As much as I love it, Destiny is riddled with flaws, many of which Bungie doesn't seem all that interested in addressing. Most of them -- like how you still lose ammo when you die -- are things players can't do anything about. But the game's lack of matchmaking for its most challenging missions -- one of its most glaring problems, depending who you ask -- has proved to be something players can address and, by working together, fix.
Destiny's "raids", the Vault of Glass and Crota's End, can take hours and require teams of six players to complete. On top of that, the game will not team you up with other players automatically for them like it does for most co-op missions. You have to group up first outside of the game, the idea being that you'll have more fun if everyone is on the same page. And it's not a bad idea, but it does leave a lot of players -- like those who don't have large groups of Destiny-playing friends -- in the lurch.
Bungie's position is staunch: they will not add matchmaking for the raids. The end. Thankfully, this is one problem that the community had the power to fix, and fix it they did. There are plenty of places for Destiny players to meet up online, from Bungie's official forums to Reddit. But those looking to team up for a Vault or Crota run generally turn to either DestinyLFG-dot-com or DestinyLFG-dot-net -- rival sites that were built and launched at almost the exact same time.
"LFG" stands for "Looking for Group." The sites let you enter your platform, language and character information, plus the activity you want to do and how many additional players you're seeking, then browse through others' listings. There are small differences between the two sites: One updates in real time, the other remains static until you hit refresh. One has a chat feature, the other doesn't. But at their core, they're essentially the same.
I told The Duke we needed someone to volunteer to hold the relic during the Templar fight. He didn't hesitate.
I've encountered all types of players on the two sites, but most of my experiences have been positive. If one loudmouth starts talking trash, someone else usually shuts them up, and the groups of randoms I've played with were quick to boot someone who's being abusive or not cooperating with the team. There are always players who drop the "F" bomb (not "fuck") and use other slurs, but they aren't as common as you might think.
One day recently, after failing over and over again and with several different groups to beat the Vault of Glass's Templar boss on hard mode, I finally hooked up with some players who knew what they were doing. One of them, who I've come to call "The Duke," was level 32, the highest you can be -- a rare enough sight that I assumed he would be an elitist douche. I couldn't have been more wrong.
I told The Duke we needed someone to volunteer to hold the relic during the Templar fight; it's an important and challenging role, and the problem with my other groups that day had been that no one had wanted to do it. He didn't hesitate. "That's me," he said. "Then I think we're going to be friends," I replied. We vaporized the Templar in two tries.
DestinyLFG.com creator Brock Busby and DestinyLFG.net creator Dave -- who doesn't want his full name out on the internet -- both began building their sites over the summer before Destiny came out. They recognised during the game's public beta, when players were getting their hands on it for the first time, that the need for their sites would arise once people really got into it.
Busby said he "totally respected and completely agree[s] with [Bungie's] decision" to leave out matchmaking for the raids, and not just because it means DestinyLFG.com gets to flourish; he believes it's the right call for this type of game and that type of mission. And to be sure, grouping up with randoms to take on challenges that require constant communication and teamwork does not sound like a fun time.
"But I was like, 'Oh, this is going to be tough for some of the audience,'" he said, including himself. He's in his thirties, and a lot of his friends have kids and busy lives. "I'm lucky if I have more than three friends online at the same time," he said.
On a Tuesday, the day Destiny's internal timer ticks down and its in-game activities reset so players can try them again for new rewards, dot com gets around 50,000 unique visitors and dot net gets about 60,000, their creators told me. Clearly a lot of people have the same problem.
Busby is a marketing VP and executive producer in his day job, and he said he hadn't programmed anything in ten years when he decided to build his site. But he built it over the month of August and started promoting it once Destiny came out in September, and to his surprise it took off really quickly.
DestinyLFG.net's journey was a bit different. Dave is a web developer by trade, and unlike Busby, he was already an avid Reddit user when he started building a prototype of the site in August. He used Reddit's Destiny community -- bustling long before the game launched -- to promote it and solicit valuable feedback. Busby has since become active on Reddit as well, but as either of them will tell you, Dave got there first. And yet Busby's site has something Dave's doesn't, something important: the ".com" domain name.
I personally have primarily used DestinyLFG.dot com simply because I didn't know until recently that the dot net site existed. I heard on Reddit about a site called DestinyLFG, typed DestinyLFG.com into my address bar, and assumed that was it. That's the perk of having the .com domain, an advantage of which both sites' creators are acutely aware.
"By the time I actually kind of committed to getting the domain for it and really committed to actually launching it, Brock had already gotten dot com," Dave said. "And people on Reddit specifically took a side when they really didn't need to."
Busby was demonised. The Reddit community assumed he'd ripped off Dave's idea and stole the dot com domain out from under him. They didn't like the fact that he has an ad. He was accused of creating spam accounts to flood the Destiny subreddit with posts about his site. Things got nasty, and through a lot of it Busby, not being a Redditor himself, didn't even know it was happening.
"I mean honestly, I would be totally happy if Bungie made in-game functionality to make my site obsolete."
Eventually the moderators had to get involved, with a post essentially telling users to chill out and be nice (isn't it amazing how often people on the internet need to be reminded of that?). There's no reason to take sides or "hold a grudge" against either site, the post said. Having been contacted by the mods, Busby and Dave both participated in the comments, which for the most part were appropriately apologetic.
Dave was already in with this crowd, but the incident taught Busby an important lesson about self-promotion on Reddit. "The best analogy I've heard is Reddit's like the water cooler," he said. "Like, if you see a group of people talking around the water cooler or a group of people at a party, you don't just walk up to them and say 'Hey, look at me!'"
"Looking for Group" sites are not a new idea. Both Busby and Dave looked for inspiration to a site called GuildWars2LFG -- a site that, ominously, was made obsolete when Guild War 2 developer ArenaNet implemented a similar feature within the game. When I brought up the possibility of this happening with Destiny -- even though Bungie has made it pretty clear that it won't -- Busby and Dave responded differently.
"I mean honestly, I would be totally happy if Bungie made in-game functionality to make my site obsolete," Dave said. "There's no ads on the site, so it's not like I'm making money off it. I take donations for server costs and stuff like that, but if I could shut down my site -- I mean, I would leave it up just in case people wanted to use it, but if I could shut down my site because Bungie covered it, you know, in a future update, I would be happy. I wouldn't mind that at all."
Busby is more worried about what Bungie's implementation of the feature would look like -- an LFG feature and automatic matchmaking are very different things, after all -- and what it would mean for his site. He's "not making millions" from the site, though he said he's surprised how much revenue its single advertisement generates. It's enough for him to have hired a freelancer to improve the site's performance, and to make him think about ways he might expand.
"I don't think matchmaking is the solution. I think a 'looking for group' tool would be the solution in-game," Busby said. "Now obviously I know that goes against what I have right now, and any sort of baroque model, but ultimately that's why I'm looking at other long-term revenue streams and capabilities and features."
He imagines adding more social features and expanding to cover other games -- for example, imagine hopping onto a similar site to find someone with an afternoon to kill who will help you build something in Minecraft, or to organise an Evolve or Grand Theft Auto tournament. Those are just a few of the games he's looking at.
But Busby and Dave aren't the only community members who'd lose out if Bungie changed its position. Their sites may have massive fan bases -- largely comprised of Reddit users, it seems -- but they're hardly the only options for Guardians seeking groups to play with.
The Fireteams subreddit lets players form up more loosely, around specific topics. As Kotaku reported in September, there are clans like Dads of Destiny, which centres around fathers with busy schedules. A site called thatwizardcamefromthemoon.com serves much the same purpose as the DestinyLFG sites, though unlike those it requires users to register. One called The 100, which launched this very week, puts users into groups with 99 other like-minded players -- essentially automatic clans.
Destiny's massive community of players has mobilized in countless ways, large and small, to get past this hurdle and get playing. That's pretty cool, and if you want to give Bungie the benefit of the doubt you might assume that this is what they intended all along. Or maybe they just didn't have time to implement a proper system in the game itself and decided as a studio to pretend they don't think the game needs any actual social features instead of admitting their mistake. I did try to get their take on the DestinyLFG sites for this story, but I never heard back. Oh well; this is a story about Destiny players coming together in spite of Bungie, and it sort of makes sense that the studio wouldn't care to have a voice in it.
My biggest problem with Destiny is the fact the game begins with your character literally being resurrected after your corpse has laid decomposing on a broken highway for uncounted years, and then nobody ever mentions it again for the rest of the game. But that's me. For many more players, the biggest issue is the lack of matchmaking for the game's best missions. Or at least it would be without the LFG sites.
"They have created a social game, but there's no social aspect to it, and they have left the heavy lifting to external websites, and that's what I don't understand," Busby said. "Bungie is a great company, great developers, and I do respect their decision. I think that's one of the things, though, that they should have maybe reconsidered."
Busby's site, the dot com one, is subtitled "the Bungie featured, leading Destiny LFG site" (with a link to a Bungie "Community Focus" post about the site -- so they support it theoretically, at least). On the other hand, Dave's dot net site reads -- pointedly, it seems -- "the original Destiny looking for group site." The messages feel like a wink and a nod between the creators, who are indeed friendly with one another.
Having played religiously for the last four months, I believe I've identified one of this community's defining characteristics: opportunism.
"He's a really good guy, and I actually do enjoy that he is my competitor," Busby said. "It's just important that people are finding great groups to play with, and quickly."
Dave admitted that the competition has spurred him to make dot net better. "If I had gotten the dot com site or if Brock hadn't pushed his site as much, I don't know if my site would be quite as good as it has been," he said. "Even though we're competitors, we're friendly competitors. There's nothing wrong with having two sites."
For my part, I'm happy that both sites have been successful. And it gives me a bit of hope for the future of Destiny as a franchise.
Having played religiously for the last four months, I believe I've identified one of this community's defining characteristics: opportunism. When they see an opportunity -- say, to pull out their LAN cables and cheesily beat the hardest boss in the game -- they don't hesitate to take it, to the benefit of the players. That's exactly what these web developers and Destiny fans did when they created DestinyLFG.com and DestinyLFG.net, and it excites me to know that however much Bungie may screw up in Destiny, the community will take every opportunity to make it better.