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Will Destiny 2 Remain Free Forever?

Anyone who knows anything about Destiny 2 does not need to be reminded of its success. A staggering 31 million people regularly play Destiny 2 online, making it more popular than some of the most popular online games in the world, including Runescape, Final Fantasy XIV, World of Warcraft, and Elder Scrolls Online.

Although it enjoyed an astonishing level of commercial success almost from the get-go, clocking millions of downloads in the first days of its release in 2017, it wasn’t until 2019 when Destiny 2 really took over the world.

This was when the game’s publisher, Bungie, decided to re-release the game as a free-to-play title, moving away from the purchase model towards the Games As a Service (GaaS) model that dominates the industry today.

Upon the first release, there were understandable concerns that the game would remain free for a very limited time as an attempt to lure in new players, before snapping back to payer-only mode and jacking up the price. Fortunately, this is not how things played out.

More than two years later, Destiny 2 remains as a free-to-play game, despite some setbacks and controversial moves to “vault” free content in recent months. So, can Destiny 2 truly stay free forever, or will the content slowly become paid?

What does vaulting mean for the future?

First, let’s cover the “vaulting” push by Bungie, which kicked off late last year and continues to represent the biggest potential challenge to Destiny 2’s future as a free-to-play game.

The immense growth of maps and mods meant that the game was becoming “too large to effectively update and maintain”, with the result being that huge swathes of content were “vaulted”, meaning that they were moved where free-to-play players could not touch it.

Bungie also specifically acknowledged that the vast majority of vaulted content was taken from the free-to-play world, with paid content largely not being touched. The en masse removal of this content sent a strong signal that the free-to-play model was not working out for Destiny 2 as hoped.

The majority of revenues from the game come from selling expansion packs and new levels, a funding model that differs from other titles that are funded via games-as-a-service (GaaS) arrangements. Although Destiny 2 has pledged to continue to keep its core content offering free-to-play, all of the signs indicate that death by a thousand cuts is on the way.

GaaS: Inspiration from other forms of entertainment

In order to assess if Destiny 2 could viably remain as a mostly free-to-play game, it is worth looking at how other free-to-play games and GaaS titles stay in the black. The gold standard within online entertainment is, of course, Epic Games’ Fortnite, which is the most successful online game on the planet by virtually every measure.

Like Destiny 2, Fortnite is a free-to-play title, although it makes more of its money from in-game microtransactions that players participate in to purchase weapons and mods. In addition, Fornite has a sprawling official merch empire worth tens of millions of dollars in annual sales.

Meanwhile, some games make money by taking a cut from subscription service fees, such as Sonic Racing, Rayman Mini, and Pac-Man Party Royal, all of which are hosted on the cloud gaming service Apple Arcade.

If one looks beyond standalone games to other forms of online entertainment, it becomes even clearer how ostensibly free games can be commercially viable. The $50 billion a year online casino industry is a fascinating case study in this regard.

For example, many of the extensive live blackjack games offered at Betway Casino can be played for real prizes for free, as Betway offers a casino welcome bonus that awards hundreds of dollars worth of free games to new players.

This way, players can sample the full range of online blackjack games at Betway before committing to paying for this content.

This strategy of offering free games as a kind of welcome offer or sample is becoming increasingly common, with publishers and platforms like Steam now adopting it as a commonplace practice for new games. This may also be the kind of route that Destiny 2 looks set to go down.

How much of Destiny 2 will remain free-to-play, and whether we will soon be able to reasonably describe Destiny 2 as a free game remains to be seen. One thing that is clear is that the demand and audience for the game have not been dented one iota, suggesting that the dedicated fanbase might be more than happy to shell out a few bucks.

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