Hardcore Destiny players don't just wait around for updates from Bungie about the game. Armed with specialised knowledge of how game files work, some Destiny players try to predict what's going to happen before Bungie actually makes any changes.
These players find all sorts of things. They can, for example, tell what exotic weapons weekend-only vendors like Xur will sell in the future. Since Xur sells special weapons, knowing what he's going to sell is good info — hardcore players can decide ahead of time whether or not they want spend extra time saving up money for Xur's future wares. This nugget of information is not the only thing players can find. They can also predict what the weekly missions and challenges will be before they actually go live in the game. They have even tried forecasting what gear, weapons, new factions and missions will be included in the upcoming expansion, House of Wolves.
Leaks like these happen thanks to something called "data mining". As Engadget explains here, data mining is a process that involves looking at a game's data files to see what they reveal. Often, this requires the use of specialised programs and tools — but don't confuse it with hacking. Data mining often occurs with publicly-available files. Think, for example, how you can right click on this very page and look at its HTML without necessarily breaking into any Gawker Media files. Completely different process, but similar principle. You'd be surprised at what developers are hiding in plain sight, so to speak.
Every few days, threads on Reddit pop up with new predictions and findings from data miners. While there are a handful of Destiny data miners floating around, the most infamous data miner has to be someone who goes by the handle "Megamanexe4" — many of the big leaks, like the ones pertaining to the upcoming Destiny expansion, can be traced back to this mysterious user. Not much is known about Megamanexe4. I tried reaching out to him to no avail, but here's what I can say for certain. He appeared suddenly on r/DestinyTheGame about a month ago, with screenshots of as-of-yet unreleased new gear. "I am not good at English," he warned in the post, which also contained snippets of Japanese. Redditors didn't mind. To this day, Megamanexe4 is one of the most popular dataminers. Some players don't trust datamining leak posts unless they come from Megamanexe4. In general, players seem to look at data mining in a positive light.
"Finding out how things work under the hood a pretty fundamental part of human curiosity," one Redditor opined in a data mining thread.
(An unreleased data mined piece of gear.)
Megamanexe4 isn't the only Destiny dataminer, of course. There are a few other dataminers who chip away at Destiny's files, hoping to find something cool or interesting. I spoke to one such player, Damon Kirk, over email.
"Data-mining is basically a process where you intercept data packets, which are basically the atoms of the internet, and you try to find patterns," Kirk explained. It's a process that can take hours, as well as require the help of friends — a lot of work for simply finding out what potentially disappointing gear a vendor carries. Still, Kirk enjoys the thrill of the hunt anyway.
"I enjoy looking into the code, and seeing behind the scenes," Kirk said. "Developers put a lot of time into their game and you really start to appreciate the little things that make the game playable.
"I data mined to stand out [from other Destiny players]. I was fairly new in the Destiny community, [having] only picking the game up in late January. [I was] envious [of other players]…I felt as if I needed to make a name of myself."
So Kirk started to data mine, and he has indeed gained some recognition for it. He's even tried teaching other players how to do it. Kirk thinks that data-mining is a way for the community to maintain interest in the game, well after they run out of things to do.
"I believe the players [are] interested in data mining because people are starting to bore of Destiny. Of course there are some players who wanted this information to brag or seem like prophets, but others just wanted something new about the game."
Overall, Kirk made the data-mining community around Destiny sound pleasant and helpful — but there are some bad apples, too. Being able to predict the future of Destiny has become a lucrative thing for some players, and they're willing to lie about it to get a chance in the spotlight.
"The worst part has to be the guys who deceive," Kirk said. "The ones that will 'predict' something extremely rare or a coveted item will be sold, release, or given away just to get karma, likes, and subscribers on Youtube. Releasing information obtained from data-mining can garner a lot of attention, even incorrect information will still become a top post."
It's also worth noting that just because a data miner finds something, doesn't mean that thing will actually make it into the game. Smaller-scale predictions, like what the weeklies are going to be, or what Xur is going to sell, tend to be spot-on. But bigger things, like what the expansion will hold, are not so clear-cut. Bungie has warned players not to trust leaks coming from unofficial sources. "Anything you know about [House of Wolves] can change," Deej, a Bungie community manager, wrote over at the Bungie forums.
"We reserve the right to overwrite anything you're looking at right now," he continued. "These placeholder items enable us to save room on your drive for actual future updates. You'll all download them before it's time to play.
"Any stats or assumptions about power or impact or handsomeness are months old, and do not reflect the things that we're doing to adapt to what you've taught us about Destiny…Leaks are fun. I totally get it. Please discuss to your heart's content. All we ask is that you leave your mind open to the evolutions that are inevitable."
"I needed to make a name of myself."
Data miners also claim that Bungie is actively fighting against them. Megamanexe4 says that Bungie now has two different versions of Xur in the game — one with an inventory that can be predicted, and one that can't. Allegedly, Bungie can tweak what Xur sells without any patches. Bungie is said to prevent Xur leaks from happening with this system, because the data pertaining to what Xur will sell can only be obtained on the same day that Xur appears in the game in the first place.
Damon Kirk even claims that Bungie isn't just trying to keep this information under wraps, they're actually actively messing with data miners. One day, after logging in to try to find out what Xur was going to sell in the future, Kirk says the only data Xur was broadcasting was for No Land Beyond. Every single weapon that Xur was going to sell in the future appeared to be the worst gun in the game, a firearm that is actively scorned by a lot of the community. Essentially: Bungie was trolling data miners by uploading dummy info on Xur.I contacted Bungie to ask whether or not this claim was true, but they didn't get back to me in time for publication.
Data mining isn't new — savvy players have taken a peek at game files for ages now. Last year, I spoke to a data miner who claimed that the developer notes inside of Dragon Age Inquisition demystified what happened in the ending and gave clues to what might be in store in future DLC. People found out about World of Warcraft's inclusion of Robin Williams thanks to data mining. Hilariously, players who datamined Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare last year found that the developers hid information about weapon damage in Klingon. Hell, I spoke to someone whose entire job used to revolve around data mining information from World of Warcraft for an enthusiast site. Information-hungry players data mine just about any game you can think of. But it's particularly fascinating to watch data mining occur in Destiny, a game that has been defined by the tensions between Bungie and its players, and the way players feel as though Bungie isn't sharing enough information. In this case, despite some pushback from Bungie, data miners like Kirk take it all in stride.
"I actually enjoyed Bungie messing with us, haha," Kirk said. "It showed that they're constantly keeping an eye on not only the forums but Reddit as well."
Illustration: Jim Cooke