On Luke Smith & Eurogamer Controversy

Published on: Jun 22, 2015 @ 22:45

If Bungie’s announcement of The Taken King’s prices was the powder keg, then Creative Director’s Luke Smith’s Eurogamer interview was most certainly the spark to ignite it. The blunt and confident words have stoked the flames of controversy in a big way.

Initial speculation regarding the Collector’s Edition’s exclusivity had an undercurrent of hopefulness that the CE digital rewards would be made available from methods outside of spending the big bucks, but Luke Smith has decisively squashed that hope.

We’ve talked about rewarding investment much more in this article, so be sure to read that first to get caught up with what’s going on.

The Controversy

Eurogamer‘s Tom Phillips either posted half of the interview, or just went right for the jugular, eschewing small talk for pointed questions about the contentious price tags and content lockout of the Collector’s Editions. These are the hard questions we all want answers to! 🙂

Luke tried to stay on the message that we saw Bungie pushing in most of the interviews at E3. He discussed how Bungie was very invested in making sure that new players can be integrated painlessly to grow the Destiny world – a worthwhile priority – and that the comparably low prices in their favor were pivotal to achieving this goal. Eurogamer agreed that such pricing is standard industry practice and not really an issue, but the two diverged when it came to the emotes and other Collector’s Edition-exclusive content.

On the subject of the Collector’s Edition, Luke confirmed that those goodies were part of a two-prong approach targeting “fans who have engaged with the game already and also to people that will enter the game this autumn.” So, Bungie expects that current players, already possessing the majority of the content offered in the CE, will readily pre-order the big package… a bold gamble. Eurogamer thought so as well, challenging: “Can you see that some fans are confused that you’re asking them to buy stuff they already own?”

Luke responded that he empathizes with these concerns, and himself would be interested in buying something like a ‘golf clap’ emote – but that the Collector’s Edition is designed exactly for this reason. We want, and he wants, access to these digital items.

When pressed about Bungie’s plans to integrate piecemeal DLC content, he spelled it out:

 

[Laughs] Well, we have nothing more to talk about regarding your opportunity to spend extra money in Destiny, other than the Taken King and the three versions we’ve announced.

On the surface, this appears to be a condescending and dismissive take on what the community feels are legitimate concerns. However, in context, it’s directed at the Eurogamer interviewer personally, who had just admitted he would pay money for a single emote. It smacks of bemusement at the enthusiasm to pay more.

taken king collector's edition content

Of course, Luke is missing the obvious irony that they’re already asking the players to spend more with the Collector’s Edition, but the idea that he’s somehow derisive of the very thought of changing their current plan is misplaced. We’ve seen this with ‘Bungie-speak’ in the past. They have a few things they’re willing to talk about, and the rest is shrouded in a purposeful veil of uncertainty.

“We have nothing to announce at this time” has made the rounds plenty from the mouths of DeeJ and the others, and “We have nothing more to talk about” is essentially the same idea.

Bungie’s dogmatic adherence to keeping their lips sealed about future plans has created plenty of misunderstanding in the past, and this just seems to be the most recent iteration of this phenomenon. It’s important to pick out the meat from the rhetoric, and this about sums it up:

We have nothing to announce today. We’re reading the forums and the reactions to this week’s announcements. We will continue to discuss player feedback with respect to the game and Collector’s Edition content.

Unfortunately, in the context of the rest of the interview and the conflict at large, it broadcasts a conflicting message. Rather than admitting, “We get it, and we might have screwed up,” it paints Bungie as a scrooge, gauging the amount of controversy to decide if the current forecast will adversely affect profits to the point of needing to intervene. Of course, to assume this is to assume the very worst, but you see it everywhere anyway. Those who were praising Bungie as recently as a week ago are now calling for their heads on pikes. The culprit is mostly the PR around them.

Poking

At times like these, it’s important to have a nuanced voice in the discussion to soften tempers. Luke Smith, despite being directly responsible for much of what Destiny has to offer, is not that person. He’s frank, engaging, and energetic, but nuance is not his game. Luke was probably caught off-guard, and DeeJ – for all the times he talks a lot while saying little – is perfectly suited for this task.

The perfect example of this comes when Eurogamer was attempting to steer the conversation toward a new topic, and Luke instead turned interviewer, needling them into discussing the issue of the emotes and Collector’s Edition again.

Eurogamer: Final question on prices –

Luke Smith: Is it also the final question on the emotes?

Eurogamer: I’m not going to mention them again. I can’t get them.

Luke Smith: But you can if you buy the Collector’s Edition.

Eurogamer: I’m not going to buy the game and the two DLCs all over again.

Luke Smith: Okay, but first I want to poke at you on this a little bit.

Eurogamer: Poke at me?

Luke Smith: You’re feeling anxious because you want this exclusive content but you don’t know yet how much you want it. The notion of spending this money is making you anxious, I can see it –

Eurogamer: I do want them. I would buy them –

Luke Smith: If I fired up a video right now and showed you the emotes, you would throw money at the screen.

Eurogamer: What I’m saying is that fan frustration is not because they don’t understand the proposition. It comes regardless of how cool the exclusive content is. The frustration – and mine as a fan – is that the method of acquiring it requires me to re-buy content I bought a year ago.

Luke Smith: [Long pause] It’s about value. The player’s assessment of the value of the content.

Luke had a chance to move past it, but chose to “poke” as he succinctly put it. His prying shed some light onto why there is so much friction right now between Bungie and the community. There seems to be a dissonance between Luke’s and Eurogamer’s impression of what makes content valuable.

Luke, ever the pragmatist and literalist, is looking very concretely at what exactly is being provided. In his mind, if the specific emotes haven’t been announced, it makes no sense for players to be clamoring for access to them. His rhetorical question: “If I fired up a video right now and showed you the emotes you would throw money at the screen” is not a smug taunt, but an incredulous challenge of Eurogamer’s assertion that they would absolutely purchase these extra emotes.

Eurogamer is echoing the sentiment that we all have: it’s not about what the emotes actually are, but how they can be obtained. The notion that Bungie would intentionally cordon off any amount of content from its best fans is unacceptable. It doesn’t matter if the emotes turn out to be an imperceptible wink, or a full-on breakdance; so long as they’re not available to everyone for a reasonable price, the insult is there.

Did this resonate with Luke? It very well might have. Though his talk of empathizing was nice, the long pause said more than his words could have. He notes that it’s all about value, and Bungie’s reactions to their fans’ definitions of “value” will be crucial to The Taken King‘s success or failure.

As for the overall cost? Eurogamer points out that the cost of the Taken King is almost equivalent to that of the base game. Luke defends TTK by saying, “We’re really comfortable with the value we’re giving to players this autumn. I believe that once we begin to share more, players will be even more excited.”

Eurogamer’s drive to find out exactly what we’re getting is very understandable. $40 is the cheapest way to get access to the Taken King, and new players will have to spend, at minimum, $60. Luke also observes that there is a “temporal valuation of content” – that is, new players won’t get to experience the thrill of Swordbearers in the wild, or a collective of Guardians experiencing and sharing their victories in the Vault of Glass for the first time.

However, this cuts both ways. As a new player you’re basically getting everything current players have had access to for much less, but your enjoyment might be diminished, as The Taken King threatens to supersede everything before it. This is a balance Destiny has had a difficult time striking, and you can be sure that Luke and the crew are already brainstorming ways to keep Destiny’s older content still relevant come September. Can you still justify the price tag?

The Big Picture

When it comes down to it, we really have no idea how big The Taken King is going to be. What we have to go on is the content we’ve seen so far from E3. Past that, we have Bungie’s reassurance that $40 is going to be an excellent price for the sheer amount of value The Taken King will deliver.

We have to decide that we either take Luke at his word, and are thus willing to pre-order, or are skeptical and need more information, in which case we will abstain until we know more. Both of these attitudes are perfectly reasonable, and if a playerbase is informed and has nothing withheld from them, there is no wrong decision.

deej response
Expect to learn more in the weekly update!

To you guys:

We’re not telling you your anger is unjustified. We’re not pleased either; digital items that are exclusive to the CE really sucks.

Luke Smith and Bungie are not cackling maniacally in their ivory towers though, Scrooge McDuck-ing into piles of ill-gotten gold. Luke’s last statement from the interview reveals his frustration in creating a system that allows Guardians to establish a Legacy. He knows there are things “missing right now in Destiny” and Bungie as a team has been plugging away at an imperfect product since Destiny first arrived.

To Bungie:

We understand that the Collector’s Edition is there for those who can afford it, but you have to understand that when you dangle those rewards in front of our faces, and double down on our inability to get them unless we’re willing to re-buy a game we own, that it’s going to ruffle some feathers.

The Taken King is a big investment, no matter how you slice it, and you can expect your fanbase to have their faith stretched pretty thin by committing to such a huge cost before seeing that they’re getting their money’s worth. Pre-orders and DLC are sore spots even for well-respected companies, and addressing concerns about the prices of these with anything less than perfect tact is going to earn you reprisal like we’ve seen.

Your Take?

With all that said, we want to hear what you have to say about Luke Smith’s interview. We’re certainly not letting Bungie off the hook for the implications of some of Luke’s statements, but we believe that the conversation deserves some gradations from black to white.

The Collector’s Edition will continue to be an unsettling example of a blatant cash-grab, but Luke is being scapegoated for what amounts to a business decision that he had no involvement in. As it stands, DeeJ will have a big day ahead of him in crafting the weekly update. We can only hope it extends an olive branch in a meaningful way.

Know that we don’t weigh in on issues like this lightly, and that our first priority is even reporting that is devoid of bias. We’ll address any of your concerns, so try to be respectful of each other when discussing this hot-button issue.

Joel

I’m aWrySharK, your resident Exotic guru and lover of all things min/max. At PlanetDestiny, my perfectionism is no longer simply a matter of form over function.

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