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

October 5, 2007 at 9:12 AM

Creative differences behind Bungie split?

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.

Comments | Topics: Games & entertainment, Microsoft

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