Armor Synthesis In Destiny 2: Sympathy For The Devil

In their April 22nd blog post for This Week At Bungie, focusing on the upcoming Season 14 of Destiny 2, Bungie announced a big change in how their armor ornament system would work. The TLDR is that the long-awaited quality of life feature that would allow players to change the outward appearance of their armor but not the stats came with a cap of armor ornament unlocks per season, and a microtransaction hook that allows players to bypass the grind entirely in exchange for money.

A preview of the new armor system, Courtesy of Bungie.
A preview of the new armor system, Courtesy of Bungie.

The community response was decisively negative and swift: Reddit melted down, streamers yelled, the usual. But these things have costs, and the costs aren't just to the player.

Let's start with the player, though.

From the longtime player's perspective, Armor Synthesis is yet another aggravating microtransaction vector that replaced something free. But more than that, the longtime players viewed it as a slap in the face. if they started playing Destiny 2 when it launched, and kept current with it, they already invested $300 since 2017, and that's not including microtransactions or battle passes. It's easy to see how those players feel nickel and dimed by the announcement.

From Bungie's perspective, Armor Synthesis is the product of months of work for a quality of life feature, a relatively low priority item in game development, at least when compared with higher priority items like fixing broken parts of the game and creating new content. Every hour a Bungie employee spends on Armor Synthesis is an hour that's not spent elsewhere, and in the cadence of seasons and yearly expansions, that's significant.

Like everything in life, there's a limited number of hours and a list of priorities that dwarfs those limited hours.

A preview of the new armor system, courtesy of Bungie.
A preview of the new armor system, courtesy of Bungie.

More than that though, Destiny is an expensive series to make. It's a fully 3D MMO from the first-person perspective at AAAA fidelity. That fidelity of the experience requires a large team, which is expensive. And it's difficult to wrap one's head around how "expensive" expensive is, so let's try to imagine how much Bungie's operating costs for a single month are. (A bookkeeper friend of mine helped me with these numbers. They asked not to be recognized by name.)

Allegedly, Bungie is a 900 person studio (and growing!) in Bellevue, WA. The average income there is $72,000 a year. Looking at salaries alone, that's $5.4 million a month. Electricity is $3 per square foot for an 85,000 square foot studio adds another $300,000 a month. That adds up to $5.7m a month. Now add in benefits and health insurance for another roughly $600,000 a month. That's $6.3 million a month.

And that's a low number because we're not factoring in the costs of:

  • Hardware
  • Software licenses needed for the tools to make Destiny
  • The cloud-building a new studio in Amsterdam
  • More than doubling the footprint of the Bellevue studio
  • Bungie probably paying more than being say, a truck driver
  • capital investments for employees to work from home during the pandemic
  • staffing up to make Their Next Game
  • paying for staff to work on incubator projects that don't have a revenue stream

With a little bit of imagination, you can see how Bungie's costs can be over $7m a month. Knowing this scale brings perspective, and makes it easier for me to swallow yet another cosmetic system with an aggravating microtransactions offer.

Ultimately, Bungie should've added more free unlocks based on how many expansions/battle passes a player already bought for Destiny 2 to the announcement. That'd be a great way to thank long-time paid players and recognize how much they've already put into the world. Those players identify with (and in the case of Youtubers/Twitch streamers built their brand/livelihood around) Destiny, and a studio with enlightened self-interest wants to keep those players engaged and happy.

As for me? I'll see you starside.

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About James Hepplewhite

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