Its back to work for Bungie as the school bell rings and Destiny comes hurtling through the playground, shunting others aside and bounding inside. Behind closed doors, Bungie looks at the excited child and asks, “What have you been up to?”
“Mostly running around” She replies.
“Did you break anything?” *Destiny looks sheepishly at XboxLive rubbing his dead-arm* “Meet any new faces?”
“Yes! I made loads of new friends” Destiny replies “and we had loads of fun“
“Well that’s good then” Bungie replies “You can have a run around again later, but for now its back to your desk“
Head Master Activision looks on at the discussion from a distance with a smile on his face. The new kid at school is settling well; she’ll be fine when term starts.
Ok, I may have taken my metaphor a little far, but I thought it was a pretty good analogy of how Bungie and Activision let their new kid out on the block for a run around before its official outing in September. I’m also hoping that a joke involving Destiny’s Child will come down the line too, so setting up the joke early. No matter which way you look at it, Destiny’s beta was a undoubtedly a wild success.
To begin with, the beta functioned very well as a marketing move to build hype around a new IP. Despite being a shooter, which is a relatively risk averse genre, there is plenty of competition that Destiny will face up to that means it needed to fight its corner. Destiny is launching in the same window as Call of Duty and Halo: Master Chief Edition, both of which have proven very popular franchises in the past. Without a solid marketing campaign, the game would never make a real impact. This is where the Beta, through careful timing and drip feeding, has been fundamentally crucial in getting gamers to drive the hype themselves.
Putting the fact that it’s Bungie and fans of the developer were already on-board aside, the hype really began at E3 2014 when Destiny was really known off in style. With multiplayer available to play and access to Alpha tests, people were able to get their hands on limited parts of the game and tell the world about it. This sparked the interest in the beta, possibly one of the most searched topics in gaming since June. Next came the announcement that the beta would be a PS4 exclusive and that Xbox owners would have to wait. This naturally sparked controversy over the game’s alignment with one console over another and had fanboys on both sides bickering. This didn’t matter however because the topic was irrelevant as long as the subject was Destiny; Gamers were driving the story themselves and the word Destiny hovered in the background of every news page on every games site. The reason this was so important is because it began by dividing the gaming community into two groups, those with a beta and those without. Naturally, a lot of people who weren’t interested in the game to begin with were not that fussed, but regardless didn’t much like the idea of PS4 getting something they wouldn’t. Suddenly some of the undecided people wanted the beta simply because they couldn’t have it. People always want what they can’t have!
This immediately meant that when the Xbox beta was announced, people who formerly had little interest in the game and were unlikely to bother downloading it were suddenly starting to listen. The story “Beta for PS4 and Xbox One” would not have got remotely as much coverage as the two stories “Beta PS4 only” and then “Beta comes to Xbox One“. Thus, Destiny dominated the headlines for longer and created a bigger name for itself. Its marketing genius.
Then, once hype has built up, Bungie and Activision start the ultimate test of interest: Pre-orders. Once again, the same method is used to divide gamers into two categories of ‘haves and have nots’. By making the beta ‘pre-order’ only, the publisher was able to actively gauge interest in the game based on how many people cared enough to pre-order, just for access to the beta. At this stage it doesn’t matter that people may pre-order and cancel straight away because it still tells them how many people have made the effort. This strategically put Destiny in the headlines again with a story meaning everyone could access the beta, as long as they did ‘x, y, and z’.
The beta has a staggered launch on both platforms, (which incidentally not only allows Bungie to scale up its servers accordingly, but also get Xbox owners excited when they see what PS4 players are playing), and is then available to anyone with the pre-order code. At this point, Destiny stories and videos are all over the internet as amateur gamer-bloggers claim ‘hands on’ with the game that sparks interest from the last category of people; the ones that really didn’t care enough to preorder.
Surely it they will open the beta to everyone eventually? Right? Anyone?….Better pre-order just in case…
You’ve probably worked it out where this is going by now, but the beta is then opened to everyone and the flood gates burst. People who had taken no interest in the game a month before were likely dying to get home from work to download it. What had once been locked away was now available to everyone, and who could resist that? Destiny was now rooted in the minds of every demographic of gamer, from the fanboys to the disinterested. Why not download it just to see what the hype is about?
By this point there are only two groups of people who hadn’t downloaded the beta; the people who really, really didn’t care, and those who were so incredibly excited for the game that they were saving themselves for the full game. By accepting that the former group is likely never to take interest in the game by this point, Bungie needed to know how many people were too excited to play it. Last trick in the book; an exclusive ‘give away’ that would be available in the final version.
By setting an in-game reward for playing at a very specific moment in time, Bungie successfully drew in the final numbers on the largest possible number of people interested in the game. Yes, it was a stress test, and there is absolutely no question about that, but it also served to get the last group of people into the game to get their ‘launch game reward’. By the beta’s closure, its likely that Destiny’s beta had been on almost every console connected to the internet.
Lastly, Destiny’s story of success is all about timing. The beta landed in one of the driest times of the gaming year, when there is really very little to play. Many gamers are struggling to find exciting games to play, especially on the new generation systems where a lot of people are looking hard for the next fix. Whats the next big game to break the drought? Destiny
How many people pushed their old friends aside for the weekend to simply play with the new kid? How many people downloaded and played it because they were bored of their current roster of games? How many people were convinced by getting a taste of playing with friends? How many undecided were won over?
We’ll likely never know, but Bungie does. Our experience with the game was almost completely lag and disconnection free and we were able to really test the mechanics of the game with only a few minor hitches. Despite clearly locked out content, it played like finished product (and indeed, better than some games already out there). Stress testing aside, the beta was unquestionably one of the best marketing campaigns we’ve seen in gaming.
Take note publishers, because that’s how you do a beta.