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Destiny reviews? Why Bungie didn't need them to sell big. (+video)

Destiny, one of the most anticipated games of the current generation, came out Tuesday. There are still no major reviews, but sales have been huge. Good move?

Destiny (live-action trailer)

Destiny, one of the most anticipated video games of the year, came online this week. The multiplayer, first-person shooter game – considered to have the largest budget of any game or movie – comes from Bungie, creators of the popular Halo franchise.

The game takes place 700 years in the future, after the crumbling of a “Golden Age” when human colonies expanded far into space, thanks to the powers of a mysterious, massive sphere called “The Traveler,” which sits just above the Earth’s stratosphere. Those colonies mysteriously collapsed and the last safe place in the galaxy is a single city on Earth. In Destiny, players control a guardian of the city, and the game plays out the mystery of those destroyed colonies with gameplay that focuses on teamwork, customization, and adaptability.

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The game was actively developed well before its formal announcement at Sony's PlayStation 4 presentation on February 20, 2013 and through the summer leading up to its release. 

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According to IGN, $500 million was poured into the development and marketing of Destiny, making it the most expensive game ever to create. This places it squarely above Grand Theft Auto IV, whose estimates were around $160 million to $265 million to develop. It also places it well above the highest budgeted film, "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End," which cost a reported $341.8 million to produce. 

Pete Parsons, chief operating officer of Bungie, refutes the $500 million figure, at least from a production standpoint, in an interview with video game outlet VG247. But Destiny's huge marketing campaign of TV spots and website banners may have pushed the game over the top.

"For marketing you’d have to ask [Destiny's publisher] Activision," Mr. Parsons says, "but for development costs, not anything close to $500 million."

Whatever the cost of the game, Bungie and Activision took some financial risks with their new title, forgoing the industry standard practice of sending review copies to the press days or weeks in advance of the game's release. Bungie argued that without other players running around online, the world(s) of Destiny would feel empty and incomplete. 

“Without a vibrant population for the last safe city on Earth, and Guardians roaming the wild frontiers, Destiny is a shadow of what it should be,” Bungie says in a company blog post. "That’s not how we wanted to submit for review.”

However, without reviews to go on, potential customers were forced to rely on impressions and advertising alone. The lack of review scores did not seem to hurt early sales. Activision reported Wednesday that it sold $500 million in copies of the game to retailers on the first day alone. And more than 11,000 stores held midnight openings to sell the game.

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So, is the game any good? While most gaming websites are still racing to write their official reviews, many published pieces about their first impressions. Matthew Reynolds, writing for the technology and entertainment news outlet Digital Spy, says that the game doesn't effectively advise players when they had to make permanent decisions, such as choosing a character class.

“Destiny isn’t alone here, with many role-playing games falling into the trap of forcing players who have little knowledge of the game’s systems to make a permanent choice without even playing the game,” Mr. Reynolds says.

Others praised the honest simplicity of Destiny’s gameplay. The game doesn’t overreach and it doesn’t underperform, they say. It pulled the same gratifying gameplay mechanics from successful titles such as Borderlands, a zanier and much more irreverent first-person shooter series. 

“Think of Destiny as the square-jawed, grimly-staring cousin to the rubber chicken-wielding Borderlands,” says Dave Thier for Forbes, “While the latter’s absurd cel-shading couldn’t be more different than the staid sci-fi fantasy of the former, the gameplay is near identical.”

We’ll be waiting for more people to soak in the gameplay, but for now, it looks as if Destiny was released on strong footing – reviews or no reviews.


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