after a few months the content would grow boring and I would stop playing it. Knowing that a game will last for years means that I will invest more into the game and probably spend a lot more on micro-purchases inside of it.
Mobile app extension
I have seen a few games start to experiment with using mobile apps as an extension of their game worlds but none look to be as interesting as what Bungie is trying to do with Destiny. Their mobile app is part social community and part digital trading card. You can see what your friends have accomplished, when they are online and plan you own n game gatherings. The app also is an extensive look into all aspect of your character, their achievements, stats and gear. When I was participating in the alpha and beta testing of the game I found that having this connection back to the game even when I was away from it kept me much more engaged and looking forward to playing it again than with other games. This app is just in its infancy and it will be interesting to see how it evolves along with the game and mobile technology over the next decade.
Alpha and beta development
The last trend that the gaming industry borrowed from digital design is allowing their users to try out new experiences through alpha and beta testing. This is has been made possible because internet connections have become fast enough that 6GB+ games can easily be distributed to gamers to test. But more importantly it has become all the rage because people want to be the first to experience something new and it’s why it is the new it has become the new marketing bait to drive pre-orders for the launch of new games. They do it because gamers want to brag about the early access on social media, they want to make instructional video for YouTube and in my case they want to use it to write blog articles. The gaming companies get free labor out of the process so they can test their large, open world games for nothing to ensure the paying gamers get a great experience on day one. Here again Bungie and other gaming companies have watched and learned from what is going on the rest of the digital landscape and have been adapted their strategies to take advantage of it.
I can’t wait to get my hands on Destiny again when it launches next Tuesday. Not only to be able to explore the entire game but because I really want to see if Bungie is going to be able to achieve their lofty goals and see what else they learn and implement from the digital landscape as it continues to evolve.