Bungie, the Bellevue, Wash.-based software developer behind the popular online shooter Destiny 2, announced Monday that it will join the Sony Interactive Entertainment network. The $3.6 billion deal will see Bungie enter into a partnership with PlayStation Studios.
This can be seen as an obvious countermove by Sony, following Microsoft’s massive $68.7 billion bid to purchase Activision Blizzard announced earlier this month.
Back in 2001, Bungie was the studio behind Halo: Combat Evolved, the game that drove the original Xbox’s success; now, an older and much bigger Bungie is working for Microsoft’s only real competitor in the console space.
It’s not as seismic a move as the Activision Blizzard acquisition, but it’s difficult not to compare the two, both historically, as above, and in terms of the talent under each company’s roof. Microsoft with Activision-Blizzard controls many of the biggest studios making first-person shooters in the modern games industry, which left Bungie as the last big FPS indie standing. Now Sony’s got it.
This is likely the start of a new, massive mergers & acquisitions cycle in the larger video game industry, as smaller players either band together for survival or try to make themselves more attractive for prospective buyers.
While 2021 was a strange year for the video game industry, it was also an enormously profitable one. According to the NPD Group, overall consumer spending on video games jumped by 25% in 2021 for a total of $5.74 billion, with a particularly large spike coming from the 45-64 age bracket. As a field, video games were already big, but the pandemic made them bigger, and not even the production delays and hardware shortages in 2021 could entirely break that momentum.
By this time last year, we’d already seen a huge contraction among game publishers, developers, and toolmakers, with hundreds of companies changing hands, from small game developers to creators of toolkits and utilities. This was fueled by both an influx of venture capital, heightened revenues, and companies’ preparation for next-generation development. With the Activision Blizzard deal, Microsoft has likely touched off another, similar buying frenzy, and it’s anyone’s guess which company will be up for sale next.
Bungie further clarified that the terms of its deal with Sony do not involve a change of leadership; Bungie will “continue to independently publish and creatively develop our games,” and intends to hire more employees to continue its current expansion.
“In SIE,” Bungie wrote on its official website, “we have found a partner who unconditionally supports us in all we are and who wants to accelerate our vision to create generation-spanning entertainment, all while preserving the creative independence that beats in Bungie’s heart. Like us, SIE believes that game worlds are only the beginning of what our IPs can become.”
The money quote here, to my mind, is “game worlds are only the beginning.” Sony has been particularly aggressive in the last few years about adapting its video game franchises into other media, since the launch of its internal PlayStation Productions studio in 2019. Its current projects include the live-action movie Uncharted, starring Tom Holland as Nathan Drake, and a TV show for HBO Max based on The Last of Us, both of which are scheduled to debut later this year.
What that suggests is Bungie will continue to develop Destiny 2 as a multi-platform game, including the Xbox, but any attempts it might make to broaden the Destiny universe into other media (the whole setting has “animated series” written all over it, really) will be handled by PlayStation Productions.
Bungie does have another project in the works, a new IP that it had previously said would be out by 2025. If any of its games will be exclusive to the PlayStation platform, it would likely be that one, although it’s far too early to do more than irresponsibly speculate. Fortunately, I’m into that.
Even so, this is unlikely to mark a new chapter in the traditional console wars. Sony has recently explored bringing some of its big exclusive PlayStation games to PC via Steam, such as Horizon: Zero Dawn, God of War, and Days Gone, while Microsoft has been uniquely uninterested in exclusivity for the last five years or so. Right now, it seems like the three major console players are all sealed off in their own unique spheres of influence.