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Maintaining a game like Destiny isn’t easy.
The online shooter from Bungie for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One isn’t just another online product that a developer can release, deliver a few updates for, and then move on from. It’s an open-world game designed to keep players engaged for years, which means that Bungie has to regularly create new content for it. That includes the upcoming fourth expansion, Rise of Iron, which releases on September 20. Destiny has over 30 million registered players, and this update can help bring back people who stopped playing after the launch of the last expansion, The Taken King.
GamesBeat met Scott Taylor, the executive producer for Rise of Iron, at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles earlier this month about the pressures of regular updates, keeping players engaged, and winning their trust.
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GamesBeat: What lessons have you learned from the last expansion Taken King?
Scott Taylor: Rise of Iron, size-wise — I look at Taken King and House of Wolves, and it fits in the middle there. The thing I’d say about what we’ve learned is that — we have this neat opportunity with Destiny. We shipped in 2014, in September. Instead of just leaving it — it’s a boxed product and we don’t support it — the whole experience has been iterated on ever since we released.
You can see that evolution starting in Dark Below and House of Wolves and Taken King and all the updates we’ve done, smaller events like the Masks Festival and all that stuff. To me it’s been the culmination — this is the best version of Destiny, based on everything we’ve learned.
In Taken King we introduced things like the quest system. We had some amazing cinematics and storytelling. We’ve been evolving the storytelling since then. It’s a bunch of things. Destiny is a different game than it was when we first released.
GamesBeat: Do you think Bungie knew what it was getting into with Destiny, with the need for so much content coming out so quickly?
Taylor: The way I look at that is — there’s a fanbase that’s passionate about the universe and learning more about it. When I do think of the fact we’ve been out 18 months and this is our fourth expansion, that’s a decent amount of content in addition to the other support we’ve done.
I think of it as looking at different ways to support the game. When we decided to do an expansion like this, a lot of it is because we were getting feedback like, “I want a campaign, I want a new space to explore, new real estate, a new zone, a new story to learn more about the lore in the game.” We thought this expansion was a good way to try to accomplish those goals.
GamesBeat: We’re getting close to two years after the launch of the first game. Is there any worry that people might look ahead to Destiny 2 instead of investing in the original Destiny?
Taylor: If we present a quality product in Destiny and people like Destiny — that’s how we’re hoping people think of it. They just want to come and play and be in the world. We’re trying to create opportunities for that. We think Destiny is a great place to do all sorts of activities with your friends. Whether you just want to patrol The Plaguelands while you’re chatting casually, doing some public events and new patrols, or if you want to jump into the new raid and do the hardest thing you can do in Destiny, or if you just want to do the campaign, we’re trying to create opportunities for people who like Destiny to jump in and play. That’s the way I think of it, to try and make a quality product and give opportunities for players to come in.
GamesBeat: One thing I noticed about The Taken King was how it took characters who’d existed already and started giving them more personality. Will we see more of that in Rise of Iron?
Taylor: Yes. That’s been the trend, right? We’ve had Eris that we introduced in Dark Below. We’ve learned a lot about her. We fleshed that out further in The Taken King. Petra, who was introduced in a Tower event called Queen’s Wrath in Destiny, then we evolved her story to move to the Reef and talk about the Queen and the Fallen and the history of those things, along with Variks, our first combatant vendor, we learned about him. And then Cayde-6. You finally know who he is now.
GamesBeat: Right. It’s funny, because he was just the guy I went to get stuff. And then, oh, now he has a personality.
Taylor: The fun thing about that is, in Destiny — you can think of these characters as wallpaper or background detail, but I think of them as opportunities for us to dive into. Saladin’s been in the game since the beta, doing Iron Banner, the ritual of Iron Banner in the Tower. You’ve seen this guy whether or not you play PvP. You can run back and go, what’s up with this gong that’s on fire, that looks cool.
Now, when we came up with this expansion, we decided to take that character that we don’t know much about, this ritual we don’t know much about — we know some of these cool names and these weapons and things, this armor that looks great. Why don’t we find out why he’s doing this and tell that story?
When I look at the universe of Destiny, I see a lot of opportunity to tell stories about these characters that — you look at the Cryptarch and Xur, we don’t know much about them, but they’re cool characters. I’m curious about them. I want to know more about the Cryptarch. He seems mean. What’s going on with Xur? We’re trying to create these opportunities, and then the expansions are a great place to dive in. You see Cayde and you smile now because you know who Cayde is. I feel like I have a good sense of who Eris is. After this release you’ll know about Saladin, and we’re introducing more characters in the new social space that we hope people are curious about too.
GamesBeat: You’ve made a lot of changes, especially based on concerns players had when Destiny launched. Do you think that the fact you did address them, and the way you often addressed them with good humor – stuff like the Cryptarch and the references to it, and the loot cave and things like that – do you think that the way you addressed those issues has improved your relationship with your community?
Taylor: We love our community because of the fact that we think the best stories in Destiny are the ones you make with your friends. When I think of my favorite moments in Destiny, they’re all related to experiences I’ve had. Who I was playing with when Gjallarhorn dropped and what I was doing, all those things.
It’s important to remember that we all play games, we all play Destiny. We think that Destiny should be fun. The communication should be fun too, I think. What we’re doing is trying to create entertainment and be entertaining. If we do have a good reputation with the community, then that’s amazing. We want that, because we love them. We’re all part of that community, too, so we want to create an atmosphere where it’s positive. That’s really important to us. I think that’s reflected in the fact that people have positive impressions of our community and our engagement.
GamesBeat: The first two expansions were road-mapped early out. How far back did the ideas behind Rise of Iron come together?
Taylor: It’s complicated, because things like the fiction behind Saladin — we had ideas for that. What happens is, at a certain point you decide — the first thing is saying, we’re going to do an expansion. Then it’s about figuring out what that’s going to look like, what it is. Your options at that point are fairly — they could be anything. You could make a story about whatever you want. It’s about landing on this story, and I think it’s fair to say that the main campaign and the story — the main thrust of it was the beginning of this year, when we really got them team focused on the whole wrapper of this. That’s when we got started in earnest.
But the reason it’s hard to answer that question is because we have a PvP (player-vs.-player) team, a raids team, a sandbox team. They’re all working on all sorts of things all the time. It’s my job and [art director] Chris Barrett’s job and a bunch of other people’s jobs to make sure that’s all cohesive, one packagem and one piece of a story. At the beginning of this year, that’s when we started pulling all those elements together in earnest.
GamesBeat: Would you say that your player base tends to focus on one activity? Do you have PvP players, raiders, and solo players all separate? Or do most of your players do a mix of all of them?
Taylor: One of the beautiful things about Destiny is there are opportunities to do all of them. There are players who play more PvP than story, or don’t touch PvP. Because it’s a single character that does all of those things, it’s nice that you can choose to do that and not feel like you’re necessarily not playing Destiny right. We have people who just grind on raids. All those things you just named exist. And that’s fine.
We’re trying to create activities that can suit any of those things. And hopefully — the goal is that players are playing a lot of it, play all of the different aspects. For instance, we’re excited by the idea of taking something that’s traditionally been PvP, Iron Banner and the Iron Lords and Saladin, and putting that in the PvE space. That’s great. If a PvP player is like, I don’t normally care about the campaign but I’m curious about this, I want to go do this — we had an exotic quest in Destiny one to get Thorn. It required going into PvP. At the time I wasn’t playing a lot of PvP, and then I went in and it created a really organic way for me to flow into that activity. Then I did and I was like, I like this, this is really fun. I had a reason to go there, and now I play it. We’re trying to create those opportunities to play everything.
GamesBeat: You’re making a lot of content all the time. How do you decide what will be a free content release and what will be saved for an expansion?
Taylor: Similar to what I was just talking about, all the different activities — there’s a lot of ways to support the game. We think it’s great to do something like put Sparrow racing in the game for three weeks and have that be a unique moment in time. Have Festival of the Lost pop up without any warning and have people have a small cool adventure about masks.
But we also think it’s cool to — when you think about introducing a new zone and bringing back Gjallarhorn and telling a story about Saladin, the best place to do that kind of thing is in a large expansion. You’re pulling all those elements together to make one package, so you’re doing all those things in tandem. Thematically they’re tied together, and then that’s a stronger overall offering. You look at the different types of activities, different types of content, and you figure out what makes the most sense.
GamesBeat: Do you think of players in different ways? You have players who are consistent players. They’re not just playing when the expansions come out. They’re there for all the updates. Then you have players who are more likely to come in when the expansion comes out, play for a few months, and drop off again. Do you think about those groups separately?
Taylor: We want to create opportunities for both, because we think both are valid awesome ways to play Destiny. We just want to make sure that people like playing Destiny. If you’re playing all the time, we have these rituals and things you can do weekly to continue that. If you want to dive in and out when we do updates, that’s awesome too. If you’re excited about Rise of Iron but don’t play until then, that’s great. There’s not really a wrong way to engage with Destiny. That’s on purpose.
GamesBeat: Is it a more comfortable time in Destiny now? It was maybe a harder thing to get people to understand when you were launching. It was a new idea to sell. Would you say that there’s a looser atmosphere at Bungie, now that you’re more comfortable in the Destiny skin?
Taylor: It’s different to develop an IP before it’s released than iterating on it after. I wouldn’t say it’s easier or more relaxed. I’d say the conversations are different. The conversation you’re having before you launch something is just different from what it is once people have played it.
The fact that we didn’t have to start this interview with me explaining the fundamentals of what Destiny is, that’s nice. But it doesn’t mean we spend less time or intensity focusing on making a great experience. It’s just inherently — it’s a little different. But we’re always — we were then, and we are now – focused on making Destiny a great game. That never changes.
What’s changed a little bit is just the conversation we have. And this is beautiful, that we’re able to speak a common language about what the game is. We don’t have to have that disconnect. That’s nice. But as far as developing and my day-to-day job, it’s still very similar.
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