Destiny 2

The Trials Population Funnel

destiny2 1 - The Trials Population Funnel

I’m a software designer that focuses on traffic distribution inside of large networks. I wrote this to get me into the spirit of doing work now that winter vacation is over. It probably isn’t interesting to most, and is less polished than what I’d normally submit to stakeholders, but I wanted to try and sum up some thoughts floating around my head around the problem of Trials population.

Most people that play Destiny won’t ever play Trials more than once, even those who play activities like Raids and Dungeons. Something about the game mode has scared off nearly everyone except the most diehard fans. Without trying to analyze whether this is right or wrong (to Bungie, Trials may be going just fine!), I spent some time considering the narrow funnel that makes the activity population so small.

TLDR: Trials has a narrow population funnel due to difficulty in establishing interest, fireteam assembly, fatigue, and perceived gameplay unfairness.


Interest represents the first narrowing of the funnel. Given the current rewards structure, it is just difficult to get people interested in the game mode. Interest usually takes the shape of a value proposition: “What can I gain from doing this activity?” The answer for Trials is pretty complicated.

  1. Trials has its own set of armor and weapons. The armor looks nice, but doesn’t have any special perks. Some of the weapons are very good, but mostly for PVP.
  2. You can get Trials items for winning a specific number of matches, but the items change every week.
  3. You can get tokens which can be exchanged for items that you have previously received, but the tokens require you to do bounties and achieve a specific number of wins before you can exchange them.
  4. If you win 7 games without losing, you can receive additional rewards, including weapons that have special mods and a temporary armor glow.

There is a lot of mental calculus that goes into the question “Should I play Trials this week?” Do I care about Trials gear? If so, which items? Is the item I want available this week? Can I achieve the number of wins for that item? Can I get the item I want with tokens? This series of questions leads to the pre-emptive death of most Trials attempts. Most people either don’t understand what they might gain from playing, don’t believe they can achieve the necessary wins to get the item they want, or just don’t want any items in the weekly Trials rewards pool.

Fireteam Assembly

Fireteam assembly represents the second narrowing of the funnel. The challenge of fireteam assembly affects every endgame activity, but none so much as Trials. To assemble your fireteam, you need to find 2 interested, max level friends who have consecutive hours free during the weekend when the item you want is available. LFG tools like Discord can be used to find interested strangers, but most people aren’t comfortable joining strangers to play a highly competitive PVP activity that requires near constant communication. In other words, you’re probably only going to play Trials with people you already know.

Given these constraints, assembling a fireteam is somewhere between impossible and inconvenient for most people. You might not have 2 friends that play Destiny. You might not have 2 friends that are max level. You might not have consecutive weekend hours free at the same time as your other potential fireteam members. We haven’t launched the activity yet, but this is already the end of the road for most people.



Fatigue represents the third narrowing of the funnel. It refers to the mental and emotional strain created by playing the activity. A Trials match lasts 5 to 9 rounds, depending on how long it takes a team to reach 5 wins. Each round can last between 30 seconds and 2 minutes, on average. This makes the typical match about 9 minutes long. Multiply this by however many wins and losses it takes you to get your desired item and you’ve got your time commitment for the week. For most people, this is probably around 2 hours of gameplay.

This doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but each match feels a lot longer than it actually is. All of the mental and emotional energy you spend during each round is inconsequential at the start of the next one. The clutch play you had in Round 1 doesn’t change much about Round 2. The 12 kills you got in Round 2 don’t matter because your team ultimately lost that round. When the next round starts, you have to mentally distance yourself from the events that took place a minute prior. You must repeat this process 5 to 9 times a game. The start-stop-start flow of gameplay creates a sort of stuttering emotional rollercoaster. By the end of a 10 minute match, it isn’t uncommon to feel like 30 minutes have passed.

Implicit in this is the understanding that losing a round or match makes every following round or match a little more tiresome. Losing 3 matches in a row is enough for some people to end their run for the week. If you lose enough times without getting any items, it may be enough for you to swear off Trials forever.


Fairness represents the narrowest point in the funnel. Fairness is an equation, so let’s go through its component parts.

Part of the equation of fairness is gun and ability balance. While it probably doesn’t keep an interested first-timer out of the game mode, unbalanced guns or abilities can diminish a returning player’s potential interest in starting a card for the week. Another part of fairness is cheating and hacking. If you encounter a cheater during an important game, this can be enough to turn you off the game mode forever.

Maybe the most important part of fairness is matchmaking. To understand why matchmaking can feel unfair, you have to look at the prior pieces of the funnel. The Trials population funnel has removed all players who:

  1. Aren’t max level
  2. Aren’t interested in the weeks rewards
  3. Aren’t comfortable with using LFG or don’t have 2 real life friends who are max level and interested with a compatible schedule
  4. Find the activity too fatiguing
  5. Find the activity unfair due to gameplay balance or cheating

The people who manage to consistently reach the bottom of the funnel are only the most committed. They experience less fatigue than other players, likely because they are winning more often and can expect consistent rewards. They will play Trials even if it means the discomfort of using LFG or occasionally losing to unbalanced abilities or hackers. An aspirational fireteam going for the 3 win reward will face these players on Match 1. And Match 2. And 3. They could be forgiven for thinking that Trials isn’t meant for them.


As a result, Trials becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Only the most committed players queue up for the activity more than once. Everyone else has been filtered out by the funnel. The population stays small because a lack of interest, the difficulty of assembling a fireteam, and perceived unfairness keep most people away.

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