That's certainly not the type of critical reception Activision was hoping for when they pumped half a billion (!) dollars into this franchise, and the mediocre reception may wind up costing Bungie a great deal of money, if their 2010 contract is still active. Turns out those review scores—those arbitrary attempts to quantify a game's subjective quality—might be worth $2.5 million.
Let's take a trip back to 2012, when Activision was embroiled in a nasty legal battle with Call of Duty creators Vince Zampella and Jason West. As part of that court case, Activision had to share details of its original contract with Bungie for Destiny, which was then scheduled for release in 2013. Buried in the public documents is this little nugget:
Activision shall pay to Licensor a quality bonus (the "Quality Bonus") in the amount of Two Million Five Hundred Thousand Dollars ($2,500,000) should Destiny Game #1 achieve a rating of at least 90 as determined by gamerankings.com (or equivalent reputable services if gamerankings.com is no longer in sen/ice) as of thirty (30) days following the commercial release of Destiny Game #1 on Xbox 360.
Right now, Destiny is nowhere close to a 90 on GameRankings. It's unlikely if not impossible for the game to make that score by next month.
Now, it's worth noting, the numbers here are old. This contract is from 2010, and I've heard that it's been reworked since then, though I'm not sure if they removed or altered this specific bonus condition. It's certainly possibly that Bungie fought to take it out. Activision is staying mum on the specifics—when I reached out yesterday for clarification, the publisher declined to comment.
Either way, it's insane that there's even a possibility that these review scores—some of which were published just two days after Destiny came out—cost Bungie that much money. For more on how the whole review score system is broken, check out our piece from last year on the many flaws and issues with Metacritic and the way publishers use it.