Bungie and Activision discuss new partnership: Call of Duty, fresh IP and Halo on the Wii?

Q&A with Bungie President Harold Ryan and Activision Chief Operating Officer Thomas Tippl

As one of the largest-scale partnerships ever forged in gaming, the 10-year deal brokered between Activision and Bungie has raised many questions about the future of both companies. GamePro was able to chat with executives from both companies as Bungie President Harold Ryan and Activision Blizzard Chief Operating Officer Thomas Tippl discussed how Bungie will work with Activision's other shooter-focused teams, how the Infinity Ward scandal affected the development of the partnership, and if a Wii game may be in the cards for the famed Halo creators.

GamePro: It's been quite some time since Bungie has developed for a platform that isn't the PC or Xbox -- how do you think Bungie will be able to adapt to the world of multi-console development?

Harold Ryan: For us, we do have a history before the [Microsoft] acquisition of doing Mac games, and there was a version of Oni on the PlayStation 2 that we did QA and advising in the development of -- that wasn't a Microsoft game, obviously. The team has grown a lot while we've been working through shipping Halo games -- we've focused on growing into the console market and growing our own expertise, but ultimately, that's one of the reasons that Activision is such a great partner for us -- because of their multiplatform experience and global reach. Ultimately, we believe that the focus in the industry is going where Activision is number one -- online gaming. We've done a lot in the Halo space online, so I think ultimately we're going to be able to bridge the consoles and community no matter what platform we're on. And with competitive gaming, I think we're going to be very successful in having Activision as a partner.

GP: Activision is well-known for its Call of Duty series -- what sorts of perspective do you personally and Bungie as a whole have for that franchise?

HR: I've actually enjoyed the Call of Duty series as a gamer, and as another game developer, it's awesome for the community to have options in games to expand the user-base that uses consoles to play them. For me, I'm personally excited to see the Call of Duty series grow and to see our franchise launch with Activision and really hit the world big.

GP: While the announcement states that you're working on new IP, is the Call of Duty series something that Bungie would be opposed to or interested in?

HR: It's not something that Bungie is interested in -- one of the things we're really focused on as a company is making a new entertainment property, and that's why our focus is absolutely on creating a brand-new universe and IP.

Brothers in arms: Activision Blizzard's Thomas Tippl and Bungie's Harold Ryan.

GP: For the past nine years, Bungie has been working almost exclusively on the Halo franchise. Are there things you've learned in the creation of that franchise that you'll be applying towards what you'll be creating for Activision?

HR: Absolutely -- you won't get to see them, but if you did see the plans that we worked out and presented to Activision when we started talking to them -- we took a good, hard look at the last 10 years of success with Halo, all the things that went really well, and the things that didn't go as well as we wanted. We are addressing multiples of success greater than Halo has been for us. As for the team, there are a bunch of us -- myself included -- who shipped many, many franchises on PC and Xbox for Microsoft over the years.

GP: Thomas, with the addition of Bungie to Activision's other shooter-focused, how do you see them fitting in amongst these groups?

Thomas Tippl: I think Bungie is completely additive to our overall plan. That's the beauty of this partnership -- there are no tradeoffs involved. As one of the best studios in the world, they have a track record of delivering fantastic games and broadening the community around those games, and as such, we think this is where the market's going. Products that are winning today are products that are bigger and on multiple platforms with strong online components that make the product very sticky -- they continue to keep the player involved in the franchise and gameplay. This is where our strength is with much of the Call of Duty franchise, but it's also where our strength is with Blizzard when you look at their community and what they've been able to accomplish with Battle.Net in taking that to the next level with the revamped Battle.Net that will be launching with StarCraft II. We believe between Halo, Call of Duty, and Blizzard -- those are the three online gaming properties that really are today's profitable online market. I think they're very complimentary -- from a philosophical and procedural perspective, we are totally aligned with Bungie's vision that they have laid out. They've been extremely thoughtful to think beyond the first product [with Activision] and that aligns completely with the way we think the industry's going. We couldn't be more excited -- I think it's a perfect match.

GP: Were your other shooter-focused studios been made aware of the Bungie deal ahead of time? If they were, how receptive have they been to it?

TT: All of our development talent are always excited when we bring on additional development expertise -- particularly when it's of the caliber of Blizzard or Bizzarre, or launching a new studio with the guys who made the 90-rated Dead Space game -- it makes everybody better and continues to raise the bar internally. We continue to provide opportunities for developers to exchange what they've learned to each other, which makes everybody better. Everybody's very excited about this partnership.

GP: Harold, is this something that you've been doing so far and are hoping to do more of -- helping out these other shooter-focused teams?

HR: Yeah. I wouldn't say our focus is to help them build their games, but Bungie's always engaged with the development community in a broad sense -- we do a lot with the Game Developer's Conference and we have a lot of friends and partners in the industry that we've helped with online plans and other things. I absolutely believe that the synergy between us and all of the Activision development teams is going to be awesome, but more from a global community sense where we talk to and support each other -- not from a standpoint where we work on each other's games.

Rivals no more: PS3 owners will soon be able to enjoy all-new Bungie games

GP: Has the recent legal troubles that have been occurring between Activision and several employees from Infinity Ward affected the development of this deal at all?

HR: From my point of view, it hasn't affected us -- it may have affected some of the PR plans, I think. We've been talking to each other for over nine months, and Bungie's been in a unique place to have a lot of choice and it always came down to having Activision and Bungie completely aligned for our goals about what we want to do with our creative, and who we want to bring that creative to. That's been the ultimate driver for us, and it hasn't been affected at all by what's been happening with the Infinity Ward guys.

TT: From my perspective, while the Infinity Ward situation is unfortunate, it doesn't change our strategy of continuing to support the best creative talent in the industry and looking for ways to better partner with them -- it's not "one size fits all" for these partnerships. If you look at our track record, we've been in the business for nearly two decades, and the Infinity Ward situation has certainly been unique in that 20-year period of time. Frankly, we've never been more successful in attracting the best talent in the industry. If you look at our company joining up with Blizzard, possibly one of the best developers and publishers out there; attracting the best independent racing studio in Bizarre, which we did about two years ago; and attracting the Dead Space team and supporting them in founding a new studio; I don't think we've ever done better than we have in the past two years.

GP: The announcement highlights the fact that you'll be developing across multiple platforms -- can you talk about whether the Wii could be a possible destination for future Bungie releases?

HR: The Wii, along with any other platform that people enjoy entertainment on, is certainly a potential platform for our universe and IP. It's obviously a platform we haven't developed or shipped games for, but it certainly has a broad consumer base in parts of the world, and something we absolutely consider as a potential platform.

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