Communication Is Hard

Say you're in charge of a 750-person company that develops and manages a massive, complicated video game. Every day you're making hundreds of decisions both big and small. How do you decide which ones to share with the rest of the team? How do you make sure you're up to date on everyone else's decisions? And how do you know when it's right to share them with the public?

Over the past few weeks the Destiny 2 community has been in an uproar, fuming over the game's unsatisfying endgame, the bungled XP system, and an upcoming expansion pack (Curse of Osiris, out Wednesday) that seems light on content. It's reminiscent of the early days of vanilla Destiny, and it's all exacerbated by Bungie's poor communication, both internally and externally. For three years now, the rapidly expanding studio has had a tendency to be as secretive as possible, only detailing future plans in response to widespread criticism. Bungie rarely opens up about its development issues and likes sticking to careful marketing dripfeeds, with high-level staff sometimes holding on to key information for long periods of time before sharing it with the rest of the office.

Sometimes that means hiding the true nature of the XP system behind misleading numbers. Sometimes it means waiting months before addressing a heavy ammo bug. Sometimes it means a designer promising that the PvP algorithm hasn't changed, only to realise later that it had - he just wasn't told about it.

It's important to keep critiquing Bungie for its opacity. But it's also worth zooming out and trying to figure out just why the studio has found it so difficult to communicate. Speaking on this week's candid Bungie podcast, Destiny marketing director Eric Osborne made one point that I found particularly cogent.

"One of the things that makes communication so challenging is, we want to make sure we have all our ducks in a row," he said. "Building experiences for Destiny - because of the number of players that play it and the variety of content they're playing - means a lot of teams have to feed in, and a lot of teams have to be committed to making the content and fitting it into their schedules. And so it's really difficult for us to come out quickly and say we're doing, 'X Y Z,' because that means, 'Oh, did someone tell the audio team that we're doing that, did someone tell the QA team that we're doing that?' Because the scale is pretty huge, it's a pretty sizable endeavour in some ways."

The more I've learned about how video games are made, the more I've come to appreciate how miraculous it is that any of them get made at all. Within a massive studio such as Bungie there are dozens of autonomous departments - design, engineering, quality assurance, audio, concept art and so on - and each of those departments is making new choices every day, juggling not just Destiny 2's live game but future expansions and other projects. (Don't forget that, per the leaked Activision contract, Bungie is presumably still on the hook for Destinys 3 and 4.)

A decade ago, the studio had fewer than 300 employees. Now it has more than 700. Adjusting to that kind of growth - and figuring out how to wrangle everyone - is no small task. Short of sending out an email or updating a task management system every time they make even the most insignificant changes, it's hard to imagine how Bungie's producers can keep everyone up to date on absolutely everything. The sheer logistics are almost inconceivable.

Then again, other studios don't seem to have quite as hard a time. The Division's developers are constantly communicating with their players, and Blizzard's forums for games such as Overwatch are sprinkled with blue posts full of interesting thoughts and responses. For decades now, Bungie co-founder Jason Jones has worshipped at the altar of secrecy, and the studio's communication problems are in large part an ingrained cultural problem that its leadership will need to figure out how to fix.

At least there's always Kotaku:


    So they are saying that with proper communication they wouldnt have added in a secretive underhanded system designed specifically to impact the core gameplay solely to enhance the attractiveness of the games micro transactions? People dont actually believes this bollocks right?

      It's possible that the team that handled the hidden XP thing just didn't tell the live team that it existed.

      That the issue with Bungie is that the teams just aren't letting each other know what they are all doing.

      Happens in a lot of companies with multiple teams working on a project together. Not an excuse for it though, but it's understandable that bad communication can cause issues with the consumer base.

        Just no. If there is one thing I agree with in this article its just how mind mindbogglingly intricate it is to create a game like this. They knew exactly what they were doing.

        This shouldnt be taken as a jab at random guy behind the scenes #2 though. I have no doubt there was a higher up saying make this happen and you continue to get paid. Its just also important for people to know not to lose focus of the issue due to X excuse coming out in order to try to shift focus away.

          It is really not uncommon for the left hand to not know what the right hand is doing in organisations. Happens in private and government sectors all the time.

            I think AAA publishers need to start treating their customers like their shareholders

      The XP thing being part of a grand microtransaction conspiracy is just ONE explanation. It is the explanation people like yourself choose to make because it matches this need to believe everything Bungie does is evil. Who needs to keep thinking and trying to understand that decisions dont necessarily get made for one reason only, when you can just blame the thing that matches your prejudice.

      This event perfectly shows what is wrong with the community for me. Even with what I said above I still think microtransactions helped drive what they did (among other things) but here's the thing about the community: it doesnt matter what they say about anything, some people will always want to find the evil intent behind what they do and say, those same people then go online and complain that they dont communicate with us... why would they? they get hate when they tell the truth, they get hate when they make a mistake, they get hate when caught in a lie, they get hate when they change somethign for good or bad, basically they get hate every time they open their mouth.

      And some wonder why they dont communicate?!

    For me I seriously think some gamers need to realise when we buy a game we have a choice. And when we do we are paying money for access to the game not a development teams soul. I truly believe that concept is lost on so many. An IP belongs to a company, they can do whatever they want with it, that is their artistic right, they just have to be willing to face the consequences of their choices. Beside giving us what they promised at launch and supporting it when it breaks, that is all they HAVE to do.

    In the case of Bungie they have never had a bedside manner, they have always been like this. Long term fans of them should know this, so they should be used to it. Remember they choose to buy this game, no one forced their hand.

    I need nothing from game developers behind what they promised and making sure it works, if a game doesn’t do what I want it to, that is my issue. I may communicate my dislike but never damn other people to make THEIR form of entertainment match mine. It is up to me as a customer to find what I like in their game.

    Some things in D2 make me mad but I need no apology, no day/weekly spot fire communication.

      (This is a long comment, I know)

      I'm the last person who would support a THE DEVELOPERS HAVE BETRAYED ME AS A FAN stance for the reasons you have listed above.

      But with Destiny 2, it really feels like there was this conscious hubris in play where they assumed the hardcore fans would be a sure thing (they stuck with them through all of Destiny's up and downs, after all). The result of that mindset was a sequel that seemed specifically designed for the sort of players that trade their games in a month after they've played it. There are so many more decisions centred around the "I ran in a race" medal mindset, where you get an exotic, you get an exotic, everyone gets an exotic! That hollowed out the endgame experience that literally defined Destiny 1's appeal.

      A big reason why so many people stuck with Destiny 1 and defended it was that it was clear that the game's reach exceeded its grasp. They were shooting for something transformative, you could tell. I used to sit and wonder about how much of a quantum leap forward Destiny 2 would be because they had figured out so many problems by year 3 of Destiny 1. That excitement, that knowledge that they had learned all the hard, embarrassing lessons already, left me like a kid on Christmas Eve the night Destiny 2 went live.

      But it's the same in all the ways that don't matter (graphics, story tone, etc.) and worse in all the ways that do (something to play for, meaningful rewards, interesting new ideas).

      On top of all of this is Bungie and Activision's apparent assumption that they get a grace period cause the game came out less than 6 months ago. No it didn't, too much is the same for this game to be considered anything other than YEAR 4 of Destiny's existence. We should have more and better content, not less.

      Bungie know by now how fast Destiny players get through their content, they know that they find out everything there is to find out about the game, they know the expectations they have as a player base, they know what they get incensed by. So what the hell is the excuse for literally every decision they have made with Destiny 2?

      Epic have been updating Fortnite Battle Royale every week since its release, they post blog posts outlining the future of their game once a month, not when the whole internet is baying for blood. As soon as their patch adding a new item or feature goes live, they tell you exactly what's coming next (example: "silent smg is now live, next week, smoke grenades!").

      When dealing with customers and clients, they don't actually mind hearing bad news so long as they believe you're being honest and transparent with them. It's true in all industries, and Bungie can't cling to the smoke and mirrors of game development 20 years ago. The world has changed, customer expectations have changed.

    This probably applies to Valve as well - and not for their silence on HL3 or Ep3 or whatever, because that ultimately doesn't matter. Except Valve have a special kind of awful communication of saying one thing, then ignoring it when it all falls apart. At least until it affects Steam.

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