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

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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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Posted by Greg

10:17 AM, Oct 05, 2007

I wouldn't count Bungie out too quickly. They've got some good properties behind them from before Microsoft's buy, including Pathways into Darkness, Marathon, Myth, and Oni. Halo wasn't a fluke.

Posted by Brier

10:27 AM, Oct 05, 2007

You're right, Greg, there was much more to Bungie than Halo before. That's got to be part of the friction - they haven't been able to do much else.

Posted by Bob

10:46 AM, Oct 05, 2007

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

I think you had it right the first time. It's yet another chapter in the record financial disaster that is Xbox. Good for Bungie. Bad for MSFT and its shareholders who paid the freight.

Posted by Mark

10:46 AM, Oct 05, 2007

Does this mean there won't be Pocket Halo for the Zune?

Posted by Wayne

1:04 PM, Oct 05, 2007

More than a business partnership or strategic alliance, Bungie and Microsoft have developed and perpetuated a highly successful franchise through a demonstrated synergy of talent.
And, to be sure, both will be adjusting to the change. However, even as they "part ways" there still remains a deep pool of rich creativity, from which we can expect them both to draw inspiration, leading to, and resulting in more of the same - only better.
I guess we'll see.

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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.