Destiny 2, Sea of ​​Thieves, and the Seasonal Content Problem

sea ​​of ​​thieves recently received its long-awaited “Captaincy” update, packed with features hopeful pirates have been asking for since the game launched in 2018. Now you can name your ship and decorate it with custom trinkets and cosmetics – simple but appreciated things like that.

But the larger update wasn’t as popular. Since the launch of the Captaincy update, the game subreddit and official forums have been flooded with posts decrying the new “milestone” system, a series of layered trackers that are supposed to “allow you to look back at all the unique things you’ve done”, as the game’s creative director Mike Chapman put it in the recent studio of the studio. season 7 deep dive video.

The thing is, sea ​​of ​​thieves‘ most dedicated players have already done “unique things” – and a lot of not-unique things – for over four years. The in-game menu has pages and pages full of “recommendations” that track everything from how far you’ve traveled under specific faction flags to how many skeleton ships you’ve sunk since reaching Pirate status. Legend. But new milestones all start at zero, regardless of how many tens, hundreds, or thousands of hours a player already has in their log. Veteran players may have already earned tons of gold, completed hundreds of quests, and slain dozens of Megalodons, but if you want any of these new trinkets or rewards, you’ll have to start all over again.

Image: Rare/Microsoft Studios

Putting new players and veterans on an equal footing is one thing when it comes to new voyages or quests, but quite another: an indicator that Rare isn’t respecting the vast amounts of time that its most dedicated players have already invested in this game.

Rare has already updated the system to reduce some of the more outrageous milestones, like 100 hours spent sleeping, drinking hot toddy, or literally being on fire – things no player would ever accidentally accomplish in the normal course. Game. sea ​​of ​​thieves chief designer Shelley Preston took a look at the game official blog to clarify the designers’ thinking on the update as a whole: “The intent of this system is to let you track your unique way of playing and the things you most enjoy engaging with, and then give you rewards for it.”

In other words, these milestones aren’t meant to be a checklist that you tackle one by one, but a reflection of your personal playstyle that no individual player is meant to completely complete. But the system is supposed to only track what a player does on a “captain” ship, which didn’t exist before (although that’s basically a silly justification, since I’ve obviously been the captain of my own ship in sea ​​of ​​thieves For years).

Preston also explained that many of these trackers were literally not coded into the game before, making them impossible to assign retroactively. Anyway, as a long time gamer, seeing all those big zeros is still awful, especially for trackers who were in the game, in the form of congratulations. For sea ​​of ​​thieves‘ most dedicated gamers, the Captaincy update left a bittersweet taste than a week’s grog.

Sea of ​​Thieves Captaincy Features

Image: Rare/Microsoft Studios

This is not a problem unique to sea ​​of ​​thieves, yet. As game designer Cliff Bleszinski recently underline, more and more games are shifting to seasonal models that promise an endless escalation of new content for players and new work for developers. A game that, if it had existed ten years ago, might have received an expansion or two, exists today as a “live service game” – a game that is treated more like a subscription than a one-time purchase product, usually with a new premium battle pass every few months.

There’s nothing wrong with the battle pass system itself; whatever the game, it usually gives hardcore gamers new things to earn just by playing the way they want, while allowing more casual gamers to ignore it entirely.

But the overlapping hamster wheels of the live-service model — and the need for developers to constantly add new wheels to keep players in place — often lead a game’s most ardent fans to feel disrespected. .

That’s the reason I quit playing Destiny 2. In 2020, several months into the pandemic, developer Bungie announced the “equipment sunset” system, whereby weapons and armor that players had earned would be phased out to make room for new toys. released every season. This system was intended to address several real problems: Destiny players tended to only use best-in-class weapons for each inventory slot, ignoring many of the new weapons released each season (many of which were boring reskins from ‘old guns, but that’s unrelated). That meant less grinding of new content from each season and, perhaps, more time spent playing other games. Additionally, Destiny’s huge sandbox of weapons and abilities has always been difficult for Bungie’s designers to balance.

Whatever the intent, in practice the “gunsetting” system was simply Bungie’s last way to wipe the slate clean. Instead of letting Guardians play however they wanted, the system forced them into funnels by continually rendering new batches of weapons mathematically useless. If I were to log in Destiny 2 now two years later I’d find a chest full of guns and armor, trophies that represent fond memories of Nightfalls and raids and Crucible matches my friends and I sweated and cried – most of which are, as of now, effectively worthless. Their number is simply not high enough.

Destiny 2The developers of have spoken at length about the problems they have in attracting new players. Here’s Assistant Game Director Joe Blackburn discussing it with GameSpotand design director Victoria Dollbaum in conversation with Gamer on PC. For developers, wiping the slate clean for all players is a tempting way to ease onboarding. But ignoring the achievements of players who have spent thousands of hours in their world feels like overcompensation.

In 2021, Bungie dropped the gear timer system. Blackburn wrote that even though the studio “still believes in [the] objectives” that the timer infusion caps were intended to achieve,” it is clear [its] execution was irrelevant. However, Bungie continued to add items such as destinations and activities to the “content vault”, effectively removing them from live play to reduce the game’s file size and direct players to newer items. With the announcement of Destiny 2of the next big expansion, fall of lightthe studio has also promised to end this practice.

But for some players, myself included, the damage was done: Bungie had once again tried to deny the hundreds of hours we chose to spend in its world, and there’s no guarantee that they will not do so in the future.

The Mountaintop, a weapon that hasn't caught up with current Destiny 2 content

Image: Bungie via Polygon

By definition, live games are constantly evolving, and developers are always looking for the best way to attract new players while keeping fan content invested. It’s a difficult balancing act, but it’s not impossible. Fortnitefor example, usually gets this right. Any cosmetics earned or purchased throughout the life of the game stay usable forever, and things that are rare tend to stay rare and continue to reward player investment – they were the for that in-game event or season, and they can still show off the loot no matter how much time has passed.

Some MMOs also respect players’ investment. Take Final Fantasy XIV, which received its version 6.2 patch this week, adding new content like Island Sanctuaries. FFXIV players can show off their achievements with earned titles and flashy relic weapons, which never go out of style. The “level sync” system ensures that high-level players cannot fight their way through old content to earn prestigious items, while the game’s version of a transmogrification system, called Glamours, guarantees that you will always be able to show off your trophies.

All this to say that there is are live games that strike the balance between keeping veteran players satiated and wooing new ones. Designing systems that reward both sides is undoubtedly a difficult task. But the alternative – repeatedly burning out your game’s most passionate fans – can only have diminishing returns.

Comments are closed.