In what may be the roughest week in Bungie history, the company is reeling after layoffs cut 8% of the company, about 100 people, after previously promising that their acquisition by Sony would yield no such result.
The cuts were blamed in part on the current poor performance of Destiny 2, the sole game Bungie operates at the moment as they attempt to branch out into different IPs and genres. There are two other games we know about at the moment, Marathon, a return to a classic IP for a new, extraction-based shooter, and something codenamed Gummy Bears, some sort of lighthearted multiplayer game that I imagine could be something in the vein of Fall Guys.
But it’s Marathon that’s the upcoming heavy hitter, and the project that has taken so, so many of the Destiny and even Halo OGs away from current Destiny 2 development. And it’s a game that has hired many, many new roles to build up, and generally speaking, those do not seem to be teams that were hit hard by the recent layoffs as Bungie needs all hands on deck for the new title.
The reason being is that Bungie has a lot riding on Marathon. It’s a significant investment of capital and talent, and it needs to find a space in a crowded multiplayer landscape, standing out from the current top games despite being a wholly different genre. It’s not a battle royale like Fortnite, Warzone or Apex, an idea that was briefly flirted with but didn’t manifest. It’s not CS2 or Valorant. The most mainstream extraction shooter is Tarkov, but that’s a pretty hardcore niche. Dr Disrespect is building his “vertical extraction shooter” DEADROP with partial use of the blockchain and an oddly open development process, but it’s a tiny team compared to the weight of Bungie behind something like Marathon. In effect, Marathon would be the only AAA extraction title on the market.
The one thing Marathon will obviously have going for it is Bungie gunplay, which made Halo iconic and remains the single best thing about Destiny as a series. Combine that with Chris Barrett-led insane art design for a beautiful, trippy aesthetic we’ve seen shown off in trailers, it’s got good legs to get a running start.
However, there’s a lot more to consider. As part of this recent Bungie situation, Marathon has also been delayed to 2025, meaning Bungie will have to rely solely on Destiny 2 revenue for another year, if not more. And it’s not clear if that would even be a full launch for Marathon yet or some sort of alpha/beta as many multiplayer games tend to start with, not that the nomenclature matters.
Yesterday, there were varied reports about early feedback on the game. Destiny 2 YouTuber Aztecross reported that a number of Tarkov players had been brought in to test the game and were asked if they’d play it tomorrow. None of them said they would. But it should be taken into account that this was an extremely early build which was years away from being ready, so the answer is not surprising. And few people believe that hardcore Tarkov players are the audience for Marathon anyway. Elsewhere, Insider Gaming’s Tom Henderson reported that he knew of people who had also played early versions of the game and were indeed impressed with its gameplay. But again, these are old tests and the game is still miles away from release, so there’s no way to judge whether it’s good or bad in any real sense.
Other questions about Marathon include monetization. I believe it’s essentially a guarantee that if you’re launching a big new multiplayer game these days it has to be free-to-play. And remember, this is not a PS-exclusive despite Bungie being owned by Sony. All Bungie games are going to remain multiplatform, so that’s a wider potential install base.
But how will Marathon be monetized in a way that brings in significant revenue? Looking over the grand landscape of various multiplayer titles we have things like obvious battle passes and cash shops. But in Counter-Strike land we have crate gambling and aftermarket sales which do huge numbers. In games like Valorant we have insanely priced skin bundles for weapons. We do know that Marathon is supposed to allow players to deeply customize their character’s cosmetics to make them their own.
The monetization on the whole is going different from Destiny in the sense that you are not selling large expansions or “dungeon passes” or many of the kinds of microtransactions that come up in Eververse. My money (silver) would be on a more traditional battle pass/cash shop model, as I don’t think Bungie is going to launch with loot boxes or $200 flashy gun skins. But then is that enough revenue to offset Destiny’s recent misses and keep Sony happy? The game would have to be a strong breakout hit. It could be, but it’s a crowded market and a AAA extraction shooter is new territory.
There’s also who the game is aimed toward. I can understand how hardcore Tarkov players may not slide into the faster-paced, totally sci-fi world of Marathon, despite both being extraction games. But there’s also little indication it will have much of anything in common with Destiny 2 PvP, and if it did, then Marathon may be cannibalizing from Bungie’s main series. So where does it find its audience? The closest comparisons I’ve heard are things like Hunt: Showdown, Call of Duty’s DMZ or the upcoming Division: Heartland, but it’s not quite clear who Bungie is aiming for just yet, or if they want to create a fully new space they can own themselves, which is essentially what they did with Destiny.
Everything feels like it’s up in the air right now at Bungie, but there are two main takeaways. Destiny 2 has to perform well enough to get Bungie to Marathon. And then Marathon has to be a hit to offset any losses from Destiny, until that series can find a way to turn things around and reboot itself. Or until other incubated games get released to potentially relieve some pressure. I am definitely eager, though now somewhat concerned, to see how this all plays out.