Activision and Bungie dropped a bombshell surprise on the video game industry early this morning when the two announced a 10-year partnership for a brand-new intellectual property (Bungie, Microsoft and Sony have all since issued statements). In this case, however, Bungie will own their next project, while Activision's signed up to publish.
Bungie is about to move into a post-Halo world.
So far, Bungie's been mum about specifics. They're willing to say it's an "action game," but that's about it. I spent some time on the phone with Bungie community and franchise director Brian Jarrard this morning to discuss the post-Halo future of Bungie, a future now tied to Activision.
Brian Jarrard: Sorry, I'm a few minutes late.
G4: It's okay. I expect you guys are a little busy today.
Jarrard: Yeah, been making calls for a while now.
G4: Well, you guys are just calling and individually giving out Halo: Reach codes.
Jarrard: I thought that's what you wanted to talk about. Here, let me read your code to you. B-Y...
G4: Give me the sense of what you're feeling right now. Is it relief? You guys said this was a nine-month deal, so where is your head at? Where's Bungie's head at?
Jarrard: Honestly, it is exciting for us to know that our future is solid now, that these crazy ambitious ideas we have for our next big game universe and sort of the next decade of what we want to do can now be a reality. That's a huge burden off our shoulders, and I know for people like Jason [Jones, co-founder of Bungie], it's going to be reinvigorating to know that we don't need to worry about that anymore. We can just fully focus on what Bungie does best and that's building out what will be our next big universe.
Just for perspective, the long-form agreement for this contract just got signed this week. We decided that we needed to get the news out there because we can't keep things like this under wraps; that never seems to work.
G4: You guys were worried about a leaky ship at some point?
Jarrard: Yeah, and, you know, we also talked a lot about this -- it's important to us that we quickly get our heads right back down and finish working on Reach and we didn't want this to turn into something that would start to overshadow our beta our become an issue at E3. As soon as the deal was 100% final and signed, it just made sense to go and get it out there, and we just wanted to get right back to business and keep making games.
G4: You talked about Jason working on the game already. Did not having a deal make the development process on that so far difficult until the ink was signed and you knew exactly where this game was going?
Jarrard: I don't know; not entirely. In this state, I think it certainly comes up [with Bungie's] leadership, in terms of just making sure that they can make the whole greater studio feel confident that when Reach is finished that we have something to move onto and everything is great and secure and that we're still marching towards world domination, so there's a portion of our leadership team that's definitely been working super hard to make that happen.
Honestly, if I had to speak for Jason, I'm sure he doesn't lose a lot of sleep over it because he assumed people would sort it out, and he's just going to keep his head down. But I do know the whole studio now collectively can just rest easy and know that when Reach is done, that we have a great relationship, a great framework and some great plans to do some really awesome work.
It's just peace of mind, I think, for the broader team now. I don't think there was any doubt that it was gonna happen, but not only do we have that stuff secure, but we were able to pretty much get the exact deal that we sought to get and retain all the things that are most important to Bungie. That alone has been super exciting and invigorating, as well.
"I don't think there are many developers out there who could demand this type of agreement and get it"
G4: Crucial to that has been the discussion of the few studios that can retain control over the IP. Would you guys have signed with anyone if you couldn't have retained that full control?
Jarrard: That was one of our most important criteria. In fact, when we divested from Microsoft back in 2007, we drafted a constitution for our studio that the whole team signed. One of our articles states that we will own what we create, and it's a core tenet of our studio, and it wasn't something that we were really willing to negotiate or budge on at all. Ultimately, that's one of the reasons why Activision ended up being the final partner that we landed with, because they were able to come to an agreement that still met the terms that are important to us. And, in return, we certainly feel that they're one of the leading publishers in the entire industry, and when it comes to taking our next big game and bringing it to market in a huge way and getting us the biggest possible audience across multiple platforms, it was hard for us to find a better partner than that.
G4: It sounds like, from everything about this, from the 10-year thing to control of the IP, you have very ambitious plans. How many publishers could really even sign up for something like this?
Jarrard: Not very many. Not really. We did talk to a lot of different people over the past year, but, yeah, ultimately, you're right. There's just not many people that are going to be in a position to want to take that kind of a leap. It's a massive -- it's a pretty landmark agreement, just in terms of the tenure and scope and ambition but also the fact that Bungie does get to retain IP ownership, and we are still independent, and we do have creative control. There's just a lot of great things in place that are pretty unprecedented in a traditional publisher-developer relationship. So, you're right; I don't think there's many publishers out there who could even be at the scale of this type of agreement, but I also don't think there's very many developers out there who could demand this type of agreement and get it.
G4: The 10-year part of the deal is one aspect people are latching onto pretty quickly. Walk me through, as much as you can: Why 10 years? Is that an arbitrary number? How did you guys arrive at a decade being part of the agreement?
Jarrard: Well, we basically spent about a decade on Halo thus far, in terms of that universe and the types of experiences and stories that we've told, and we're looking at the next decade in a similar way, in terms of building a universe and a framework that we think is gonna live for along time and is gonna spawn a lot of interesting stories and experiences for our fans. We kind of have a 10-year plan. It's not arbitrary. We already have things that are scheduled out, as crazy as it is to think about, and, like, how old my kids will be in 10 years, but we have that stuff all scheduled out, and we have a pretty good plan that we believe in, and where we're going to take fans over the course of a decade, and how they're going to experience this new universe.
G4: It sounds like you couldn't have put together a deal like this without having thought that far out, even though you haven't published the first part of this new IP and knowing things might change; rather than the process with Halo, where it was kind of figured out as it went along.
Jarrard: Yeah, you're right. I mean, Halo didn't start that way and, you know, we learned an awful, awful lot about all of this stuff. Our studio today has learned so much through the last decade working on Halo, just in terms of not owning that IP, what that's meant for our creative people and the relationship with Microsoft and how that's worked out for us. Not having that plan and having to retroactively kind of squeeze stuff in, we've learned a lot of, and we think that we can do even better if we have a really good vision going into it of how these things fit together.
And you're right, things might change, but we had to have a real plan. We have to have a real pitch and some real substance to be able to attract a deal like this with a publisher like Activision. Clearly, we get our foot in the door just because of who we are and our track record and our ability to release predictably solid games that will make money for shareholders and what not, but this is a massive investment for their company as well, and it's a big commitment to our vision, so we had to be able to demonstrate something that we felt they could believe in and get excited about, and, thankfully, we did.
G4: You mentioned the deal was just signed recently. Did the Infinity Ward situation give you any pause, or because the deal was so different from the normal structure, did it not play a role?
Jarrard: I think the only pause that it gave us was in terms of the overall timing of the announcement and just all the noise that's out there right now. It's unfortunate. Just in terms...it's not unexpected what people's immediate reaction might be, given what they've been reading out there, but in terms of the actual partnership and the deal, it didn't really give us any concern at all because, again, this has been about nine months in the making, so a lot of this goes back well before [the Infinity Ward situation].
But because we do have the deal that we wanted, and we are still independent, we're not owend by Activision, we do own this IP and we do have creative control over it, and we do have a plan that we shaped, we feel really good about the spot that we're in.
But, you know, it's just unfortunate that there's a lot of other noise out there right now, and we wanted this to be a happy time for us, but because the deal was just signed, which is not something that we felt like we could just wait and talk about also. Like I said, we didn't want this to bump into all the great Reach stuff that's going to be happening between now and launch, either.
"We just want our fans to know that we're secure [and] we've got pretty ambitious, crazy-awesome plans"
G4: Bungie has extremely loyal fans. You guys are talking about going multiplatform with this and then you have the Activision name itself carrying a lot of weight. What was your gauge on how the fans were going to react and have you had a chance to see any of it this morning? The reaction seems to be very excited but very mixed.
Jarrard: Yeah, I think you're exactly right. People are just going to react to what their own perceptions and what they're reading online. I don't know anything more about anything else that's going on [at Infinity Ward] than what I read that you're reporting on. I think, based on what people know and hear, they may immediately have a perception. Honestly, we're just not worried about it because we do, like I said, in terms of our studio and our business and our creative plans, we have a solid, solid plan and partnership that's gonna work exactly as you want it to.
But in terms of the fans, one guy pinged me this morning, and he's like "hey, congratulations, internet's melting down! I'd be concerned, but I'm not. I've been a Bungie fan for 16 years; I remember when Microsoft bought you guys and that was the end of the world as well." I think that worked out okay for everyone and, ultimately, I think it's the games that are going to make or break our fan relationship with the studio, and now we just want our fans to know that we're secure. We've got pretty ambitious, crazy-awesome plans, and now all we need to do is just worry about executing those and everything else is...we don't have to worry about it anymore. It just frees us up to do what Bungie does best.
G4: Speaking of fans, you guys aren't talking very much about specifics of the project, other than it's just an action game, but what do you consider to be the tenents of a Bungie game that you can say would carry over into this one?
Jarrard: That's a great question because I definitely don't want to get too granular about trying to start to pin down what this game will be. You're right, we are definitely saying this will be our next big, action game universe, but a lot of the core people that have defined what Bungie is today and have brought us the success that we've had are still here and they're still driving our future projects.
I think when you hear the word "action" that's definitely a core, but I think, also, clearly is you look at our commitment to online, our commitment to community and to social engagement. We're definitely really excited about how we can continue to innovate and push those experiences further, certainly in a world where we have more ways and touch-points to engage with fans. There's just new technology and new devices and a lot more opportunities now to really kind of think outside the box and try and figure out new ways to create cool, meaningful engagements for fans. I think people can expect to see all that kind of stuff carried forward to our future projects.
G4: You mentioned the importance of online. Did Blizzard play a role in your decision in ultimately choosing to go with Activision?
Jarrard: It certainly didn't hurt at all. I mean, we're huge fans of Blizzard. We were just joking that I have yet to find out when I'll get my free WoW account loaded with gold and epic armor. I don't know if that's going to happen.
G4: You guys didn't get that in the contract?
Jarrard: I'm not sure that was actually in the longform agreement. That may have been an oversight.
Realistically speaking, we are definitely excited to be able to have the opportunity to work a little closer with those guys. We have tons of respect for them and certainly in terms of Activision and Blizzard's experience running massive entertainment on an online scale -- there's just a lot of things that they're doing that we're definitely interested in I think that will positively influence and education us on where we want to go with our next universe.
G4: You have the 10-year plan with the next universe. In the past, you guys have said you wouldn't rule out eventually going back to Halo. Given that 10-year commitment and that you tend to be a single-game studio, does this change your perception of what you may or may not do with the Halo franchise 10 years down the line?
Jarrard: We don't really have plans to revisit the Halo franchise. We're definitely going to be sticking by Reach and supporting the game on Xbox Live and supporting our community as we have in the past, but we're not planning to return back to Halo down the road. We're taking everything we have and the full might of our team to get the next project out the door and to really deliver on this 10-year plan that we have.
G4: You guys aren't talking specifically about what other platforms you might support, but getting up and running from a single platform exclusive studio to multiplatform development sounds like an engineering feat. How are you guys changing your pipeline to make that possible?
Jarrard: We have some incredibly talented engineers that are on the case, but they're not hard, real problems that we've had to tackle or solve yet because at this point in the project it's really broader brush strokes and defining art style and terminology and the universe and style guides. There's all these other crazy things that are happening, but there is a lot of technological work that is taking place. I know it's exciting to think about the ability to now have this broader reach and to touch more fans and just to have a broader engagement with more people, but I also know to our guys it's a little bit terrifying because we've come to know the Xbox very well over the past 10 years, and we don't have the type of intimate expertise on other platforms, but, thankfully, that's one of the great benefits of Activision, as well. They do have a lot of internal resources and expertise that will definitely be valuable and helpful us to help us make the right choices and hit the right platforms that best align with our game.
"I wouldn't expect to hear anything else about this game this year"
G4: Everyone, of course, wants to know more about the game. Given the 10-year deal, one of the first things that I got back from readers was, "well, does this mean we're not going to see this game for five, six years? Is this going to be on the next generation of hardware?"
Jarrard: That's a little ways out for sure. We haven't really been even -- like I said, we're kind of just in the beginnings of pre-production, technically speaking, right now. The goal would certainly be that once Reach is complete, the majority of our team would roll right into this new project in a meaningful way, and then when we start doing all the things that Bungie does well. I definitely don't want to pencil in a timeframe, but it's going to be a while for sure. I would even go so far as to say I wouldn't expect to hear anything else about this game this year because we really want to keep our focus and our priorities set on Reach right now.
G4: So definitely nothing at E3.
Jarrard: No, we will not be focusing on this at E3.