Bungie's Brian Jarrard
The studio director talks through the 10 year Activision deal and what it means for both companies
Headquartered in Santa Monica, California, Activision Blizzard, Inc. is a worldwide pure-play online...
Earlier today Halo developer Bungie dropped the bombshell that it had signed a ten year deal with Activision, giving the publisher exclusive publishing rights to games based on a new, unannounced IP.
Many questions were raised by the deal - including how this would affect the developer's relationship with Microsoft, how much freedom Bungie would retain over its new creation and why such a lengthy signing. GamesIndustry.biz spoke to Bungie's community director Brian Jarrard who explained more about the deal.
Q: Congratulations on the deal - it's exciting news. So firstly, why did you decide to sign with Activision?
Brian Jarrard: Well, two reasons really. Initially we were drawn to Activision - roughly about nine months ago was when these discussions began in earnest. But Activision as one of the largest game publishers in the industry certainly aligns with our desires to bring our new stories and universe to as large an audience as possible across multiple platforms.
And Activision has a lot of expertise, not only with big blockbuster entertainment launches and bringing games to market globally but also with cross-platform releases, so that was great for us out of the gate. But even more importantly was having a partner that would align with what's most important to Bungie and the core pillars of our studios. Specifically I'm talking about our desire to own our own IP, to remain an independent developer and to have creative control over where we're taking our next universe. And Activision was the partner where all those things were able to fit together into a great mutually beneficial partnership.
Q: Ten years is a long time to sign up for - why not a shorter period of time since you've just finished a lengthy deal with Microsoft?
Brian Jarrard: We have some pretty crazy, ambitious, grandiose plans for what we want to do with our next big game universe, our action universe, and how we want that to play out and the types of stories we want to tell and the types of experiences that we want to share. So we're looking at that right now as a very long term proposition from the creative and development side. And this deal was structured to basically span that vision and to help us be able to achieve what we want to do for the next decade.
Q: Does Activision have complete exclusivity over all the games you make based on this new universe?
Brian Jarrard: Yes, exactly. For this new IP that we're going to be working on together, they will be the exclusive publisher for this.
Q: How flexible is the deal? Are you free to develop other IPs other than this one and, say, self-publish them?
Brian Jarrard: You know it's something that we haven't put a lot of thought into right now, just because we do have such ambitious plans and the time and scale that we're aiming for with this next universe. The reality is it's really going to take the full force of our entire studio to bring it to life and all of our best and brightest are going to have to be focused on the single goal.
So it's hard to think of a world where Bungie's going to start to have multiple projects underway and we're fragmenting our team. So for right now our focus is on finishing Reach and then aligning our entire team to help realise this vision for our next universe.
Q: Will you retain creative control over development of the IP?
Brian Jarrard: We will, yes. But, you know, it's in partnership with Activision so even already in terms of things like production, together we've been able to sit down and work out schedules for milestones and key dates that we both believe in. So it's a very great mutual partnership and Activision obviously, I think, was drawn to Bungie based on our track record and predictability and what we do best is making great games and experiences and supporting great communities. So, they have every intention to let us keep doing that and that's definitely another appealing aspect of this partnership.
Q: How far into development on the new IP are you?
Brian Jarrard: Right now the bulk of our team is still focused on Halo: Reach. We have a way to go on that and have had tremendous progress - our beta launch is on Monday - but we still have to get that game out the door this fall. And it's most important for us to leave Halo fans with what we believe is the definitive title in the series and the best game Bungie has made to date. There's a lot going on there.
However, Jason Jones, who is one of Bungie's co-founders from 19 years ago, he and a core group of our studio - a lot of the people who worked on the original Halo: Combat Evolved and brought Halo to life - have been working for quite some time on the initial framework and sort of the big brush strokes of filling in where this universe is going to be and what it's going to look like and the types of experiences you're going to have.
I would say now we're moving more into a formal pre-production style of role, with the goal being that once Reach is complete we need to be able to roll the majority of our team into this new project in a meaningful way and hit the ground running. Just in the last year there's been a lot of progress made, even in the past few months the excitement level is growing and there's tremendous momentum being picked up as this new project starts to get underway.
Q: How important was it for you to retain ownership of the IP?
Brian Jarrard: It was incredibly important. Actually when Bungie divested from Microsoft back in 2007 we not only struck out and returned independent but actually drafted a constitution for our studio. One of the articles in our studio's constitution is that we will own the things that we create. It's become a pillar of Bungie and that was one of the most important things for us.
Looking back at a decade of working on Halo that wasn't our IP we learned a lot from that and I think it was just a position that no one ever wants to be in again in terms of having people like Jason and our core creative team be inspired and want to continue doing great work and having the opportunity to kind of live or die by their own decisions and share in the successes of what they create. It's a huge part of what drives Bungie and I think that if that had not been the case then we would not be the studio that we are today.
Q: Were you cautious of signing with Activision after its very public falling out with Infinity Ward?
Brian Jarrard: No, not really in terms of the deal itself because, for one, as I said, this discussion really started about nine months ago when we had a term sheet that was signed by March 31 and the long form was just completed this week. So it's now 100% official and we wanted to go ahead and announce it.
I think my personal only concern was just having to make this announcement in a world where the landscape and climate isn't super ideal right now and what people's initial reactions might be in terms of Bungie fans and what their view would be. But in terms of our actual working relationship and the future, no, we're confident that we have a great deal and all of things that we wanted to get out of this partnership are in place for us so we can focus on making a great game and knowing that as many people as possible will be able to experience our universe on the device of their choosing.
Q: So that March 31 date was decided a while ago? Because I guess people might have been thinking the deal was closed now by Activision because they do need the positive publicity.
Brian Jarrard: The terms were, I guess, signed March 31 but nobody wanted to make a premature announcement before the final long formal contract was complete. And that just happened this week.
You know, ideally the timing maybe isn't the greatest because of all the noise out there right now, but for us it's really important that we didn't want to have this happen on top of our Halo: Reach beta which launches next week. We didn't want to have this interfere with Halo: Reach's moments at E3. It's really important we don't overshadow this game we're working on after all the great work we've put into it. The news - it's official and you can't keep it under wraps for long because nothing in this industry stays secret, so we should just come out and talk about it. And as far as we're concerned we're going to get right back on with business making Halo: Reach. And we'll have a lot more to say later and eventually our game will start to speak for itself.
Q: You mentioned there was some worry the fanbase will respond badly to the partnership. Do you really think that, or is it more likely to be the vocal minority that take issue?
Brian Jarrard: It's just the internet. I'm seeing both right now. I think fans of Bungie, they've stuck through Bungie when Microsoft acquired the company ten years ago and that was perceived to be the end of the world and I think that worked out pretty well for our fans and for the studio as well.
Ultimately I think that all that matters is the game and what I would love our fans to know is that we have a great deal here that gives Bungie everything that we need to focus and make the best possible gaming experience in the next decade. And really just focus on that it's ultimately going to result in something great for our fans. It's great to know that the work we're doing now has an outlet and will actually be released and isn't all for nothing. It's been stressful for the last year, not really knowing what the future was going to hold for the studio.
Q: Are you tied to Microsoft in any way now? Or will your plans remain the same with regards to MS and Halo?
Brian Jarrard: We still have a really good relationship with them and obviously we're still working on Halo: Reach together. Even after that is released we'll have a portion of Bungie that will still be focused on supporting the game on Xbox Live and supporting our community. I think we'll continue to always have a strong relationship with Microsoft because we have had a great run together and we don't want to see that come to an end.
But we're definitely not going to be making any future Halo titles and it's their IP and they'll take the game universe forward in the way that they see fit. And once Reach is concluded we'll have the bulk of our team working on our next big project with Activision.
Q: Can you say anything about the new IP in terms of formats, or whether motion technology might play a part?
Brian Jarrard: I can't give a lot of details because it's a bit premature and we don't want to lose sight of Reach and a lot of these things are still being discussed. But what I would tell you is that we're definitely building, in the Bungie tradition, another big action game universe that we hope people will want to spend a lot of time in and will have a lot of stories to tell and experiences to share.
And we'll definitely be building on the pedigree that got Bungie to where we are today in terms of everything from gameplay to art to story to our online interactions and our social experiences. So, it's going to be carrying forward and building upon all of those and continuing to raise the bar and innovate as we have with every game before.
Q: It must be liberating to be freed from the constraints of Xbox and PC, especially at a time when new hardware such as motion control is such a big deal.
Brian Jarrard: You know I think our engineers would probably say it's both. On the one hand it's probably a little bit terrifying because we've come to know the Xbox so well over the past decade. But on the other hand, as story tellers and as creatives it's always great to try and seek as large an audience as possible to share your creation with and be able to have people experience this universe.
So it is very exciting for us - the potential to have this new world be shared with more people across more interesting types of engagements and devices than we have in the past is very exciting for us, but definitely a little bit scary because it's going to be new stuff. But Activision has a lot of expertise with multi platforms and it was definitely one of many attributes that made them a great fit for our future.
Brian Jarrard is community director at Bungie. Interview by Kath Brice.