Mar 18, 2022 - Technology

How Bungie keeps making Destiny 2, five years after release

Image of an armored sci-warrior holding a long staff with a blade at the end

Screenshot: Bungie

The creators of Destiny 2 are learning to manage their ever-evolving hit sci-fi game as they go, the game's general manager Justin Truman tells Axios.

Why it matters: Bungie is now in its fifth year running Destiny 2, making the Bellevue, Washington-based studio one of the foremost experts in the kind of service-oriented “live games” that so many other studios are now trying to make.

Bungie’s method: Hundreds of developers work on the game, year ‘round, as Destiny 2 evolves through weekly gameplay updates and storyline progression (the game can feel like a weekly TV show), as well as through three-month specially-themed seasons and near-annual bigger expansions.

  • Bungie teams work on specific disciplines: an in-game rewards team, a seasonal activities team and so on.
  • That’s a change from early Destiny, when teams were divided by content releases, such as a specific expansion.
  • Destiny 2’s direction used to feel more inconsistent as different teams oversaw different phases of its lifecycle, Truman says. But now: “Each piece [of the game] has these expert owners that are evolving that part of Destiny over multiple years. “
  • (The studio has also grappled with workplace toxicity issues, acknowledging after an IGN investigation last year that it needed to do more to support its people and outlined ongoing changes. "We've been continuing to push on those fronts," Truman says.)

All this, but no Destiny 3. “We want it to be a single evolving world,” Truman tells Axios.

  • “We're trying to make Disneyland, right? And you don't build Disneyland 2. You update it and improve it and make it more modern.”
  • But they did. There was a Destiny 1, launched in 2014.
  • Truman says a single game was always the vision as he diplomatically avoids naming the game’s former publisher, Activision: it “was harder for us to maintain the true spirit of this vision until we were able to be creatively independent and direct how we saw the Destiny world could go.”

The “vaulting” controversy: As Bungie adds, it subtracts missions, planets and storylines—much of it material players paid for — removing them from the game.

  • Bungie deleted Destiny 2’s introductory campaign, The Red War, in 2020, and axed the story-driven half of its acclaimed 2018 expansion Forsaken early this year.
  • Bungie describes vaulting as an effort to control file sizes — the game takes up about 100GB — focus development, and keep the player base from fracturing across too many activities.
  • “Past content becomes an anchor that prevents you from moving forward and creating new content,” Truman says.
  • With Forsaken, Bungie spared one of its two main explorable zones, the Dreaming City, and many of its unlockable rewards. Truman says all of that was more “endgame” content, which the studio considers more evergreen.
  • On whether fans should expect 2020 expansion Beyond Light or 2022’s Witch Queen to someday be vaulted as well: “I don't know,” Truman says. “That is how we are currently managing the technical complexity.” But he says increased storage options, including the cloud, could remove one need to vault, though development and platform restrictions could still be an issue. “It's hard to tell what the story will look like four years from now.”

New challenges:

  • New players face a tricky onboarding process. Bungie has allowed seasonal content to linger longer, to allow players to catch up, but vaulting makes it impossible for them to play the game’s earliest chapters.
  • “I don't think we figured out exactly what is the right way for someone to feel like they're catching up–and they get to participate in the right way–with something that happened two years ago that has since been patched and changed so much,” Truman says. The team is experimenting with solutions.
  • Live events are also a work-in-progress after Bungie’s early attempts at Fortnite-style game-wide live spectacles fizzled. Truman points to a special multiplayer mission offered for just one week in February as “a Destiny version of a live event.”
  • It was used to tee up the next expansion, though Bungie accidentally allowed players to skip a key cinematic scene that played at its conclusion. “We learn,” Truman says.

What’s next: The living game keeps changing, as Bungie yesterday announced big changes to a weapon-crafting system introduced last month.

  • More seasons will follow this year, and at least two more expansions for the game have been announced.
  • “It's exciting because I feel like we're out on this frontier,” Truman says. The comment was about the game’s storytelling but could apply to Destiny 2 overall. “I also know we have not reached the destination.”

Sign up for the Axios Gaming newsletter here.

Go deeper