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A future with Activision wasn't Bungie's destiny, it appears.

January 15, 2019

If there'd been a wedding, there'd have been a bunch of half-drunk sceptics at a table in the corner at the reception. The table would have been covered in empty glasses and bottles, perhaps with an overflowing ashtray, the table decorations shredded into bored pieces and discarded amongst the debris. The sceptics would have been talking, far too loudly, about how long the marriage would last. And in this last week, they'd have finally gotten an answer: roughly 8 years.

 

The reception to the news that Destiny publisher Activision and developer Bungie were parting ways was received almost unanimously positively across the gaming industry. Activision's share price fell, making lots of gamers even happier - because if there's one thing that can bring us together it's a spot of schadenfreude - especially when the company doing the apparent suffering is one that's perceived to be one of the most negative forces in the industry. For years, perception has been that Activision was the abusive partner in the relationship - a big, corporate, profit-driven (shock! horror!) company with a reputation for beating game franchises to death with over-exposure. Bungie will be retaining the rights to Destiny, and with that, everyone cheered and drank champagne and began to feel excited about what Destiny could be without the interfering evil overlords.

It's worth thinking for a moment though about what Bungie are letting themselves in for - as all may not be quite as rosy as people are assuming.There's a broadly reached conclusion that Bungie are the winners of this split, in so far as they've kept the house and the car (ie, the Destiny franchise)... but I think there are several flipsides. I don't believe for a moment that I'm the only one saying or thinking this, but here it is. My ten pence worth. It's what you're here for, right?

 

In splitting with Activision, they've just, at a stroke, become one of the largest independent game development studios in the world. Self-publishing is expensive though, and it's difficult - and it's not something that Bungie have any real experience of. It's a huge risk - and Destiny's currency isn't that high right now. While it's not as widely hated as it once was, there are still a lot of gamers out there who rightly or wrongly have no interest in it.

 

Another question is that of the roadmap. Bungie have stated that the current roadmap deliveries will not be affected - which is to say that the planned Penumbra and Joker's Wild expansions will ship in line with what was previously stated. Fine, in theory, but there are two big "buts" to think about - in the form of Vicarious Visions, and High Moon Studios. Vicarious Visions oversaw the PC port of Destiny 2 (by all accounts doing a stellar job of it, too), and apparently a lot of development of the most recent Forsaken expansion - which resolved a lot of the problems of the core game. Meanwhile, High Moon were responsible for the Warmind expansion which, while not perfect, was considerably better than the Curse of Osiris expansion that preceded it. At this moment, no-one really knows which items on the roadmap (if any!) were in development by these Activision subsidiary studios - but it's likely that at least some of it had been outsourced, and it's equally likely that those agreements are now being questioned.

 

It's not only the amount of work being shouldered by these two studios though, it's also the quality of it. The best bits of Destiny 2 were provided by these studios, with the weakest periods of its life cycle (vanilla release and the Curse of Osiris DLC) being handled by Bungie. As much as I hate to even ask this, a part of me has to wonder if Bungie is capable of producing the quality of content that these two studios did for their game. A content drought is survivable if the content is of the right quality when it arrives. If it isn't, they could have a real, unforseen problem on their hands toward the back end of this year, once the current committed content has been delivered.

 I've seen a lot of people wondering whether or not Microsoft could be circling, ready to snap up another studio. It wouldn't be much of a surprise, to be honest. They're on the acquisition trail - and the addition of a studio with an IP like Destiny to their first-party portfolio would further bolster their line-up going into the next generation. The big question on that is, I think, whether or not Bungie are open to being acquired again having obtained their freedom - and I guess that leads into the biggest question of all: 

 

Who pulled the trigger on the relationship?

 

While Activision have suffered a fall in stock value, they were open about Forsaken failing to perform to the levels they were expecting, and tensions between the two companies were famous. Maybe the narrative of Bungie 'escaping' is entirely wrong, and they were booted by Activision who decided to cut their losses. Well, not losses... but you know what I mean. They realised they were never going to make their projections, so stopping trying was less expensive than continuing to pursue an unrealisable value. I think it's possible - and if that were to be the case, Bungie may be far more amenable to acquisition than they're publicly stating. Or maybe Bungie were so desperate to be independent of Activision that they were prepared to take the risks to be out of the relationship - but this begs another question - do they really want independence? Or just independence from their former partner? The two aren't the same thing. But if it's the latter, a Microsoft acquisition suddenly makes a lot of sense.

 

And while there're a lot of people out there saying it could "never happen", it's worth considering that the Microsoft Game Studios of today is a very different animal to what it was when Bungie traded Halo for independence all those years ago. Like everyone else, I have no idea how this is going to pan out... but I'm going to enjoy watching.

 

 

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