It’s no secret that the combination of developer and publisher is what can make or break a game. Big names like Ubisoft, Activision Blizzard, and CD Projekt have built their companies off of the success of their published titles, from Far Cry to the Witcher series. Having a publisher backing you can also be a burden on public reception, with Electronic Arts as the main example – they’ve often caught flak for the way they choose to mass-market their IPs and force microtransactions. Sometimes, however, the discord between developer and publisher happens behind the scenes.
Bungie, the developer of Halo: Reach and more notably the Destiny franchise, split from Microsoft after Reach’s release in order to pursue more ambitious projects. Halo went to 343 Industries, and Bungie went on to partner with Activision to release Destiny.
“We knew it was a risk from the get-go and then, it turned out to be exactly as bad as we thought it was going to be,” said Destiny and Halo composer Marty O’Donnell in an interview with HiddenXperia. O’Donnell – who was a member of the Bungie board of directors at the time -went on to say the main reason they partnered with Activision was because they were allowed to keep the IP. While Microsoft owned Halo, Bungie wanted to have full control of the Destiny IP.
Activision soon got too hands-on with Destiny, however. soon taking control of the IP themselves. Destiny 2 was criticized heavily for its implementation of microtransactions, and that was mostly Activision’s doing. The main issue was that Activision wanted to spread Destiny across multiple games, while Bungie wanted it to be one constantly evolving experience. “My biggest disappointment was, we worked for a decade to be in a position to make sure we could stand up to the publisher, saying we own the IP and you can’t mess with the IP. Eventually, I was overruled and let go,” said O’Donnell.
After Bungie’s recent split from Activision, Destiny 2 has seen a major metamorphosis. It went to Steam instead of Battle.net, Blizzard’s launcher. It became free on all platforms, in it’s New Light release. New Light featured a new introduction mission, all of the game’s destinations unlocked, and all the campaigns in Year 1 of Destiny 2, even formerly paid DLC expansions.
Hopefully, in the future, Bungie’s relationship with Activision and the release and transformation of the Destiny series can serve as cautionary tales in how a developer should handle their precious IPs.