How Destiny 2 does the impossible: converting casual players to hardcore veterans
Making two worlds meet, not collide.
Destiny 2 continues to capture lightning in a bottle as one of the only consistently successful free-to-play live service games. In its almost 10-year lifespan, the series has garnered tens of millions of new players and a dedicated group of hardcore veterans. With that success, Bungie now has two unenviable tasks. First, it needs to keep its live service alive and fresh by bringing new Guardians into the fold and encouraging them to spend a little extra at the microtransaction store. Second, the studio needs to keep its core player base invested, as those Guardians are both Destiny‘s greatest champions and largest critics.
The task is almost impossible, yet Destiny 2 has been one of Steam’s most profitable games since its release on PC in 2019, being in the top 12 games on the platform by gross revenue in 2022. So clearly, Destiny 2 brings in new players year after year and encourages them to spend a little on the game. Its high ranking on the Steam charts, even this late into the current season, means that it’s also turning some newcomers into mainstays.
This success is almost baffling. Destiny 2’s narrative, the depth of its mechanics, the breadth of activities and loot sources, PvP metas, and other systems all take years to fully comprehend. The new player experience is also awful, and you’ll need to watch multiple four-hour-long videos if you want the franchise’s full story.
So how does Bungie manage to bridge the gap between the hardcore and the casual, turning a few-hours-a-week player into one who dedicates tons of gaming time to Destiny 2 and nothing else? I think there are a few ways.
Three factors helping Destiny 2 succeed
First, there is no game on the market quite like Destiny 2. Bungie’s world-class FPS fundamentals are consistently on full display (in PvE, at least). All players have access to a full suite of space magic superpowers they can use to fight a cavalcade of larger and more menacing aliens. The Destiny universe is the ultimate space opera fantasy, letting players — regardless of their level of experience — watch a grand science-fiction story unfold and be a major player in the events that shape it.
Second, despite the sheer density of the game, there is enough easy-to-consume content to keep most players invested for at least a few dozen hours. Not everyone wants to sink hundreds of hours to reach Raids or Grandmaster Nightfalls. Running Strikes, playing a few rounds of Gambit — going through a few Seasonal activities is already enough.
Third, and most importantly, is the community. While there is plenty of negativity about Destiny 2, especially if you know where to look, many veterans will move mountains to make sure that new players have a good time. It’s not hard to find communities large and small that are more than happy to show the ropes to so-called New Lights.
Community onboarding happens naturally in-game as well. A Season level 300 Guardian might see a level 1 wandering blindly, reaching out to them with an emote or via message. Even if the relationship is temporary, the positive experience will help keep the newbie invested.
There is even an entire group dedicated to teaching new players what to do, how to do it, and how to get better. They’re called “Sherpas,” and these experienced Guardians make it their mission to ensure newcomers have a great time.
There was no greater example of this than during the release of the Dares of Eternity activity — New Lights had no choice but to load into the activity, where they literally could not damage the enemies. The veterans discovered their plight, and the entire community rallied together to populate Dares so there was always someone who could help.
It’s not a perfect system, but it’s more than enough
Not everyone will want to engage that deeply with Destiny 2, of course, and some might chafe at the fervor with which some people want them to get more into the game. “Leave me to my chill gameplay,” they might say. Yet a few of these casual players will spend that one extra hour a week, which will become a few more minutes a night, which might transform into a longer-lasting love for the game. For some, it can have shades of Stockholm syndrome, but for others, slowly taking down the brick wall that is learning Destiny is rewarding in itself.
So while Destiny might never have enough content to keep the grizzled veterans happy, nor will every update put the game in a better place, the core of the game is solid enough to keep millions coming back year after year. It’s probably impossible to keep the momentum going into perpetuity. Still, for now, Bungie’s unenviable task rolls on, and their imperfect but effective solution to it does the same.