Bungie has been a difficult company to track over the past decade and a half. Ever since they parted ways with corporate overlord Microsoft over a decade ago, they’ve worked independently… sort of. In 2010, they struck up a publishing agreement with Call of Duty publisher Activision, allowing Bungie to receive large funding from the digital giant while still maintaining full ownership of their projects.
Eight years and two Destiny games later, Bungie has officially split off from their publisher for the second time. In a post on Thursday, January 11, the influential developer announced that they are transitioning from owned to self-published, and working with Activision to “make sure the handoff is as seamless as possible”. It’s a massive leap for Bungie, who, until this point, has mostly been under the guidance of one publisher or another.
But what prompted them to flip the switch? Why has Bungie decided to go solo when their Activision partnership has seen the major success of two games over the past five years?
It’s You, Not Me
A lot of the burden of breakup seems to be on Activision’s side. See, Activision tends to push out games on an annual basis, regardless of quality. This business practice usually ends up working phenomenally for Activision themselves – Call of Duty continues to be the highest grossing franchise year after year. But when they put the burden of “annualization” on their business partners, things get a bit tense.
Take, for example, Blizzard Entertainment. Unlike Activision, Blizzard’s philosophy is to “release a game when it’s finished”. Blizzard, by principal, does not release new games all too often – that’s because they refine them endlessly until they believe the game is ready to be released. But ever since Blizzard and Activision merged in 2007, there’s been more pressure to push out yearly content.
Now, back to Bungie. Even in the Halo days, Bungie didn’t release their games on a preset release schedule. The gap between Halo games was typically 3 years – by modern standards, that’s not a ridiculously long development cycle, but it’s certainly more than the (at the time) 2-year cycle of a Call of Duty game. That extra time allowed Bungie to craft Halo into one of the most critically-acclaimed series of all time.
No doubt, Bungie will appreciate the freedom to develop games at its own pace. According to one employee, they even cheered and opened a bottle of champagne when the news of this breakup finally broke.
So, what’s next on Bungie’s agenda?
As it stands, Destiny 2 will hardly change at all. Bungie states that “we’ll continue to deliver on the existing Destiny roadmap, and we’re looking forward to releasing more seasonal experiences in the coming months, as well as surprising our community with some exciting announcements about what lies beyond.”
If you play Destiny 2 on PC, you’ll be pleased to hear that it won’t be leaving Blizzard’s BattleNet service. Blizzard tweeted “Destiny 2 will still receive full support on BattleNet and we do not anticipate any disruption to our services or your gameplay experience.”
Beyond Destiny 2, Bungie’s future is foggy. Last year, Chinese publisher NetEase (soon-to-be developer of Diablo Immortal) invested $100 million in Bungie to work on a new, non-Destiny project. As for what that project will turn out to be, we have no idea. NetEase makes Chinese mobile games, so this new Bungie project may end up being something similar to that.
Will Bungie find another publisher to call home? Based off their blog post, it’s doubtful. “We know self-publishing won’t be easy; there’s still much for us to learn as we grow as an independent, global studio”. They’re wanting to build an independent name for themselves. Given their successful franchise and funding from NetEase, it doesn’t seem like that will be an issue.
A Legacy Worth Trusting
We can interpret Bungie’s separation from the Activision Blizzard family in a number of ways. At the end of the day, we’ll have to trust Bungie’s judgement on their financial and legal decisions. It’s going to be tough for the developer to keep a strong foothold of their properties without a super-publisher to back them up. But over the last 20 years, Bungie has certainly proved their worth as one of gaming’s best developers; we trust that they have the capability to make (and now, publish) their own games.
For more on Bungie, Activision, and Blizzard, stay tuned to Culture of Gaming.