Sony is adding Bungie, the studio behind Halo and Destiny, to the PlayStation family
The PlayStation brand is about to become legend.
The games-loving internet went into a stunned tailspin on Monday as the news broke that Sony, caretaker of the PlayStation brand, is acquiring Halo and Destiny creator Bungie for $3.6 billion. The move comes days after Microsoft revealed its plan to acquire Call of Duty and Overwatch publisher Activision Blizzard in a proposed $68.7 billion deal, pending regulatory approval. It’s just a timing coincidence — deals like these need much more than a week to come together! — but it’s also another notably major shift in the industry landscape.
What does it really mean, though? What’s in it for Sony? How about Bungie? The latter question is easier to answer: Sony brings stability, resources, and the marketing equivalent of rocket fuel to all of Bungie’s work. That includes both Destiny games, of course, but it’s also…whatever’s next. Bungie has made no secret over the years of seeing a future for itself that extends beyond Destiny. You can bet Sony brass heard all about those future plans as this deal got hashed out, too.
Even if there’s nothing more than a vague pitch, though, Sony knows what it’s paying for in Bungie. The first two Halo games are genuinely groundbreaking works of interactive entertainment that mapped out many of the rules and design concepts that rule the first-person shooter (FPS) genre today. Destiny carried that further in 2014, pairing Bungie’s industry-leading FPS expertise with an always online-landscape informed by the success and popularity of games like World of Warcraft and Borderlands.
There aren’t too many game studios that deliver a more forward-looking or better-feeling FPS experience than Bungie, is what I’m saying. And you know what’s been visibly absent from the PlayStation library of Sony-exclusive hits in recent years? Yup, you guessed it: FPS games.
Sony used to have a pair of fairly popular shooter franchises in Killzone and Resistance. But Guerrilla Games, creator of the former, is now in command of the Horizon series — its first sequel, the highly anticipated Horizon: Forbidden West, is out Feb. 18 — and Killzone creator Insomniac Games is spending most of its time now on the excellent Spider-Man games, as well as 2021’s Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. Meanwhile, top-tier studios Sony Santa Monica and Naughty Dog focus their efforts on the likes of God of War, Uncharted, and The Last of Us. There’s not a shooter in the bunch.
That’s a pretty big blind spot for one of the so-called “Big Three” publishers — Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo — that also compete in the console hardware marketplace. The FPS genre is one of the most popular in the world, if not the most popular. Look no further for evidence than Call of Duty; the annual releases in that series have been the top-selling games of almost every year since 2009 despite the fact that they generally release in October/November. Sony — and Nintendo, for that matter — has done great with its library of first-party franchises, but there’s no question that the PlayStation maker would like something that can directly compete with the likes of Halo.
You know what’s been visibly absent from the PlayStation library of Sony-exclusive hits in recent years? FPS games.
Bungie is nonetheless a surprising choice. There’s no question about the expertise the studio brings to PlayStation, but Bungie’s track record over the years makes it seem like the video game studio equivalent of a serial monogamist. Within a year of Halo being announced back in 1999, Microsoft swooped in and acquired Bungie. That relationship lasted until 2007, when the developer traded its control of the Halo series for studio independence.
A short time after that, Bungie struck the publishing deal with Activision that led directly to Destiny, which released in 2014. That relationship came to an end in 2019 when Bungie reclaimed its publishing independence along with the rights to Destiny, its sequel, and the surrounding fictional universe. The Seattle-based studio has been operating independently since then, the longest such stretch since its inception in the ’90s.
Given all that history, Sony’s move now is not without risks. Those of us on the outside can only wonder at the reasons why Bungie has changed hands so much over the years, but the same kinds of circumstances that led to a parting of ways with Microsoft and then Activision could always happen again. At any rate, it’s a “safe” kind of risk. Microsoft spent almost a decade partnered with Bungie, and in that time, Halo and Xbox became synonymous. Activision may not own the Destiny series anymore, but the publisher was involved during and benefited from the most prosperous stage of its life to date.
Even if Sony and Bungie spend only a handful of years together, the fruits of that partnership could give PlayStation its next console-selling franchise. Destiny 2 is effectively too big to fail at this point, but — similar to Microsoft’s situation with Call of Duty — it’s also too big to suddenly turn into a PlayStation-only proposition. If you’re looking at this news as an Xbox-owning Destiny fan who’s worried about what this means for your favorite game, you can relax. Sony would be foolish to scale back access, whether we’re talking about now or in future releases.
Bungie basically said as much in an FAQ accompanying the Sony acquisition news. “Bungie retains full creative independence for our games and our community,” the FAQ reads in response to a question about whether or not any of the announced future Destiny 2 releases will be impacted. “Our plans for the Light and Dark Saga are unchanged, all the way through [the release of] The Final Shape in 2024.”
There’s even some suggestion right now that PlayStation exclusivity isn’t in the cards for Bungie games, now or later. The FAQ asks: “Bungie has future games in development, will they now become PlayStation exclusives?” The response is clarifying in its bluntness: “No. We want the worlds we are creating to extend to anywhere people play games. We will continue to be self-published, creatively independent, and we will continue to drive one, unified Bungie community.”
It’s easy to read that and wonder how exactly Sony benefits if Bungie is insisting its games will continue to be self-published and available “anywhere people play games.” But there’s some wiggle room in the phrasing here. The question specifically asks about “future games in development,” which potentially covers only those projects Bungie was already working on when Sony stepped in. What’s more, as a Sony-owned studio, Bungie immediately brings its shooter expertise — which could easily take the form of tangible advisory or hands-on development support — to the entire PlayStation family of game makers.
There’s also just the Bungie factor. Whatever that team creates under the PlayStation umbrella will automatically become a PlayStation-branded game, and Bungie hasn’t ever delivered anything less than a mainstream hit. Destiny and Halo both have had their rocky stretches over the years, but both are also enduring franchises that are widely known outside the community of video game fans. It’s more hard work and creative thinking than anything magical or miraculous, but Bungie is a mark of quality in many consumers’ minds. Anything the studio touches now becomes a win for Sony.
It may not be as flashy or history-making as Microsoft’s (approval-pending) blockbuster Activision deal. But it doesn’t need to be. Sony moving to acquire Bungie is just plain smart strategy, pairing an industry-leading publisher and console-maker with one of the most respected and talented hit-makers in the realm of game development. Destiny is gravy next to the potential a Sony-supported Bungie brings to the PlayStation brand’s search for its next great hit.