Destiny 2 busted for questionable XP system

With the recent controversies over loot boxes, pay-to-win strategies and psychologically manipulating gamers to spend more money on AAA titles in the news, it should come as no surprise that another AAA title has been accused of the same thing. On Friday, a Reddit thread popped up where a user by the name of EnergiserX documented their XP earnings in public events to figure out if Bungie was somehow nerfing the player’s ability to progress further in the game once they had reached level 20.

As it turns out, there was something wonky going on, and the reveal was big enough to make Bungie issue a press statement during the weekend with the promise to fix the issue in the coming weeks. Destiny 2 now joins Star Wars Battlefront 2 and Need for Speed Payback in earning the ire of its fan base, and Bungie’s steps to fix the issue haven’t helped quieten things down. Who’s next?

As far as a month back, players on the Destiny subreddit were posting threads and theories about the game’s handling of XP earned during public events and missions like the Leviathan raid. Some players had already noticed discrepancies in the amount of XP earned between missions. This was on top of existing issues like players earning nothing from unlocking chests if you opened them too quickly – that’s right, there was already a mechanism in the game to take away player’s rewards hidden in the game.

EnergiserX’s thread delved into the second issue of XP earning cooldowns when players were earning XP too quickly, in addition to slight XP nerfs for high-level players when they earned XP at a slower pace. The game’s UI would only update the progress bar when a condition was met, and there was evidence of a hidden scaling factor that affected how much XP players earned. In addition, Redditors learned that:

  • The XP displayed in-game is at the same scale as in the API and third party apps
  • The scaling factor will increase at least to the point where you’re only really earning 4% of what you should
  • Public Events will only ever earn you 50% of what they say
  • The XP progress bar will change its scaling based on what events you’re participating in

According to EnergiserX, over the course of three hours of gameplay testing out several theories, a loss of 150% in XP was recorded, even though the in-game progress bars did not reflect the loss.

Late on Friday night, or early on Saturday morning depending on your time zone, Bungie issued an official statement about the XP nerfs, and said the following:

We’ve seen community discussion around XP gain in Destiny. After reviewing our data, we agree that the system is not performing the way we’d like it to. Today, we’d like to describe what’s going on under the hood, and talk about what you can expect going forward when it comes to earning XP in Destiny 2.Currently, XP will scale up when playing longer or fixed duration activities like Crucible competitive multiplayer matches and the Leviathan Raid, and XP will scale down when playing activities that can be quickly, repeatedly chained, like grinding Public Events. We are not happy with the results, and we’ve heard the same from the community.

Effective immediately, we are deactivating this system.

As a result, players will see XP earn rates change for all activities across the board, but with all values being displayed consistently in the user interface. Over the course of the next week, we will be watching and reviewing XP game data to ensure that these changes meet our expectations, as well as yours. Any additional updates to this system will be communicated to you via our official channels.

What is interesting about Bungie’s statement is that they admit they are “unhappy with the results” and “agree the system is not performing the way we’d like it to”, but a few lines down they state that they’re deactivating the system. The fact that a scaling system was built into the game at all is worrying. It signals that Bungie’s intention was to make players grind out endlessly for more credits to unlock engrams, particularly in the case of players that had met the level cap. Deceiving players by changing the rate at which they earned XP depending on their in-game actions, without notifying them, is particularly odious.

A second investigation by EnergiserX in a follow-up thread, which went deeper into his recorded gameplay before Bungie’s statement, revealed XP earned nerfs for player kills, completing objectives, and finishing parts of the Leviathan raid in steps, ranging from as little as 10% to almost 65% of the XP displayed in-game, but not recorded.

Despite the change, the backlash against Bungie is gaining steam and will likely increase now as players start to record gameplay and look for more changes or hidden stat changes that give the players a raw deal. Bungie and Activision Blizzard will need to think about their next move very carefully, given recent events and investigations by governments overseas into loot box mechanisms in games. Should that gain more traction and attention, mechanics like these that essentially steal XP away from deserving players may draw the attention of regulatory bodies into the mix.

Bungie’s forums are also on fire, so there’s that too.

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