If you‘ve browsed gaming stores lately, you may have noticed Destiny 2 is listed as a free-to-play game. This wasn‘t always the case though. Destiny 2 originally launched as a full-priced title in 2017 before transitioning to a free-to-play model two years later.
In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll cover the complete history of Destiny 2‘s pricing and business model, from the initial paid release through the shift to free-to-play. Whether you‘re a current player or considering trying Destiny for the first time, this overview will help you understand how Bungie‘s massively popular looter shooter has evolved over time.
The Paid Release of Destiny 2
Let‘s rewind back to the beginning. Destiny 2 first released on September 6, 2017 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows. This initial launch was a traditional paid title with a standard $59.99 USD price point. If you wanted to play Destiny 2 when it first hit the scene, you had to purchase a copy.
The base game provided a solid chunk of content including a cinematic story campaign, expansive destination patrol zones like the European Dead Zone, multiplayer Crucible PvP, three-player cooperative Strike missions, and the first Leviathan raid.
Bungie followed up the launch with the Curse of Osiris expansion in December 2017 and Warmind in May 2018. These early expansions were priced at $19.99 each and required owning the base Destiny 2 game.
Across 2017 and 2018, playing Destiny 2 required buying the core game and any expansions you wanted access to. This was a traditional paid gaming model where access was gated behind purchasing the titles.
The Split from Activision
Behind the scenes, there were some big shifts happening at Destiny 2‘s developer Bungie. In January 2019, Bungie announced it was splitting from publisher Activision and would take over full publishing rights to the Destiny franchise.
This was a huge deal. Activision had previously owned the Destiny IP and Bungie split from the publisher to regain independence. While fans were excited about Bungie‘s new freedom, the split introduced uncertainty around Destiny 2‘s future business model and content roadmap.
The separation turned out to be a pivotal moment that enabled Destiny 2‘s eventual shift to free-to-play. With full control regained, Bungie could take the franchise in new directions.
The Growth of Free-to-Play Games
Around this same period, free-to-play games were exploding in popularity. Titles like Fortnite and Apex Legends attracted huge player bases by lowering the barrier to entry.
The free-to-play model removes upfront purchase requirements. This brings in players who don‘t want to pay $60 just to try out a game. Monetization instead comes from in-game cosmetic items, battle passes, or other upgrades.
This presented an intriguing new direction for Destiny 2. If the base game was free, Bungie could rapidly expand the player base. And they could still generate revenue from high-value fans purchasing expansions and seasonal content.
The Launch of Destiny 2: New Light
In June 2019, Bungie made it official by announcing Destiny 2 would go free-to-play. The rebranded core experience would be called Destiny 2: New Light.
This transition happened in October 2019 coinciding with the game‘s move from Battle.net to Steam on PC. Bungie described the new free version as:
“A new entry point that will allow even more Guardians to begin their journey, to experience Destiny for the first time, or to reunite with old friends.”
New Light provides the complete Destiny 2 Year 1 experience for free. This includes:
- The original Destiny 2 campaign
- Early destinations like Earth, Nessus, Titan, and Io patrol zones
- Foundational PvP like Quickplay and Competitive Crucible
- Early raids and dungeons including the Leviathan and Prophecy
- Character creation systems like Races, Classes, Subclasses, and Customization
So while all players now have access to the core Destiny 2 gameplay loop, story, and foundational activities, new expansions are still required to get the very newest endgame content.
This change democratized access to Destiny 2 while still giving Bungie opportunities to monetize the most engaged players.
Monetization After Free-to-Play
With the base game free, how does Bungie make money from Destiny 2 now? There are a few key monetization streams:
Destiny 2‘s major expansions like Forsaken, Shadowkeep, Beyond Light, and The Witch Queen are premium purchases. Each expansion includes new story campaigns, destinations, raids, Exotic gear, subclasses, and other content.
These expansions cost $40-$50 when they first launch. Purchasing the latest expansion is required to access its exclusive endgame activities.
Bungie also releases seasonal content drops 3-4 times per year. These include things like new game modes, gear, events, narrative arcs, and quality of life updates.
Players can purchase annual Season Passes for $40. This provides premium track rewards across all seasons. Some seasonal content is available for free, but most rewards require the pass.
Finally, Destiny 2 includes an in-game store with various cosmetic items, season pass boosts, account upgrades, and more available for direct purchase. This provides optional monetization for invested players.
So while the core shooting and looting gameplay loop is now free, Bungie still has plenty of opportunities to generate revenue from their most engaged fans.
Has the Shift to Free Worked?
Transitioning to a free-to-play model was a huge shift for a franchise that kicked off as a full-priced title. So has it worked out well for Destiny 2? Let‘s examine some key metrics.
From a pure player count perspective, going free-to-play has been a huge win. In October 2019 when New Light launched, SteamCharts shows concurrent players jumped from around 100,000 to over 250,000 seemingly overnight:
While not purely additive, the launch of the free-to-play base game acted as a huge player acquisition tool. And the game has retained a much higher baseline population since going free-to-play.
Destiny 2‘s revenue has also remained strong since going free-to-play. Activision reported Destiny 2‘s in-game net bookings hit a franchise high following the Shadowkeep expansion in October 2019.
And even after the split from Activision, Bungie reported over $400 million in revenue from Destiny 2 independent of any publisher help in 2020.
Crucially, the free-to-play shift hasn’t seemed to cannibalize engagement in Destiny 2’s paid content. The last two major expansions, Beyond Light and The Witch Queen, both set franchise records for peak concurrent players and hours played.
This shows that while the free base game brings in a wider audience, Bungie is still successfully converting free players into paying expansion and season pass customers at a healthy rate.
Is Destiny 2 Still Free in 2023?
Yup, the core Destiny 2 New Light experience remains free-to-play today. The game is now available for free download across PlayStation, Xbox, PC, and even Stadia.
New players in 2023 can install Destiny 2 at no upfront cost and access all of the foundational Year 1 content mentioned above. This provides a massive amount of gameplay before ever needing to pay.
If you try the free version and find yourself hooked, the paid expansions unlock all the newest story content, destinations, gear, and endgame experiences beyond the base game.
Should You Try Destiny 2 as a Free Title?
If you enjoy loot-driven first person shooters but have been hesitant about Destiny 2‘s cost, the free-to-play shift opens the door to give it a shot.
The core shooting is best-in-class and there are dozens of hours of content available without spending a dime. You can level up a character, explore exciting sci-fi worlds, customize builds, and participate in many multiplayer modes all for free.
While monetization does exist, everything upfront is free. If you end up engaging with the game for dozens or hundreds of hours, spending on expansions and season passes can take your experience even deeper.
For PvE players, the premium campaign stories are highly cinematic and engaging. For PvP fans, new modes, maps, and gear get injected each season. And for endgame raiders, the newest six-player raids provide the ultimate high-tier challenges.
Destiny 2 now balances robust free content with paid avenues to enhance the experience. And gamers benefit from trying this massively popular looter shooter without upfront financial risk.
The Evolution Continues
With another major expansion releasing in February 2023, Destiny 2 is poised to continue evolving both its free and paid content offerings for years to come.
The shift to free-to-play opened Destiny 2 up to new audiences and helped usher in a new era of independence for Bungie. We can‘t wait to see where the universe‘s evolving Guardians, worlds, stories, and gameplay head next.