Lessons from the Latest Season of Destiny 2

The Season of the Drifter is about to conclude. What did it teach us about keeping your live-service game fresh? Let's break it all down.

Lessons from the Latest Season of Destiny 2

The Season of the Drifter is about to conclude. What did it teach us about keeping your live-service game fresh? Let's break it all down.

The next batch of post-release content for Destiny 2: Forsaken is set to release next week, and the game's community is eager to dive in. Entitled Season of Opulence, the summer entry in the live-service title's annual pass continues in the tradition of its predecessors by introducing a new raid, additional game modes, exotic weapons with associated quests, and in-game events.

While the game's community has had it's complaints about the previous two updates, the team at Bungie has used them to great effect, making sure that there's constantly something new happening, that the game is always alive with changes and additions that keep players coming back. They're also good at adapting to player criticism, striving to continuously create a game that is closer and closer to that for which their audience asks.

So, with the next content drop right around the corner, it seems like a great time to look back on the Season of the Drifter, which concludes next week, and just how its release calendar and roadmap impacted the title's streaming community and its performance. How much does each piece of content invigorate the game's Twitch presence, and what does that teach us? Let's dive in to the numbers.

Season of the Drifter began with the release of the Gambit Prime and Reckoning game modes on March 5th, and will conclude with the beginning of Opulence on June 4th. There were ten distinct content drops over that time. Each release is marked below as a red arrow. Observe the impact each release had on total viewership.

A few things jump out at you right away. First, it's obvious that the initial release of Drifter resulted in an immediate spike in viewership, reaching a peak that would not be matched for the rest of the season's calendar. This was by far the highest peak viewership the game had achieved since January 29th, when the final patch of the then running Season of the Forge was released. The time between those two peaks are shown below.

Viewership dramatically declined in that season's final month, but the new content drew audiences back in, a good illustration of what every live-service developer already knows: new content is key to keeping your game alive.

Looking further at the first graph above, while we see that most days which featured a content release saw an uptick in overall viewership, two in particular saw the opposite. On both March 19th and April 11th, new content specific to the Gambit Prime game mode was unveiled, new maps on each and the release of private matches on the latter, and, on both dates, fewer viewers tuned in than the day before. This seems to indicate that while new game modes and quests do, indeed, seem to draw large audiences, expansions of those same game modes and quests do not necessarily do the same. Though, it must be pointed out that these were simply single days of loss, and that they did nothing to reverse the title's momentum.

The most interesting content release, though, was the final one, taking place on May 7th and coinciding with the second largest peak in viewership for the entire season. This was the day that Bungie released an unannounced quest, a secret unmarked puzzle that hints revealed would lead to a new exotic weapon. Note that, at its core, this isn't a very large addition to the game, and yet it was one of the most productive in terms of Twitch viewership.

It genuinely seems that, combined with the surprise nature of the release, it was the puzzle-solving elements, the fact that gamers knew something was there to find, but not how, resulted in content that audiences found compelling. Every time a raid is released in Destiny, there's a worldwide race to be not only the first player or players to complete it, but also discover all of its secrets. And viewers love to be carried along for the journey, to be there as a streamer becomes the first to complete a raid alone, or the first to uncover a particularly juicy bit of lore.

This extends, it seems, to the surprise exotic quest; it provided that same thrill, with big-time streamers all racing to be the first to figure out how it all worked. This tracks well with one of the game's other biggest days of the year, back on January 8th when Bungie revealed via tweet that the newest content, Niobe Labs, was a puzzle room that players had to find and solve, one that, once completed, would open up new content for the entire playerbase. This too, was built upon mystery, exploration, and that drive to be the first, to be the ones who changed the game for everybody. On that day, Destiny 2 reached a peak of nearly 80,000 viewers, the second biggest day since the first release of the game's annual pass in December of 2018.

Looking forward to The Season of Opulence, it seems likely that some combination of surprise, mystery additions and puzzle elements will come into play at least once. Over the last two seasons, such releases have resulted in some of the game's most productive days on Twitch, and the most recent example's timing, near the end of the season's calendar, has left the game in a stronger place for the next batch of content than it had been in prior to Drifter. Of all the strategies Bungie has deployed, this has been one of the most effective, and it's clear that their players and audience bring extra enthusiasm to this type of content. We expect them to continue to lean into it moving forward.

The release of Season of the Drifter and each of its component parts had a clear and pronounced impact on Destiny's overall Twitch viewership, but when looking at how many unique streamers were broadcasting the game during that time, the impact is slightly less pronounced.

Looking above, we can see that the same two release days where viewership declined were the two lowest performing such moments during the season in terms of total creators, and once again we can see that the first day of Drifter was also the strongest. But, the second strongest release was not the mysterious Outbreak Prime quest, as it had been for viewership, but rather March 12th, the release date for both a new exotic quest and a new map for Gambit Prime. Given that other release dates for Gambit Prime expansions were the weakest days for the title, it's likely the quest which proved to be the big draw.

This seems to indicate that, while that sort of puzzle-oriented content is a huge draw for viewers, who flock to watch their favorite players, often more skilled than audience members ever could be, achieve something surprising or great, it's not what necessarily pulls in the broadest cross-section of streamers. The reality is that, while everybody wants to solve one of these mysteries, they often take large amounts of time, dedication, and practice to complete, and not every player or creator has the ability or time to do so. That's what makes it so appealing as a viewer, it lets you feel involved, lets you participate in a moment you might not otherwise have the opportunity with which to engage.

But, what draws in players is meaty content, game modes that add hours and hours of new experiences to the game world, quests that are accessible and help you to evolve your character and feel powerful. And, of course, increasing total viewership and total broadcasts are both important to developers and publishers, each with their own unique utility. Knowing what forms of content will impact which number is important when planning how to best support a title as time goes on.

Now that we've looked backwards, let's look into the future at the upcoming Season of Opulence and predict just how the next three months of content might play out.

The season begins on June 4th with the release of both the 'Crown of Sorrow' raid and the new Menagerie game mode, and we fully anticipate this to be the biggest day of the calendar for Destiny in terms of both total Twitch viewership and broadcasts. There are also two announced exotic quests, one in both June and July, a new Iron Banner quest in June, further updates to the Menagerie mode which stagger out over time, and thus far unexplained additions in July, which are visible above. While we expect each exotic quest to result in increased Twitch engagement, the same may not be the case for each new Menagerie boss, if the updates to the Gambit Prime mode noted above are any indication. It's difficult to predict what the final two dates on the road map above will do, as we're still unsure what these updates will include, but it seems likely that they will follow in the footsteps of previous updates and include at least one lore-focused quest and opportunities to acquire unique and improved gear.

What's most notable, however, is that while this season is intended to last through August, no content is, as yet, announced for that month. In the previous season, the surprise release of the mystery exotic quest allowed the game to finish its release calendar on a strong positive note, and it seems likely that the team at Bungie will take the lessons learned there and apply a similar strategy for Opulence. We fully expect that August will see at least one surprise release, something involving puzzle-solving and exploration that caters to the things that made Outbreak Prime such a wild success. They have to walk a tightrope, a bit, by making sure their audience knows more content is always coming, but still being able to surprise them in the way they've shown they prefer. We expect them to continue to ride that line, and ride it will, towards continued success for one of the space's preeminent looter shooters.

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