Early last week, Bungie and Activision shocked the gaming world by announcing the Bungie’s departure from the publisher, and their retention of the Destiny IP. It was no secret that relations between the two businesses were tense since before the launch of the original Destiny, but they had an agreement; a contract that was supposed to last for three full games and ten years. Yet, here we are. Not only has Bungie gotten out of their contract a full 2 years early, but they don’t even have to deliver the final game AND get to to keep Destiny for themselves. Such an occurrence is nearly unprecedented, so let’s take a closer look at it. How could this have happened, what might it mean for Destiny and developer moving forward?
There’s nothing official available as of yet that can explain why things have turned out like this. All we have to go off of is the fact that it happened, the Bungie staff’s reaction to the announcement as relayed by noted game journalist Jason Schrier, the known history between Bungie and Activision, and the differing attitudes of the two companies following the release of Destiny 2’s Forsaken expansion. It sounds like a lot, but all it really is is just enough to make a halfway decent guess as to what’s really going on. So, what’s up with Bungie?
As noted in their official statement, Bungie originally approached Activision because they needed an established publisher to help them get Destiny off the ground. To that end, they entered into a 10-year contract to be fulfilled across three games and a bunch of supporting DLC. Development for both Destiny games and even the expansions had their issues, and in order to placate their partner, Bungie proposed to introduce microtransactions into the game as a way to tide everyone over between expansions. With how heavily monetized and neutered Destiny 2 was, it would be easy to assume that Activision laid on the pressure to take the monetization beyond what was introduced into Destiny 1.
We don’t know if Bungie disagreed with the move or not, but given that the staff were reportedly cheering and popping champagne upon hearing the news, it’s probably a safe assumption that Activision was demanding things that at least a few Bungie staffers didn’t like. Why did Bungie seek out of their contract? It’s probably just a simple case of wanting control of their IP back now that they have an idea of how to self-publish.
Activision is another matter though. Why on earth the publishing giant would ever let go of a lucrative revenue stream is a near impossible question to answer. We know that they were disappointed with Destiny’s overall performance, and we know that they’re currently desperate to cut costs to to their current financial situation. Even if Destiny makes money and even if they have a contract, they might have judged it in their best financial interest to cut Destiny loose, at least in the short term.
Making a Destiny game costs money. Marketing a Destiny game costs just as much as making it. For Activision, pumping resources into a game that’s currently under-performing might not make financial sense right now; it doesn’t matter if the game makes it all back and then some later. They also can’t increase the degree to which they monetize it either, not without getting slapped by a massive amount of online blowback in the media. In light of their business goals and current financial situation, it may very well be that giving up on Destiny is the best move for them at the moment. Can we know that for certain? No. Will they come to regret it? Maybe. Only time will tell, I guess.
So what’s to become of Destiny then. One would hope that Bungie will do more things to cater to the game’s core audience and reduce the emphasis on monetization even more, but there’s no gurantee of that. It’s not 2007 anymore, Bungie isn’t the same studio that it was, and they’re self-publishing a AAA game for the very first time. These games take money to make an market, so Bungie might very well end up doing exactly what Activision wanted them to do anyway. Hopefully not. Hopefully we’ll get to see Destiny realize its full potential. Either way, this is something we’re all going to want to keep an eye on.
What’s your take on all this? Do you see things changing massively in Destiny once Activision is firmly out of the picture, or do you see Destiny staying more or less the same?
Lede image is an official Destiny 2 Forsaken promotional screenshot.