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Brier Dudley's Blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

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October 5, 2007 2:02 PM

More on Bungie and Seattle's smoking game industry

Posted by Brier Dudley

When it rains it pours game news in Seattle, apparently.

A few hours after spinning off Bungie, Microsoft Games Studio Vice President Shane Kim was at Qwest Field for a panel discussion about the economic effect of the Seattle area game industry.

Kim didn't mention the spinoff during the panel, but made a pointed comment about the priority Microsoft places on developing its own games, saying "internal development is a priority for us":

"What we try to do is ensure we're the best home for the best creative talent in the world."

Interesting, because some might say Bungie has had the top gaming talent recently -- from a business perspective at least -- and it's looking for its own digs.

I asked Kim about this afterward, and he emphasized how Microsoft is trying to accommodate the wishes of Bungie and they maintain a close relationship:

"This is all about Bungie returning to its creative roots.''

We can hop it will stay in the area, which is now one of the top four or five cities for game development, according to data presented at Enterprise Seattle's Economic Update Lunch, during the World Cyber Games taking place at the stadium this week.

The group hired Chris Mefford, an economist who also does work for the Gates Foundation, to quantify the industry's local effects. Mefford shared some early highlights:

-- 150 companies in the area are in the games business.
-- Their sales were $4.1 billion in 2006 and expected to reach $4.9 billion in 2007, driven mostly by Microsoft's games business.
-- Those companies create 15,000 jobs
-- Average wages are $77,700, above average for the sector.
-- Game jobs have grown 33 percent a year since 2004.
-- Seattle has the nation's fourth highest concentration of programmers and engineers and third highest concentration of multimedia artists and animators, behind San Francisco and Los Angeles.

"It's easily one of the top places to recruit and bring people in for game development,'' said moderator Jeff Pobst, chief executive of Hidden Path Entertainment.

Other panelists were FlowPlay's Derrick Morton, PopCap's John Vechey and Samantha Ryan of Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment, which bought Kirkland's Monolith game company in 2004 and is now expanding here with a new production unit.

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October 5, 2007 9:12 AM

Creative differences behind Bungie split?

Posted by Brier Dudley

We've had plenty of time to speculate on why Microsoft's spinning off Bungie Studios.

Even before "Halo" became a movie, Microsoft's flagship game franchise was suffering from a Hollywood fate: Sequel after sequel, using the same characters and plotlines.

It's a profitable formula but it eventually stifles the creative types who dream these things up in the first place.

If I spent 10 years working on the same story, I'd be ready to do something else when it was finally published.

So the big question is how much pressure the team was under to keep churning out "Halo," at the cost of trying something new. Did Microsoft give them enough leeway to try new things?

You can read a lot into the quote from Microsoft game studios boss Shane Kim in the press release:

"Our collaboration with Bungie has resulted in 'Halo' becoming an enduring mainstream hit. ... While we are supporting Bungie's desire to return to its independent roots, we will continue to invest in our 'Halo' entertainment property with Bungie and other partners, such as Peter Jackson, on a new interactive series set in the 'Halo' universe. We look forward to great success with Bungie as our long-term relationship continues to evolve through 'Halo'-related titles and new IP created by Bungie."

At first I thought divesting Bungie was a bad idea, because it sends a message that successful, creative types may be limited at Microsoft.

But maybe I had it backward. By allowing Bungie to spin off, Microsoft is encouraging the team to try new things and flex its entrepreneurial muscles.

It could be the best for both sides, since Microsoft's still first in line for Bungie games. As a part-owner, Microsoft will also share Bungie's success.

This is a little harsh, but I wonder if a factor in Microsoft's decision making was that it's a longshot chance that Bungie will hit another mother lode like "Halo." Especially for a studio operating within a big, conservative company with broad business objectives that are influencing its game projects.

Or maybe Microsoft thought the Bungie people were too good to lose to competitors, and knew it couldn't hold onto them much longer, especially since it no longer can use the golden leash of stock options.

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October 2007



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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.