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Cutting the Cord

Less than a week after Halo 3 set the record for the most profitable 24 hours in entertainment history, rumours began to spread that Microsoft and Bungie were going their separate ways. When the official announcement came, GamesIndustry.biz spoke to Brian Jarrard, Bungie's community and franchise director, about what the divestment means to the company and to the Halo franchise.
GamesIndustry.biz: First of all, congratulations. We've heard that you've managed to sell just a few copies of your latest game...

Jarrard: Thank you. We are still kind of blown away by how well the game is doing out there.

We understand that you've also managed to sell out of the Legendary edition?

The split of the SKUs has been really, really well-received. As we sort of hoped, the Legendary version has almost all been gobbled up within the first week, which is a testament to how hardcore our fan base is.

Do you have any specifics on the number of Legendary editions sold?

I haven't been privy to that information from Microsoft, although it is my understanding that the Legendary version is almost sold out, which was always the intention. There weren't a whole lot of those produced. The main goal was to get the bulk of those moved through pre-orders and online retailers.

Okay, let's talk about the big announcement today. What was the impetus for the divestment from Microsoft?

This is sort of something that I think has been in the works for a little while now. To us, this just represents what we think is the next natural evolution of our relationship with Microsoft.

In our hearts, Bungie has always been a group of really independent guys that are really focused on doing their best possible best creative work. We started as a group of a few guys working out of a basement. I think it is fitting that we've kind of come full circle now.

Microsoft has been great to us. We have a great relationship with them. We are going to continue to have a good relationship with them. I think knowing that, in the future, we will be in the driver's seat, and we will control our own destiny and our own projects and development of new IP...that's a really invigorating, energizing prospect for our team, especially our elder members. Some of them have been here going on fifteen years now.

I think it was the right thing to do for our team. It's the right time to do it, coming off the Halo trilogy, and Microsoft, being a great partner, has given us the opportunity to evolve the way we are going to work with them, but continuing to give us this great support.

Was there pressure from Microsoft, in terms of telling you that they might give someone else the Halo franchise? Or was this coming from your side, wanting to work on something else?

We definitely initiated the discussions with them when this all originated, and very quickly it became a mutual process with both sides working together to structure a relationship that will be mutually beneficial to both groups.

But it wasn't a matter of Microsoft saying 'We don't need you any more. We're going to have other people make Halo games.' In fact, it is quite the contrary, because we are already fully vested in some future projects that Microsoft will publish and fund, including the Peter Jackson Halo Xbox 360 project that we are already engaged on.

We are definitely still tied to Halo. We are still going to be working with them on Halo and potentially some future projects, but like I said, for us it was just what we needed to do creatively as a group to evolve and be able to focus on the future.

Shane Kim sort of cryptically said that Microsoft was working with Bungie, Peter Jackson and "other partners" on a new series in the Halo universe. Have you heard of other studios being brought in to work on the Halo franchise?

There is nothing cryptic about it. He definitely did mention the Peter Jackson project, which Bungie is right in the middle of. We have our own development team and our own full group of people that are involved with that project, so that is as much our project as it is Peter Jackson's. Obviously, both groups will bring some really interesting skills to the table, and I am pretty excited to see where that's going to go.

Ensemble Studios is making Halo Wars, which is a whole new direction for the Halo franchise by a whole different team. These guys are awesome at real-time strategy games. We probably couldn't find a better group to take our baby and send it in a new direction.

Beyond that, it ultimately will be up to Microsoft to decide how and where the Halo franchise continues to evolve. We will definitely have some involvement on stuff we are already committed to, but it is hard to say where it goes beyond that.

Screenshots of a DS version of Halo have surfaced again recently...any chance that this may now become a reality?

That's probably something that Shane [Kim] would need to comment on. Those rumours surfacing now are purely coincidental.

I believe we've actually gone on record...at one point in time, there was a real [DS] game that was developed. It wasn't even a full game, it was more a pitch, an unsolicited pitch by another group out there. At the time it didn't go anywhere. Microsoft presumably just didn't feel that the timing was right to take their flagship franchise to another platform.

As the owners of the IP, it will ultimately be their decision if and when they decide...

So you haven't heard specifically that Microsoft is looking at other platforms at this time?

I'm not aware of that, but they certainly have every right to do that. But considering how important Halo has been to Xbox, 360, and Games for Windows, I would question when and why they would do that, but ultimately it is going to be up to Shane and the folks at Microsoft Games studios to make that decision.

How much say would you have in that, though? Does Bungie have any ownership rights in the Halo franchise?

Microsoft will retain full ownership of the Halo IP, since they own Halo outright anyway. Ultimately, they can do whatever they want to with it.

But, you know, as partners, I think it is in both of our interests to continue to work together on the franchise. The Bungie team has invested over ten years in creating Halo, we have a huge fan base that has come to expect a lot out of the franchise.

We would like to stay involved with it as much as we can going forward, just to help support whatever projects that may arise, to make sure that it's true to the universe and that it meets the expectations of our collective fan base.

And for the foreseeable future, whether it is Halo 3 downloadable content or the Peter Jackson project, the Bungie studios team is...our fates are still intertwined with Halo. So we obviously want to do all we can to make sure that the franchise continues to grow in all the right ways.

And Microsoft still has an equity interest in Bungie, so they have an interest in your continued success as well, right?

I'm not fully versed on all the inner the workings of the business deal, and I know that is generally not something that Microsoft wants to discuss. We are, as of right now, an independent LLC. We are free to do our own doings, but Microsoft, as our publisher, is currently funding our green-lit projects. Day in and day out business isn't really going to change too much for the foreseeable future.

Does Microsoft have the right of first refusal on all of your future projects?

Yes, there is some relationship stuff there that allows Microsoft to work with Bungie. If we were to develop future IP, Microsoft would have the opportunity to potentially publish that.

Maybe it is too soon to ask, but will there be a Halo 4?

We're definitely doing more Halo stuff. I don't know if I would call it Halo 4, because that implies it would be a direct continuation of the story arc that we've already concluded.

There's definitely more Halo coming from Bungie. I think the stuff we are doing with Peter Jackson hopefully will be very cool and a different Halo experience from what we've done in the past.

Outside of Halo, are there any projects that you can talk about? Any other genres that you are interested in?

It is too early to say. In some ways, yeah, we have some people on the team who are just burned out on Halo. Some of the guys, like I said, have spent ten years of their lives on this franchise.

On the other hand, over half of our team has never shipped a Halo game prior to Halo 3. We've basically doubled in size since Halo 2. So we have this whole mix of new, young blood...people who are excited to be part of the Halo phenomenon, and those guys are just getting geared up.

Halo's been great to us. I don't think we are going to walk away from it entirely, but definitely part of our vision in going forward, the reason that we have doubled in size, the reason that we are evolving our relationship with Microsoft, and we've acquired a new building behind our current building, is that we are looking to grown and expand to be more than just a 'one-trick pony.'

We realize that doing one game every three years is not going to be viable for our survival. So, we have guys right now in a room thinking about what is next for the studio. Bungie is hopefully going to be able to continue to our trend of delivering great IPs in addition to delivering great gameplay experiences.

At some point in the future, we'll have a lot to talk about, but right now we are in the exploratory phase and having a lot of fun thinking about what we can and cannot do going forward.

So, I suppose that means no official announcement of a table tennis game as your next project?

[Laughs] That was pretty fun, but it was quite a leap to go from something as massive as Grand Theft Auto to table tennis.

Perhaps you can leap from Halo to...I don't know...miniature golf?

Well, we do play a lot of bocce ball in the summer. I think that is an untapped market. [Laughs] We could totally corner that market!

There you go! You heard it here first: Bungie bocce ball.

You'll be the first one I call, as soon as we have our high-res assets available...


Brian Jarrad is Bungie's community and franchise director. Interview by Mark Androvich.
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Mark Androvich

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