My Thoughts On Sony Buying Bungie: What It Means For PlayStation And The Industry

 On January 31st 2022, Sony announced its intent to acquire Destiny developer Bungie for a sum of 3.6 billion US dollars. 

The deal is still subject to regulatory approval, but once it is finalised, Bungie will be an 'independent subsidiary of Sony Interactive Entertainment' and 'sit alongside the PlayStation Studios organisation'. Sony's official press release states that 'Bungie will continue to operate individually' and 'maintain the ability to self-publish' games. 

According to a PlayStation Blog post from SIE CEO Jim Ryan, Bungie will remain a 'multi-platform studio' and its 'expertise in live service games' will help expand PlayStation to 'hundreds of millions of gamers'. 

A post on Bungie's website reiterates that their games 'will continue to be where their community is' and be available 'wherever you choose to play'. 

Source: PlayStation

What Bungie brings to PlayStation.

PlayStation's bread and butter during the PS4 generation were third-person narratively-driven single-player games. The likes of Uncharted, God of War, Spider-Man, Ghost of Tsushima, and The Last of Us were all different and brilliant in their own right but fell into this broader genre that the console was known for. One can't blame Sony for sticking to its guns, because these games were massive critical and commercial successes. But due to this, PlayStation's first-party lineup lacked diversity. 

One key genre that wasn't invited to the first-party party was first-person shooters. The FPS genre is one of gaming's biggest and most lucrative. Doom, Wolfenstein, Call of Duty, Battlefield (when done right), and Titanfall are all beloved franchises that had a presence on PS4. Meanwhile, the last first-party FPS from Sony was 2013's Killzone: Shadow Fall. Up till now, Sony has relied on third-party games to fill the FPS void. 

With Bungie, Sony now owns one of the industry's best first-person shooter developers. The creators of Halo and Destiny are no slouch in this field. Bungie's workforce of nearly a thousand employees is sizable enough to support the development of a second or even third project alongside Destiny 2. Sony can harness this potential to develop a brand new first-person shooter IP for PlayStation. Or, they can use the FPS talent at Bungie to bring back one of PlayStation's two dormant shooter IPs: Killzone or Resistance

Another lacking genre in Sony's first-party lineup is a quality live-service game, one that is updated over time with free DLC and paid expansions. And no, none of that Marvel's Avengers bullshit that SquareEnix did. With Bungie's Destiny 2, Sony gets one of the best live service games on PC and consoles. Destiny 2 will help generate a consistent stream of revenue, while also providing a quality online multiplayer experience for fans of the genre. With Bungie carrying the live-service load, the rest of the first-party family is free to continue work on the trademark single-player adventures that make PlayStation what it is. 

The future of Destiny.

Source: PlayStation

The first question that arises when an acquisition by a major platform holder in the games industry takes place is whether future titles from said studio (in this case Bungie) will be exclusive to the buyer's platform or not.

With its previous acquisitions, Sony has set a precedent that the teams it buys will make games exclusively for PlayStation consoles, with PC ports for select titles arriving a few years after launch. But no acquisition Sony has ever made is as big as Bungie. While not a big publisher like ZeniMax Media or Activision Blizzard, Bungie is still a substantially sized developer with one of the most popular live-service games on the console and PC market in the form of Destiny 2

Sony's messaging so far seems to be pretty straightforward and indicates that Bungie's popular Destiny 2 will remain multiplatform in the future. Bungie seems to be mirroring the same idea, coming out and saying that:

Source: Bungie

I expected this to be the case with Destiny 2 due to its live-service nature. With an evolving game that needs a large and committed player base to succeed, it makes sense to leave the game as it is across all platforms. Destiny 2 is free-to-play and makes most of its money through in-game purchases. Even though Sony may lose a cut of this money, along with 30% of expansion and DLC sales on other storefronts, it will still make substantially more money than it would if Destiny 2's future content was suddenly only available on PS4 and PS5. 

The Verge's Tom Warren reported that, on 31st January, 860,000 players played Destiny 2. The split between platforms was as follows:

  • 355,000 players on PlayStation
  • 275,000 players on Xbox
  • 224,000 players on Steam
  • 5,390 players on Stadia
Bungie has also announced that Destiny 2's The Witch Queen expansion -- which is due to launch on the 22nd of February -- has reached a whopping one million pre-orders. These numbers show the extent of Destiny's popularity, and the loyal fanbase it has across all platforms. Not only would Sony be leaving money on the table, but they would also anger millions of fans across the world if Destiny 2's future expansions -- or even a Destiny 3 -- were to become PlayStation exclusive.

I think Sony has made the right decision in letting Destiny 2 live as it is. And I'm happy that gamers will be able to continue playing the game they love regardless of the platform they play on. 

Bungie's other projects: To be exclusive, or not to be?

Source: Eurogamer

It makes sense for Destiny 2, a massively popular live-service title, to remain multiplatform. But what about Bungie's other ongoing and future projects?

As reported by Eurogamer back in September 2018, Bungie filed a trademark for an IP called 'Matter'. This came after Chinese company NetEase made a 100 million dollar investment in Bungie in June that year. While the filing of this trademark was unlikely to be a direct consequence of that investment, it is possible that the investment was made towards the development of this game. 

Articles from Dexerto and Gfinity sum up everything we know about this upcoming game:
  • Job listings describe Matter as a "multiplayer action game".
  • The game has a focus on "character-based" gameplay.
  • Matter is set to be "comedic", with a "lighthearted and whimsical" tone.
  • Bungie says their next project (after Destiny 2) will release by 2025. This project could be Matter.
From job listings and rumours, it seems like Matter will also be a live-service game. Whether it's an MMO-lite like Destiny 2 or a more focused experience like Overwatch is still unknown. Regardless of genre, the game is set to be an online multiplayer experience. 

So will the game be PlayStation exclusive? A blog post from Bungie addresses this question:

Even though they don't mention anything by name, the answer seems to be pretty self-explanatory. With future Bungie live-service games set to release on all platforms, everyone will be able to experience these games regardless of whether or not they own a PlayStation console.

It seems like Sony are moving towards making the PlayStation brand more than just a console. The acquisition of PC-port house Nixxes Software last year was a clear sign of intent, and the fact that Destiny 2 will continue on other platforms is a sign of a new Sony, one that is keen to push its gaming initiative beyond just PlayStation consoles. 

Just like Microsoft's push for a gaming "ecosystem", that includes the Xbox consoles, PC, and Game Pass, I think Sony is going to do the same with PlayStation consoles, PC, and to a lesser extent, its upcoming "Spartacus" subscription service. And Bungie's ever-growing live-service titles are key to this movement, with the ability to hold a loyal player base across multiple platforms, even on rival Microsoft's Xbox consoles.

Following their acquisition of Activision Blizzard, Microsoft has come out and said that Call of Duty and 'other popular Activision Blizzard titles' will remain available on PlayStation consoles even beyond any existing agreements and into the future. It seems like Sony are going to do the same with Bungie's future live-service titles. 

Source: PushSquare

With no FPS games coming out of PlayStation Studios, Sony may want Bungie to make a single-player shooter for the console. Guerrilla has walked away from Killzone and seem to have their sights focused on the Horizon franchise, and while Insomniac do keep on teasing Resistance through their social media posts, they already have quite a few announced projects in the works. Killzone hasn't seen a new game since 2013, and Resistance hasn't had a new mainline entry since 2011. 

Therefore, it would make sense for Bungie, with their first-person shooter pedigree, to be tasked with a game in this genre -- whether it is with a new IP or one of Sony's dormant ones. 

If this is the case, then whatever this single-player shooter with a multiplayer component might be, I think it will be exclusive to PlayStation. The game isn't live service so it won't be severely limited in player base by its platform exclusivity and a new IP means that it won't be alienating fans on other platforms. If this game is based on an existing PlayStation IP like Killzone or Resistance, then there's no question about the game being exclusive. 

If PlayStation has adopted a day 1 PC release model by the time this hypothetical game nears completion, then expect it to release on PlayStation and PC.

All of this considered, it must be noted that this is the first time Sony has made a purchase this big for PlayStation. Therefore, if it is a new IP, we can't rule out the possibility that this hypothetical single-player FPS from Bungie will be multiplatform and not exclusive to PlayStation.

A rapidly consolidating industry.

Source: Xbox

Even the first month of 2022 has shown us that the games industry is rapidly consolidating. On the 10th of January, Take-Two announced it was buying mobile-games giant Zynga for 12.7 billion US dollars -- which at the time, was the largest acquisition in the gaming industry. Eight days later, this number was blown out of the water. 

On the 18th of January, Microsoft announced its acquisition of Activision Blizzard King for an astronomical 68.7 billion US dollars. It's safe to say everyone was shaken. No one expected an acquisition of this scale and size. But, as long as the deal passes regulatory approval (which it likely will), Microsoft would have just bought the developers behind Call of Duty, Overwatch, and Candy Crush to name a few.

And then, less than two weeks later, Sony announced their bombshell: the intent to acquire Destiny developer Bungie for 3.6 billion US dollars. Also, The New York Times bought Wordle, so it's clear mergers and acquisitions are everywhere nowadays. 

This flurry of deals at the start of the new year has been coming for some time. 2021 saw an unprecedented rise in mergers and acquisitions in the video game industry. Embracer buying Gearbox, and Sony buying Housemarque, Bluepoint, and Firesprite are just a few moves that were announced last year. 

Personally, I am split on the topic of consolidation in the industry. On one hand, I think that it helps studios get stability and balance from a financial perspective, allowing them to develop the games they want without worrying about going out of business if the title flops. Take Psychonauts 2 for example. Microsoft's purchase of Double Fine in 2019 led to more money being pushed into Psychonauts 2's development, which allowed many previously scrapped features to be added back into the game. 

In 2017, Housemarque put out a blog post on their website saying 'arcade is dead', and their signature style of games -- mostly twin-stick bullet hell arcade shooters -- just weren't selling well enough to be sustainable. Housemarque's hand was forced into developing a battle royale title, announced in 2018 as Stormdivers. But at the start of 2020, the game was put on hold, as Housemarque focused all their attention on Returnal. Following the release of Returnal in April 2021, Housemarque was bought by long-time partner Sony. 

And I think this deal is great for the studio, as they now have the financial backing to make whatever type of game they want to. Now it goes without saying that Housemarque will make AAA action games, but maybe this stability opens up the possibility for a smaller second team within the studio to work on an arcade game -- maybe even Resogun 2?

Source: PushSquare

On the other hand, I don't like that when platform holders purchase studios, their games become exclusive. This is fine when a platform holder purchases an independent studio that they have a long-running relationship with. Sony bought Bluepoint after a 16-year long partnership and Housemarque after a 15-year long partnership. Insomniac Games worked with PlayStation on Ratchet & Clank, Resistance, and Spider-Man, after which it was acquired by Sony in 2019.

Throughout Playground Games' 12-year long existence, they've worked exclusively with Xbox on the Forza Horizon series. Undead Labs was founded in 2009, and since then, have only made games in partnership with Xbox. Microsoft bought both these studios in 2018. 

Such acquisitions make sense and are the result of years of partnership and collaboration. They also don't take anything away from players on other platforms since these studios were already working in a second-party capacity with the platform holder to make exclusive titles. 

The problem of exclusivity from acquisitions is more apparent when it comes to buying third-party publishers. When Microsoft bought ZeniMax Media in 2020, it meant that future titles from big franchises like Fallout, Elder Scrolls, Doom, Wolfenstein and Dishonored would be absent from PlayStation -- a platform where they had been present for so long. The same is likely to happen with Activision Blizzard IP, where games apart from Call of Duty and the 'other popular Activision Blizzard titles' mentioned in Microsoft's blog post will likely be Xbox and PC exclusive. 

The acquisition of previously third-party publishers by platform holders is not good as it prevents gamers on other platforms from playing future games that they traditionally would have had access to. This is exactly why I don't want to see Sony go out and acquire SquareEnix or Capcom, and why I don't want to see Microsoft buy TakeTwo or Ubisoft. 

This would suck for everyone. Suddenly, PlayStation players wouldn't be able to play the next Far Cry or Assassin's Creed, and Xbox players wouldn't be able to play the next Dragon Quest or Resident Evil. No clear-minded person would ever want this to happen. 

Instead of buying large publishers, Sony and Microsoft should work towards cultivating talent, either through funding smaller studios or starting new ones. Build partnerships, attract talent, make cool games, and then in the future, complete an acquisition to make the long-running relationship official. 

But sadly, all signs point towards the video game industry's newfound habit of consolidating studios for breakfast, lunch, and dinner not stopping any time soon. 2020's ZeniMax acquisition, along with January 2021's Activision Blizzard King acquisition, have shown us that Microsoft isn't shy of whipping out its oversized wallet to buy massive publishers. And Sony buying Bungie has made it clear that even with its substantially smaller wallet, it can still afford to pick up publishers of its own. Don't expect the spending spree from both parties to stop any time soon.

The best we can hope for is that after an acquisition, these publishers are allowed to operate independently, use the injections of cash to make better games, and continue to release their games across all platforms so that everyone can continue to play the games they love.


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