Bungie parts ways with Activision to self-publish DestinyJanuary 10, 2019
Game studio Bungie, known best for having created the Halo franchise and more recently the Destiny series, is splitting up with its long-time publishing partner Activision, the company said in a surprise announcement this afternoon. The two companies partnered back in 2010, after Bungie sold its Halo rights to Microsoft and embarked on its next big project, which ultimately became the online multiplayer shooter / RPG hybrid Destiny. As part of the terms of the deal, Bungie was to develop Destiny games for Activision for 10 years, though the developer has since clarified that the 10-year roadmap was never concrete.
“When we first launched our partnership with Activision in 2010, the gaming industry was in a pretty different place. As an independent studio setting out to build a brand new experience, we wanted a partner willing to take a big leap of faith with us,” the studio said in a statement. “We had a vision for Destiny that we believed in, but to launch a game of that magnitude, we needed the support of an established publishing partner.”
But now, we live in the era of free-to-play games like Fortnite, microtransactions, and other various changes to the business model of console games that have altered how developers earn money. So it seems it no longer makes sense for Bungie to stay connected to a large publisher like Activision, which also publishes the Call of Duty series and is part of the same company as Blizzard Entertainment.
“Looking ahead, we’re excited to announce plans for Activision to transfer publishing rights for Destiny to Bungie. With our remarkable Destiny community, we are ready to publish on our own, while Activision will increase their focus on owned IP projects,” Bungie said. “The planned transition process is already underway in its early stages, with Bungie and Activision both committed to making sure the handoff is as seamless as possible.”
As part of the original deal, Bungie received likely hundreds of millions of dollars in both studio investment and marketing from Activision (terms of such deals almost never come to light in the game industry). In return, Bungie was tasked with creating both Destiny and its sequel Destiny 2, as well as numerous expansions for each game that would stretch out the life cycle of the software to around three years per title. Activision also hammered out deals with Sony to deliver exclusive items, missions, and other perks to the PlayStation-playing audience of Destiny, which has long irked Xbox fans.
Cracks in the Bungie-Activision relationship have been showing for quite some time, with fans long suspecting the publisher was behind decisions to make Destiny 2 more palatable and accessible to mainstream players. That decision almost killed the game and forced Bungie to substantially rework the sequel when its first large expansion, Forsaken, launched back in September. It’s also believed that Activision was behind Bungie’s increased focus on cosmetic items in Destiny 2 that can be bought with real money and not obtained easily by just playing the game, another source of contention between the studio and its community of players.
Back in November, Activision said that Destiny 2 sales failed to meet the publisher’s expectations, with Chief Operating Officer Coddy Johnson telling investors on an earnings call that, “We have not yet seen the full core re-engage in Destiny, which has led to the underperformance against expectations to date.” The news sent waves through the Destiny community, as many players again suspected Activision would apply pressure for Bungie to further integrate microtransactions and attempt to juice more revenue from players. Earlier in the year, meanwhile, Chinese internet giant NetEase invested $100 million in the game studio.