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Bungie explains the "What the hell?" Activision partnership

1:40 PM on 04.30.2010 // Nick Chester

It's no surprise that Bungie has wanted to branch off and away from the Halo universe. Despite its strong support of the franchise, red flags were raised from the studio gained independence from Microsoft in 2007. Rumblings that the Seattle-based developer were itching to develop a new IP, possibly multi-platform, have been going around for years.

So yesterday's shock didn't come from the fact that Bungie had finally announced that it would be moving on, developing a new IP across multiple platforms. No, the shock came from who it had signed a ten-year deal with… Activision.

Arguably, the announcement couldn't have come at a worse time, with a very public and legal battle coming to a head between Activision and Modern Warfare developer Infinity Ward. And when I woke up yesterday to find a the Activision/Bungie announcement sitting in my inbox, I did a double take, and these words came out of my mouth:

"What, what the hell?"

Not long after the announcement was made, I spoke with Joseph Staten, design director at Bungie, and one of the key players involved in this partnership to bring a new Bungie universe to gamers. My first question, because I'm a professional: "No really, what the hell?"

Staten explains, talks in vague details about its new IP and universe, and more, after the break.

"This came from way back in 2007, when Bungie became an independent company again," Staten tells me. In 2007 we started look at the future and really chart out what we wanted to do."

This look to the future wasn't just about the next set of games or the next universe. Beyond that, it was a question of who they wanted to do it with. Internally, they spent time developing the ideas for the "next big thing creatively," while the business team team had put its feelers out, trying to decide potential partners.

But it wasn't until nine months ago that the developer really "got serious" about moving ahead, having grown its idea big enough that it could really show potential suitors something solid. After talking to a number of publishers over the nine-month period, they finally reached a deal with Activision, the ink dry on this deal just this week.

According to Staten, one of the key things the studio had wanted was control over its own IP, something probably every studio would love to have. Given Bungie's successful track record, it had a little leverage, and Activision seemed ready and willing to work with them on the deal they so desperately wanted.

"As we looked at different partners," Staten explains, "lots of different people had different deals. They were all really interesting deals, but you know, Activision had an amazing deal. And it was amazing not just because it funded us for the next ten years creatively, but because they understood what mattered to us."

What mattered was control over this IP, and Staten is quick to point out "We're still an independent company with this new deal. We own our own IP; we don't just control it, we actually own it."

Leading up to the deal, Staten says the folks at Activision were "impressive" in their approach. They didn't just care about the deal, he explains -- they care about the creative idea and what Bungie was making.

"They were really excited by our ideas," he says. "It's not every day that you get to sit down at your desk with the president of the most successful publisher in the world and have him asking some really insightful technical and design and artistic questions about what we're doing."

"They would not have signed this idea if they weren't as excited as we are about the universe that we're creating," he adds.

When one thinks Activision, one doesn't necessarily think "creativity." The publisher has found much of its success in retreading tried and true franchises over the years. It's a formula that has so far worked, yet some have criticized the publisher for its lack of bringing anything fresh to the table. Staten doesn't necessarily feel that's the case, however, pointing to Activision's partnership with Blizzard.

"I don't think if you look at that relationship people would ever worry about Blizzard's creativity being compromised, right?" he asks. "We are in a very similar situation, except we're an independent company. But creatively, [Activision wants] to support a process that they now is already working extremely well. And they've always that their intent was not to come in and change the way we work. Their intent was to come in here and hep us do what we do better and protect our process."

"This isn't something we just jumped into overnight," he explains. "This has been a long, nine-month -- almost a year long -- process. And Bungie wouldn't have done this if we didn't feel absolutely comfortable and excited about the ten years ahead."

Staten understands that the recent Infinity Ward scuffles may have something to do with eyebrows being raised at the deal. He says "it's unfortunate we had to make this announcement right now in the middle of all this noise." But he says looking at the details of the agreement, you'll see that the long-term view makes a bit more sense. They're also excited about the new audiences Activision will help them reach.

"At Bungie, everybody is a storyteller," he explains. "If you're an engineer or an artist or a designer like me, your bread and butter is telling great stories, providing these great experiences to people. And if you're a storyteller, you care a lot about reaching audiences, reaching the biggest audience you can."

"We're not just telling it to one particular audience," he continues, "we're actually telling it to as many that want to listen and engage in the experience. So Activision absolutely brings that to the table, and that's incredibly exciting from a creative point of view."

The idea of "telling it to as many that want to listen and engage" is an interesting concept, particularly since Bungie had been tied to Microsoft and the Xbox 360 for so long. While Staten won't talk specifics of its upcoming titles -- just that it's an action game in a brand new universe -- there's little doubt it's going multiplatform.

"This isn't an announcement of a specific game on a specific platform," he reiterates. "This is an announcement about lots of great experiences on as many platforms that make sense."

It'll be awhile before we know more about Bungie's new universe -- Staten tells me that its current focus is on Reach, and that we shouldn't expect any new info on its titles with Activision at this year's E3. Or even this year, period. But Staten assures me that the roadmap for the future of this new universe is already well in place.

"I think people can look forward to ten years of a lot of great experiences."



Nick Chester, Former Editor-in-Chief (2011)
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