I’m not sure many were expecting the industry-shaking news that Bungie, most famous for creating Halo, would not only be leaving publisher Activision but taking the phenomenally successful Destiny with them.
But so it came to be, with Bungie and Activision releasing a jovial joint statement last week to say the full rights to the shared-world sci-fi shooter would be transferring to the former after eight years of partnership.
“Today, we’re announcing plans for Bungie to assume full publishing rights and responsibilities for the Destiny franchise,” said the statement. “Going forward Bungie will own and develop the franchise, and Activision will increase its focus on owned IP and other projects.”
“Activision and Bungie are committed to a seamless transition for the Destiny franchise and will continue to work together during the transition on behalf of the community of Destiny players around the world.”
All very chummy, full of gracious ‘thanks for the memories’ and the interests of fervent Destiny fans in mind. But if reports are to be believed, the two parties are rather glad to see the back of each other. Kotaku said that Bungie staff popped champagne and cheered when the announcement was made, apparently tired of the demanding annual schedule imposed by their overlords, while Activision has been publicly disappointed with Destiny’s recent commercial performance.
Even in that sentence it is easy to cast Activision as the villain here. And the internet, such as it is, was quick to make that case. Fans are thrilled with the idea that Bungie will be unshackled from corporate greed, free to flex their creative muscle and make the game that Destiny was always, er, destined to be.
I too, am excited to see what direction the game takes. I love Destiny, even if I wouldn’t describe myself as a hardcore player, and it is always a thrill to see a developer take full control of its work. Particularly a developer as big and talented as Bungie and particularly a game as terrific and established as Destiny.
But I suspect the eventual truth of Destiny will be somewhat removed from the idyllic future some may be hoping for. Blaming everything that was ‘wrong’ with Destiny 2 on Activision would be foolish; it’s likely that as many of its perceived faults would have been from the developmental side as the publisher pressure to appeal to a wider audience and bring in more cash.
Like it or not, triple-A publishers exist for a reason, keeping money and marketing moving for blockbuster games. And titles of Destiny’s magnitude, particularly long running ‘service’ games, need to make significant revenue in order to keep going, let alone improving.
How Bungie deal with the monetisation of the series going forward will be fascinating to see. We may well find out if Activision had as much sway in some of Destiny’s more controversial elements as is suspected. After all, the much-maligned ‘Eververse’ shop, which locked certain gear behind microtransactions, was reportedly Bungie’s idea…
But second guessing who did what to who and why is a fool’s errand. Certainly Bungie are now in a unique position to make Destiny flourish without the demands of publisher milestones. Not to mention the studio’s movement into other properties with $100m of Chinese technology giant Netease’s cash in its coffers. Challenges abound, but I suspect the Seattle developer’s future is bright.
But what now for Activision? Much as the publisher seems happy to cut Destiny loose, it unquestionably leaves a gaping hole in its portfolio. Activision stock fell as much as 13pc on the news of the Bungie split, while reports of cost-cutting on the Blizzard side of its business and a $15m welcome for new CFO Dennis Durkin is unlikely to be doing much to dispel its big bad wolf image.
But it seems unlikely Activision would charge into such a disruptive course of action without a plan. It has been one of the most successful and adaptable third-party publishers in the business for some time. And, yes, one of the most ruthless. Safe to say its next investor call on 12 February will be more anticipated than most by industry observers.
Its flagship series, Call of Duty, remains an annual money-spinner and rarely drops the ball on quality, while it hasn’t been averse to more purist-pleasing ventures. Activision’s partnership with Dark Souls developer From Software on the upcoming single-player shinobi adventure Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice seems one of the more unlikely match-ups in recent years, but the title born from it is looking like a bona fide game of the year candidate.
Whether such forays point to a larger strategy is unclear, as Activision will likely have modest sales expectations for a comparatively niche game like Sekiro.
All of which means it is likely to be hatching a plot for its next billion dollar franchise, one in which it hold the reins without getting kickback from a developer as established as Bungie. No doubt the publisher will want a long-running service game to fill the hole that Destiny leaves behind, but any new title now will come at a time of relative industry upheaval.
The extraordinary success of battle royale phenomenon Fortnite and its free-to-play model, with microtransactions and constant updates to keep people playing, is likely to have long-term ramifications on how such service games are monetized. And the current generation of consoles is starting to wind down, which means it perhaps isn’t the best time to introduce a new property to the world.
(Though, conversely, perhaps it is a convenient time to cut one loose that has run for almost the entirety of the PS4/Xbox One lifecycle? One to ponder.)
So there is the chance that Activision might take stock and prepare itself for a relatively lean year or two, settling on Call of Duty’s enduring success and critic-pleasing projects like Sekiro, before planning its next big thing for a new generation.
The problem with that approach, of course, is that it gives games like Fortnite, EA’s upcoming Anthem and, indeed, Destiny space to perform as hobbyist pursuits without Activision having any skin in the game.
A quandary, for sure. But regardless of Activision’s eventual approach, the Bungie split is a defining moment for publisher as well as developer. It will be fascinating to see where these new roads will lead.
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- Destiny 2's New Moments Of Triumph Offer Unique Rewards
- Destiny 2: Shadowkeep Will Totally Change Destiny Microtransactions
- Editor's blog: About the Destiny review
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- Destiny 2 Guide: 2019 Moments Of Triumph
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Bungie’s Destiny looks secure, but what now for Activision? have 1655 words, post on www.telegraph.co.uk at January 15, 2019. This is cached page on USA Posts. If you want remove this page, please contact us.