Destiny 2 isn't Underperforming, but Clickbait is Definitely Overperforming
This week, Activision had a public investors call that disclosed their thoughts on the company’s performance. With Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and Destiny 2’s Forsaken expansion both recently released, this call came at a key moment.
I didn’t listen to the call, so when I saw dozens of headlines pop onto my Twitter feed to the gist of “Activision Says Destiny 2 is Underperforming” I was mildly surprised. After all, recent numbers from SuperData showed that Forsaken outgrossed the recent Spiderman game. In fact, the numbers show that Forsaken was the highest grossing title of the month, beating out FIFA 19, Fortnite and NBA 2K19.
All of these are games that make an absurd amount of money. Spiderman, in particular, is the fastest selling PlayStation 4 exclusive of all time. With 3.3 million units shipped its first three days, it's no small achievement that Destiny 2’s $40 expansion out-grossed it. Forsaken made a lot of money.
My instant reaction to the headlines were: “Activision must be out of its mind with greed.” To consider Forsaken a failure would require expectations that just aren’t realistic. This confusion led me to find Activision’s exact remarks.
And so, after reading for about fourty-five seconds, I let out an eye roll.
I love the internet. I like the Destiny subreddit. I sometimes tolerate game journalism. But it takes all but a cursory review of Activision’s remarks to discover that the reaction to the call is comically overdone.
Not only is Destiny 2 not financially disappointing, but Activision’s comments are so benign and straight-forward that in fair context, I imagine any Destiny 2 player could appreciate them as accurate.
Here are Activision COO Coddy Johnson’s exact words:
“Some of our other franchises like Destiny are not performing as well as we'd like...We have not yet seen the full core re-engage in Destiny, which has led to the underperformance against expectations to date. Some players are in ‘wait and see’ mode. If you’re in, you’re deeply engaged. If not, we think now’s the time to bring players back.”
Let’s break down what the guy is actually saying.
Destiny 2 had a massive launch. But the game had a troubled post-launch period due to the game’s shallowness, and the truly abysmal ‘Curse of Osiris’ DLC didn’t help. In fact, it convinced a lot of players that the game wouldn’t be fixed any time soon and they left. We all saw Destiny Tracker’s population numbers. A lot of players left, and a lot of them stayed gone.
When Warmind dropped, people quickly realized it was pretty good. Some players came back.
When Forsaken released, word spread that the game was amazing. And a lot of players came back.
But it stands to reason that many players haven’t. This is a neutral, easy to understand idea. If a $60 game (or $100 for many) left you burned, it’s a hard road to the next $40.
Activision’s COO essentially confirmed this as fact. He didn’t say Destiny 2 was bad. Or that Bungie were failures. Or that the game was dead. He said, and I quote: “Some players are in ‘wait and see’ mode. If you’re in, you’re deeply engaged. If not, we think now’s the time to bring players back.”
This is a readily apparent fact that the Destiny community has commented on repeatedly, on Reddit, Twitter and YouTube. Players left, now’s the time to earn their trust back. Bungie has known this for nearly an entire year, and knows the worst is behind them. In fact, Activision is outright declaring that the worst is over with this comment.
People taking this as some massive omen of doom for the franchise, or Activision’s cruel insult to the tireless and broken serfs at Bungie, are overthinking this on an absurd level. It’s such a casual and unloaded observation of apparent reality that, said in any other context, it would be readily accepted by anyone up to date with the game and its community. It’s neither shocking nor ill-meant.
An additional complaint is that Activision is somehow “calling out” or “singling out” Destiny 2 as some failure. Let’s get this straight. This wasn’t a press release. It wasn’t a public presentation. It was a press call with investors. It’s a benign fact that’s relevant to investors, not some designed insult. Bungie probably wouldn’t have even noticed it was said unless….
Why I'm Annoyed
The second Johnson uttered the word “underperforming,” the word was stripped of all context and milked for all dramatic effect by every games journalism outlet under the sun. And it’s not just them: YouTubers, Twitter users and Redditors all milked it for all its worth. Not once on Twitter or Reddit did I see any commentary on any relevant information of the call except the use of the word “underperforming.”
The word "underperforming" was extrapolated and speculated on in ways that flat out don’t make sense given Activision’s actual words. That was far, far more offensive than anything Activision said in their investor call. Everyone had their speculation as to why Destiny 2, as a game in its entirety, was underperforming, and even well-meaning fans were outraged that Activision would say such a thing. They never did, but fans made sure to repeat this supposed insult incessantly.
In effect, a non-existent insult was pulled out of thin air, then waved in Bungie's face relentlessly.
Fans, YouTubers and journalists created a PR gut punch for Bungie out of thin air, not Activision. Well-meant Redditors constructing outlandish narratives, casting Activision as some cartoonish villain against a poor, downtrodden Bungie. The internet created an outlandish fantasy with nothing but a bare thread connecting it to reality.
Activision’s comments were blown out of proportion by the absolute worse tendencies of the gaming community. Fans, journalists and YouTubers alike are on the hook for spreading an absolutely untrue message. Destiny 2 isn’t failing, in fact, it’s growing to be stronger than its ever been. Activision knows it, Bungie knows it. And now, they both have to combat a widespread message that insults a game they’re both invested in, financially and creatively.
To the Destiny community: I love you guys, I love your energy. But do better. And stop succumbing to the worst tendencies of the medium across which we’re connected. And for the love of The Traveler: actually read stuff before clicking, sharing and regurgitating.