Bungie could become Sony’s secret weapon for building future PlayStation games
Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Tuesday, we’re talking about Sony’s purchase of Destiny developer and Halo creator Bungie, the latest chapter in the NFT gaming backlash saga, and the unprecedented union drive at Call of Duty studio Raven Software.
What Sony sees in Destiny developer Bungie
The story of game studio Bungie is littered with irony. The company that created Halo for Microsoft’s Xbox platform later split from the Windows-maker to ink a publishing deal with Activision Blizzard for its follow-up, the sci-fi shooter Destiny. The company later split with Activision to once again go fully independent. Now, two weeks after Microsoft bought Bungie’s former publishing partner, the developer is joining Sony’s PlayStation Studios.
The Bungie ouroboros speaks in many ways to the nature of modern gaming. The industry is consolidating rapidly as large platform owners race to build out more expansive software and services ecosystems to sell new hardware and stay ahead of potentially disruptive new forces like subscription gaming and the cloud. And in Bungie, Sony has found a company with unparalleled technical expertise, strong intellectual property and a devout customer base.
Bungie’s future is bright, but it’s brighter with PlayStation. Bungie will soon hold a unique title as both an Xbox- and PlayStation-owned studio over the course of its more than 30-year history. But as part of the dwindling list of independent, third-party game makers, Bungie stands to benefit more from joining a major platform than continuing to stick it out alone.
- The company has pledged to support its current moneymaker, Destiny 2, through 2024 with three major expansions still to come. But Bungie has ambitions “to become one of the world's great entertainment companies,” CEO Pete Parsons told GamesIndustry.biz in a nod to its TV and film ambitions. Sony’s resources can help Bungie do that.
- Bungie is also working on a new, unannounced project, funded in part by a $100 million NetEase investment from 2019, that is likely a major factor in Sony’s decision to scoop the studio up.
- Bungie has maneuvered almost every phase of the gaming industry and managed to maintain not only its identity and culture, but also its creative freedom. It’s safe to assume the studio has made a deal with Sony that’s as mutually beneficial as possible.
- Just look at Bungie’s blog post on the acquisition, in which Sony seems to have given it the green light to communicate unprecedented promises about supporting competing platforms well into the future.
It’s all about the content (and the talent that makes it). We’re long past the days when console-makers can rely on the allure of newer, better hardware to draw in more customers. Now, it’s all about software, including exclusives but also games that can survive for many years and live anywhere, and the technical know-how to make those titles. Bungie has that in spades.
- Bungie has mastered the live service model after seven years of constant experimentation with the Destiny series. The original game and its sequel have amassed more than 187 million unique players over the last decade and spawned a vibrant community of diehard fans. (I’m one of them, with thousands of hours logged in both games over the years.)
- Along the way, Bungie has helped pioneer once-unheard-of technical feats like cross-save and cross-platform play, and used a variety of different business models to sustain Destiny, straddling a unique line between free-to-play giants and subscription-based MMOs. The company’s infrastructure is also mind-bogglingly complex, supporting nearly a dozen different hardware platforms (including Google Stadia) across nine expansions for Destiny 2.
- In Bungie, Sony is also getting one of the most celebrated first-person-shooter developers in the industry. With Microsoft’s plans for the Call of Duty franchise up in the air now that it owns Activision Blizzard, Bungie can step in to help fill the gaping genre hole in PlayStation’s lineup.
Sony’s exclusivity strategy is becoming more flexible. Sony won the PS4 era by focusing on making really enticing games you could only play on its console, and then behind the scenes vigorously defending its ecosystem lock-in to keep PlayStation prosperous and Xbox stuck in second. But the industry is shifting toward a live service, cross-platform future and Sony appears to be adjusting to this new reality, albeit in very careful fashion.
- Sony and Bungie execs are promising that the studio will remain independent and multiplatform. But why would Sony pay nearly $4 billion to keep putting games on Xbox devices? For one, Bungie has the technical skills and talent pool to help other PlayStation studios create games that can live on other platforms, the cloud and perhaps even mobile devices.
- PlayStation boss Jim Ryan was open with GamesIndustry.biz that “the way people play games has changed a lot over the last few years,” and that Sony looks at Bungie as a way to “significantly decrease the time it will take to get it right” with regards to live-service, multiplatform gaming.
- “Bungie’s successful track record in multi-format publishing and live game services will assist us in realizing our ambitions to take PlayStation beyond the console and increase our potential audience,” Ryan wrote in a blog post announcing the sale.
- What we can point to today is that Sony is finally breaking out of its traditional business model trappings to try new approaches. Sony’s new MLB The Show 22 will support cross-platform play and cross-progression on Nintendo Switch and Xbox. And Sony has begun publishing first-party games to PC at a faster clip, with resounding success as Steam sales for the newly released God of War PC port suggest.
Up until now, Sony’s acquisition strategy has felt straightforward. It bought small and medium-sized studios known best for making really good PlayStation games, turning those studios into exclusive powerhouses that have helped define its console brand.
The Bungie deal feels different. It’s not in reaction to Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard purchase; Ryan confirmed that the deal has been in the works for months. But it feels very much like Sony has woken up to the direction the games business is headed, and why studios like Bungie, long at the forefront of social and technical world-building, might be the kind of secret weapon the PlayStation platform needs to chart a path forward.
On the calendar
How tech is making sure shopping will never be the same.
The future of shopping isn’t happening on Amazon, and it isn’t just happening in a Walmart or mom-and-pop shop near you. It’s merging the online and offline worlds to build a ruthlessly efficient, totally social world of commerce where everything is for sale and available any way you want it.
Join Protocol's David Pierce at 9 a.m. PT today as he and a panel of experts get into the details on how shopping works now, how the customer and seller experiences are changing and where there’s still room to innovate. RSVP here.
"For now, because of the current situation and context of NFTs, gamers really believe it's first destroying the planet, and second just a tool for speculation. But what we [at Ubisoft] are seeing first is the end game. The end game is about giving players the opportunity to resell their items once they're finished with them or they're finished playing the game itself." —Nicolas Pouard, Ubisoft’s vice president of the Strategic Innovation Lab, defended the company’s Quartz crypto platform, telling Australian publication Finder that players aren’t fully realizing the benefits such technologies can provide them.
"Team17 is licensing the Worms brand to our newest third-party partner so they can produce collectible digital artwork based on one of the most beloved IPs in indie games, in a similar way to already available physical merchandise. Team17 has no plans to introduce NFTs or play-to-earn NFT mechanics into any of its indie games label titles." —Team17, the publisher behind seminal artillery series Worms, had to clarify its NFT plans on Monday within hours of announcing them, after immediate and mounting backlash against its new partnership with crypto firm Reality Gaming Group.
A MESSAGE FROM ENVOY
The concept of flex work isn’t new, but its widespread adoption is. Flex work helps all of us find some semblance of control in the middle of an uncontrollable pandemic. Giving options makes people happier and less stressed. This leads to a greater desire to participate, which helps us build our communities and culture.
In other news
Wordle joins The New York Times. The acquisitions keep coming and they don’t stop coming. Wordle creator Josh Wardle is selling his viral word-guessing game to the NYT for a sum “in the low seven figures.” He said it will be free to play for everyone on the company’s games portal.
Epic Games gains a united front. A group of 35 state attorneys general, alongside the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Microsoft and a number of other organizations, have filed amicus briefs in support of Epic’s appeal in the Fortnite antitrust case.
Halo crosses a major milestone. Microsoft’s Halo Infinite has crossed more than 20 million players since its launch in December, thanks in part to its availability on Xbox Game Pass. That makes it the biggest Halo launch in the franchise’s history.
EA announces a trio of new Star Wars games. Electronic Arts is losing its exclusivity on "Star Wars" video games, but that doesn’t mean it plans to stop making them. In fact, Apex Legends developer Respawn is now in charge of two new "Star Wars" games — a Jedi: Fallen Order sequel and a new first-person shooter — while new studio Bit Reactor is making a strategy title.
Ubisoft is shutting down its struggling battle royale. Hyper Scape, the BR shooter from Ubisoft Montreal, is shutting down in April after failing to take off over the last year and a half amid heated competition from Call of Duty: Warzone, Fortnite and others.
Meta’s next step toward the metaverse: unified avatars. The company is adding 3D avatars to Instagram, and updating those used in Facebook and Messenger to look like its VR avatars.
ABC’s local broadcast stations get their own streaming channels. The new streaming initiative includes owned-and-operated stations in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Major manga publishers plan to sue Cloudflare in Japan. Four manga publishers are seeking an injunction against Cloudflare, as well as $3.5 million in damages over copyright infringement.
A Call of Duty studio's unprecedented union fight
Not a single major game studio in North America is unionized, but quality assurance testers at Call of Duty studio Raven Software have decided to form a first-of-its-kind workers' rights group to fight for improved working conditions and job security. Protocol spoke with two current Raven QA testers last week about the formation of the group’s union, the Game Workers Alliance, and what the fight ahead looks like after parent company Activision Blizzard declined to recognize the union and said it would push for a formal vote with the National Labor Relations Board.
“Unions have been around for a long time. But software labor and the games industry, the workers in this industry, are still relatively new. It’s exciting for us to kind of tip the domino in that direction for positive change,” said Becka Aigner, a former animator who joined Raven as a QA tester in August 2020. “I want to reiterate that this is a growing momentum. Both people in the industry and outside the industry, who work in games and are fans of games, want to see change.”
“It’s our opinion that unions want to represent people who are enthusiastic about being represented. Raven QA has a supermajority of people who are enthusiastic supporters of the union,” said Onah Rongstad, another QA tester at Raven. “Once that union is in place, once we can show our colleagues how a union functions in a factual way, we want to be able to facilitate the growth of unions throughout ABK.”— Nick Statt (email | twitter) & Anna Kramer (email | twitter)
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