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Destiny’s Beta Needs to be a Big Deal

This Thursday Bungie will launch the beta for their upcoming community-based, open-world shooter, Destiny.  Developed by the studio which gave Xbox it’s biggest franchise in Halo, and published by the sure-fire, money-loving people at Activision, it is hard to imagine Destiny being anything other than the biggest game of 2013.  Yet, here we are, a few months from the game’s release date and the anticipation for Destiny feels lukewarm.  Sure, the game got a nice little bump in publicity with its alpha immediately following E3, but it still seems to be lacking that buzz which accompanies releases of this caliber.  Especially when you compare it to games that have previously held the September blockbuster slot like Grand Theft Auto V, Borderlands 2, and Gears of War 3.

It’s hard to predict the world of video games.  While publishers like to believe a mix of good PR and the right amount of money can guarantee success, we have seen the big projects fail and the little projects succeed.  No one could have predicted Minecraft would be the behemoth of success it is today, and it was hard to foresee Star Wars: The Old Republic suffering the way it did.  While online-based games can be cash cows for years, if not decades, predicting which games will be the blockbusters and which will fail is a near-impossible task.

The fact we’re not all jittery with anticipation doesn’t mean Destiny is bound to be a failure, I understand it is only July, so there is plenty of time to still win fans over, but I constantly wonder who Destiny was for in the first place.  Since Bungie’s last game, Halo: Reach, the multiplayer console-shooter market has seen Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Titanfall stretch and divide the market.  Bungie might be hoping to tap into the MMO crowd which feverishly devotes themselves to games, but oftentimes those fans are fiercely loyal to one particular game, not the genre itself.  I wonder if Destiny might be trying to reach an audience that is already flooded with multiplayer-centric content following standard video game conventions.  Remember Destiny isn’t supposed to just grab you for a couple of weeks, this is supposed to be a game you never put down.

The most painful part about Destiny is that there isn’t anything new the game brings to the table.  The first-person shooter market is already bursting at the seams with options for customers, the MMO market has more than its fair share of participants.  Competitive shooting, open-world questing, and action-RPG mechanics all meshed together in one game doesn’t sound like uncharted territory for video games, in fact it all feel painfully familiar.  One might have hoped to find something creative in Destiny’s story, but the grounded sci-fi world with angsty terms like “The Fallen” and “The Traveller” doesn’t inspire confidence the game is going to really shake up formula.

Blockbuster video games are desperately searching for a way to evolve in the next video game generation.  We continue to wait on that game which definitively gets consumers to push away the PS3s and Xbox 360s and start indulging in the new hardware from Sony and Microsoft.  Given Destiny still has one foot in the PS3/Xbox 360 pool, it is almost impossible for it to be that game which signals the new generation.

I want to make one thing incredibly clear right now.  I don’t think Destiny will be a bad game.  Bungie has many talented people working tirelessly at their studio to create quality products.  Every time I’ve gotten my hands on Destiny, whether it was sampling the multiplayer at E3 or playing the alpha at home, I have enjoyed Bungie’s tight shooting mechanics and intelligent level design.  I am sure Bungie will strike a chord with critics and fans who are already onboard with the franchise.  The quality of Destiny is not really what concerns me, it is how tepid the waters seem to be for product which is made for everyone and no one at the same time.

In some ways, I think Destiny should be applauded for holding off on throwing their own party.  It’s nice that Bungie and Activision are trying to sell the game based on hands-on experiences and not on empty promises.  Trailers for Destiny have largely refrained from throwing in title cards which promise ambiguous things like, “Dynamic New Multiplayer Gameplay” or “100,000 Pieces of Loot to Choose From!’  Instead, the game seems to be biding its time and waiting for fans to organically gravitate toward the kind of game it is selling.

This is why I think Destiny’s beta is a huge deal.  The most palpable excitement on my radar for Destiny came during its alpha back in June.  Both, prior to and since the alpha, there has been little noise made about the game.  The small blip on the radar in June grabbed attention, but the biggest story coming out of the alpha was Peter Dinklage’s voice acting.  How is it possible that when the veil was slightly pulled back on what could be this year’s biggest game, the story wasn’t about the mechanics, the world, or the experience, it was about Tyrion Lannister’s bad voice-acting?  Destiny’s beta needs a better story than a t-shirt that reads, “That Wizard Came from the Moon”, if the game is to stand out.

Betas don’t always result in positive word of mouth, even the big ones.  In cases like Titanfall, the beta was an incredible success, earning high praise and drawing a large crowd weeks prior to the game’s release.  Then there are betas like The Elder Scrolls Online which earned Zenimax Online nothing but skepticism prior to the game’s launch.  E3 can be exciting with its exclusive previews and press coverage, but its really hard to tell how a game will shake out based on a few minutes with a demo, even a couple hours.  But betas give people days to marinate in the experience, it doesn’t provide a definitive product to love or hate, but it gives a strong indication what the game will be like.

Destiny is stuck in an odd place.  It pulls from enough video game staples to not be revolutionary, but is unique enough to be unfamiliar.  The game has the recognition and expectation of Bungie, but lacks the draw of an established franchise.  While you could look at Destiny and say, “Bungie+Shooter+MMO+Activision=Monies,” it is not a given Destiny will be the decade long franchise it wants to be.  On July 17th, we’ll get our first taste of the game and get our own inkling of what the future might hold for Destiny.

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