Game Buzz is a weekly opinion column designed to take an irreverent look at one of the biggest news stories to break in the past week. Every Friday we’ll be bringing you another slice of reaction to topical gaming news, and inviting you to agree, disagree, shout assent, vent rage, scream and complain to you heart’s delight. This week, we take a peek at Bungie's new partnership with Activision along with a load of gratuitous Halo: Reach videos and the Marathon: Durandal theme. You should listen to it as you read this. On loop.
Nine months is a long time. You can do a lot in nine months, not least creating a human life. Of course Activision and Bungie didn't lock all their employees together in a room for an enormous love-in, but they did use that time to lovingly craft a contractual agreement of exclusivity, and a very interesting one at that.
Of course, the reaction to the news that Bungie and Activision are getting into bed together has been pretty mixed, no doubt because the announcement comes in the middle of arguably the finest soap opera of the last twelve months. What I like to call The Exodus of Infinity Ward - there's something slightly Moses-esque about the dual-headed visionary creature Wempella leading their people out from under the oppressive thumb of Egypt, I mean Activision - has sent ripples throughout the industry, from their fellow developers to the most rabid of internet trolls. We've become so used to seeing Activision as the big bad Empire in the past couple of months that to suddenly have one the most respected development companies in the world singing their praises is akin to having a bucket of cold water thrown in our faces.
I don't want to go into huge detail on what's already happened - Jon has already provided a smorgasbord of newstastic treats on the matter here - but there are a few things we should pick out. The first thing is to disabuse people of the notion that this deal spells doom for Bungie. It really doesn't: they'll own all of the rights to new intellectual property, they'll retain their independence and Activision won't earn a thing. Bungie will, of course, have to watch out for Activision execs getting greedy and trying to take more money than they're supposed to, but Kotick and Co. certainly won't want to rock the boat too early on. It's not like they're exactly sailing on the crest of a wave of shimmering good press and when Activision COO Thomas Tippl told the LA Times that "we treat our developers extremely well" I don't think he meant for it to be quite so hilarious a statement.
Bungie have, however, made a staggeringly good deal, one that gives them complete creative control over their IP and furnishes them with the largest distribution network in the industry. Activision didn't get to where they are by not being able to court the talent and it wasn't so long ago we were all raining verbal fire and brimstone on EA for being Public Enemy No. 1. If they can keep their wits about them, and this isn't a studio that's risen to prominence under Activision already, this could work wonders for Bungie and gamers of every platform predilection will benefit.
It's not all roses and sunshine, though, and a certain amount of suspicion, considering the timeframe of all of this, is perfectly understandable. Did West and Zampella get wind of the Bungie deal and did it have anything to do with their trip to visit EA? Did Activision reach a stage in negotiations with the Halo developers where a positive outcome was looking increasingly unlikely and simply move to eliminate a borderline-rogue subsidiary pre-emptively through competition. Bungie announced today that it's likely they'll lend their development skills to some existing Activision-owned IP, a statement that suggests replacing one killer FPS-oriented studio with another was always on the cards.
It's a conspiracy theory that's somewhat supported by industry analysis. Sterne Agee analyst Arvind Bhatia suggests that
"We feel that, if needed, Bungie would be a very good potential fit to replace Infinity Ward on development of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare franchise in the future." [VG247]
However it is, he says, something of a "low probability" event, but it certainly won't be happening any time soon due to Bungie's commitment to its forthcoming action universe. That's okay, though, Treyarch seem to have things covered in the meantime.
The fanboy reaction, and there will always be idiots who can't see beyond the ends of their noses let alone the muzzles of their Battle Rifles, is completely unfounded in one respect. Bungie has always had aspirations of going multiplatform, and it is fantastic that more gamers will be able to experience their next Big Thing. It will, of course, be fascinating to count the number of U-turns made by the PS3 crowd now that they'll be able to geek out on Bungie.net as well, but then some people are terribly fickle.
Microsoft should be worried more generally about their stable of in-house and contract-bound developers although they have stated that their partnership with Bungie will remain unchanged, and there's no real reason why it shouldn't. The level of experience Bungie has at developing for the Xbox is too great for the developer to suddenly ignore, but from a financial perspective Microsoft have lost one of the aces that had been firmly wedged up their sleeve for some time. It was inevitable, of course, but their seeming lack of concern does not sit well, particularly considering Sony's enormously impressive stable of dedicated talent.
As an Xbox 360 owner (although quite why I still am I'm not entirely sure as another machine of mine blew up last week) the saddest thing here is the finality of it all. We always knew Bungie would leave the Halo franchise behind one day, as I wrote above it was inevitable. But this deal has effectively severed the two beyond Reach like a guillotine. Brian Jarrard has said today that
"We'll still have an attachment to Halo through Reach, but we definitely won't be producing any new Halo projects beyond Reach" [Videogamer]
There have been announcements, of course, from all sides; but, as Ryan Geddes points out, it might not have felt totally real until yesterday's contract declaration. However obvious the signs may have been, the denial never quite left us until pen had been put to paper. The Halo Saga will continue, of course, and Bungie's new IP is massively exciting, but Reach will mark the end of an era and 343 Industries have given us nothing to shout about aside from a series of animated shorts. It's a little bit like moving out of a house you've been living in with your best mate for years, live goes on and you'll still hang out of course, but it won't quite be the same any more.
God bless you 68 Spartans.