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Destiny – The Great Divergence

Since its launch on 9th September Destiny has received “mixed” reviews from the gaming press. Does Destiny’s commercial success emphasise a shift in the balance of power within the gaming industry?

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Destiny, a game backed by a $500 million development budget, is the most expensive game ever made. It was released on 9th September to an avalanche of “mixed reviews”. On GameRankings.com Destiny averaged a 76.29 per cent review score. Other prominent gaming websites such as Gamespot and Polygon also gave Destiny a meagre 6/10. Such scores equate to “fair” and “satisfactory” and are a far cry away from the scores anticipated during its “hyped-up” launch and given its level of financial backing.

Destiny harbours a prestigious pedigree of developers, including the publishers of Call of Duty and the makers of the Halo franchise. It was consequently regarded by many to be the most anticipated game of 2014. A game with the potential to revolutionize the stagnating first person shooter genre with its “shared-world shooter” concept.

Whilst Destiny has certainly not fulfilled its expectations in a critical sense, in commercial terms the opposite is true. The game generated $325 million in sales within the first five days of its release. Gaming analyst Michael Pachter stated, “Destiny was one of the fastest selling games of all time.”

As well as being successful commercially, there also seems to be a general consensus amongst gamers that the game is still rewarding and fun to play. YouTube presenters Adam Kovic and Bruce Greene on popular YouTube channel Machinima Inside Daily stated, “while the traditional gaming press is happy to play Destiny for 10 hours, score the thing, and continue with their lives—most of us here in the office are still happily grinding away with our characters… and most importantly, having fun.”

Such views raise the issue that the gaming media has become increasingly alienated from game sales and the ordinary gamer. In the same Inside Daily episode, Bruce Greene stated, “There was a time when reviews were everything… however, as gaming has got older, we are seeing more and more of a divergence between what is rated well by critics and what actually sells well.”

Much of the supposed divergence lies in what the average gamer perceives to be the motivations of game journalists. Game journalists, unlike ordinary gamers, have deadlines to meet and must complete games within a set period of time. Furthermore, journalists play to an extent which is more than casual, and consequently may expect a greater degree of meaning in their experience. There is also the essential fact that they get paid to play games and express their opinion, whilst the average gamer is not.

One of Destiny’s biggest criticisms has been its repetitiveness and grinding. One reviewer, Kevin VanOrd, reviewed the game on behalf of Gamespot and claims to have played 40 hours of the game. Given that: the game was released on 9th September; that there was no prior game time allowed due to its online-only functionality; and that his article was uploaded on 12th September, it is implied that he must have played at least 13 hours per day. Bungie (developer of Destiny) has recently come out saying that the average gamer typically plays Destiny on the weekend for 3 – 4 hour long sessions. There is thus little surprise to such discrepancy in opinion. If the reviewers are forced to play games up to 4 times longer than the targeted demographic, issues that may not be as prevalent for the average gamer, such as repetitiveness, will appear more obvious for the reviewer.

This disconnect between the ordinary gamer and the gaming press also lies in a fundamental distrust within the gaming industry. In recent weeks this was sparked by a scandal involving a prominent independent game developer, Zoe Quinn. The scandal involved her ex-boyfriend who decided to post about her sexual misdeeds online, including her liaisons with other players in the industry.

The integrity of the gaming press came into question when almost all large gaming outlets remained silent about the matter. Whether they remained silent out of respect to the personal nature of the matters concerned or were afraid of being targeted in the uproar is still unknown. Now an unsavoury online trend exists which alleges corruption and condescension in the gaming media through #GamerGate. #GamerGate has now been used online more than 189000 times.

Taking into account the changes within the gaming industry, it is worth considering the outcome if Destiny had launched 4 or 5 years earlier. Had Destiny launched in 2009, when gaming press and review scores had greater commercial influence, it is likely its sales figures would have mirrored its critical acclaim. Games such as GTA 5 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 achieved similar heights in sales, but they had Metacritic (online review average) scores of 97/100 (PS3) and 94/100 (PS3) respectively, whilst Destiny only boasts 77/100 (PS4).

The success of Destiny demonstrates how a well-funded game, produced by respected developers, can be commercially successful without the backing of the media. In doing so, it also reflects a shift in the balance of power within the gaming industry. Destiny mirrors how journalism has become little more than a buyer’s guide rather than being an influential market mover. The success of a game now is dictated by online social movements and variables outside of a game’s critical reception. With such a divergence between the journalistic opinions and the consumer, it is likely that Destiny was destined to be a success well before it was even launched.