This week’s split between Activision and the president and CEO of “Call of Duty” developer Infinity Ward is shaping up to be a classic rift between creative talent and the people who cut their paychecks are a fact of life. But for an example of a smooth gaming divorce, let’s look at the negotiated split between Bungie Studios, developer of the Xbox 360’s “Halo” games, and Microsoft, back in 2007.
Microsoft bought Bungie, previously a developer of Mac games, back in 2000 because the software giant wanted Bungie’s next game, “Halo,” as an exclusive for the Xbox. We all know how that worked out: “Halo” went on to become a huge hit, giving millions of gamers a reason to want Microsoft’s first video game console.
According to published reports back in 2007, however, developers at Bungie eventually started to get tired of making only “Halo” games and, after the release of “Halo 3,” felt they’d earned the right to work on other projects without having to quit the company they founded. After a few days of rumors, anonymous-source-fueled reports and speculation, Microsoft and Bungie negotiated a split that allowed the studio to buy its independence from Microsoft, keeping the studio intact and its employees happy.
Under the terms of the split, Bungie would make a couple more “Halo” games (which turned out to be last year’s “Halo 3: ODST” and this year’s “Halo: Reach”) and give Microsoft the right of first refusal on future projects. In exchange, Microsoft got to keep rights to the “Halo” brand, allowing them to contract with other studios to make more titles in the series, like Ensemble Studios’ “Halo Wars.”
Since the Bungie-Microsoft split, Microsoft has created 343 Industries, an internal division headed by Bungie’s former community manager, responsible for overseeing all “Halo” properties. Thus far, the only non-Bungie Halo property has been “Halo Wars,” which likely would have come out even if Bungie was still owned by Microsoft. (“Halo Wars” was a real-time strategy game with a feel quite different from anything Bungie had done with “Halo.”)
Even though the Microsoft-Bungie split is still in its relative infancy — the real test of the deal will likely come once we find out what Bungie’s next title is — both sides appear to be able and willing to work together. Heck, they may even be getting along.