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Brier Dudley's blog

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

September 8, 2014 at 10:15 AM

Q&A: Bungie boss on Destiny, new consoles and more games

If you thought the Seahawks season opener was a big deal, brace yourself for Tuesday’s launch of “Destiny.”

Bungie image

Bungie image

The online, sci-fi action game created by Bungie, the 540-employee Bellevue game studio, may be the biggest entertainment launch of the year. It also highlights this region’s emergence as a sort of digital Hollywood North, where software, stories, art and online services are being used to build new diversions for ever more connected consumers around the world.

Over the next decade “Destiny” could become a multimedia franchise and cultural phenomenon pulling millions of fans into an expansive, realistic virtual universe where they can explore and defend distant planets from alien hordes, seek adventures and virtual treasure or

just hang out with friends.

After building the foundation of Microsoft’s Xbox platform with its iconic “Halo” franchise, Bungie split from the company in 2007 and began building “Destiny” for both Xbox and Sony PlayStation consoles. The game comes on a disc (or a huge, roughly 20 gigabyte download) and requires a current or previous generation console, but it’s played online.

Publisher Activision is so confident of “Destiny” that it invested $500 million into production and marketing, including cinematic ads shown during Thursday’s Seahawks game broadcast.

That may sound like crazy money, but Bungie is preparing for up to 20 million players — paying at least $60 apiece — in just the first year of a franchise designed to continue for at least 10 years.

“Destiny” already has broken several records, at least according to Activision, which is fond of touting such things. A public beta test in July drew a record 4.6 million players, after which Activision said “Destiny” has been preordered more than any other new franchise.

Earlier this summer I spoke to Bungie President Harold Ryan about the game, new consoles and more. Here are edited excerpts of our conversation:

Q: Will you be hosting 10 million people the day the game launches?

A: There’s a decent chance, the way numbers are going, to be that high for Day 1.

Q: Are you building the system to accommodate that many?

A: From a capacity point of view we’re planning to be able to support 20 million unique accounts and that’s planned for the full year.

Q: Will you enable cross-platform play ever, between different platforms?

A: That’s really more of a policy thing for the platforms themselves — Xbox and Sony. For a competitive multiplayer, it wouldn’t make sense to have PS3 play PS4, for example, with different resolution controls; it may not be a fair competitive match. I don’t think that’s a likely scenario.

Harold Ryan, photo by Steve Ringman of The Seattle Times

Harold Ryan, photo by Steve Ringman of The Seattle Times

Q: How about a PC version?

A: It’s still not a priority for us. We’re focused on the (console) platforms.

Q: How much better is playing on current-generation consoles vs. previous?

A: For us the thing that was really important is we have one design for all the consoles so it’s the same game whether you’re playing on a 360, Xbox One, PS4 or PS3.

When you look at the current gen, share capabilities, socially oriented (design) … it’s going to be way cool to instantly stream your game play or connect your videos outside the game.

Q: Bungie was early here, with clip editing and sharing back in “Halo 2” and “Halo 3.” Will you advance this in “Destiny”?

A: We certainly can push a lot more into the metadata that comes with the game and the characters you build and share.

Q: Are you already working on your next game intellectual property?

A: We always have a couple IPs under way, but right now the bulk of the team’s focused on “Destiny,” including me.

We know we’re going to be maintaining this community over time. We really have the opportunity now to constantly grow the (“Destiny”) world and change the world over time — that’s a big part of us staying steady state as we look at this IP.

Q: How will “Destiny” advance gaming?

A: The whole world’s moving to the place where everyone’s connected all the time — so that your accomplishments are almost more fun when you can share them with your friends.

For us that was a big part of making “Destiny” — a world and a game where we didn’t separate you, where you can start on different platforms and move together and play together, you can sign in at a different time of the day, different parts of the world and still party up (with other players online) and you’re not stuck on one server or another, or one game.

With “Destiny,” we’re going to be one of the few games to be the same game on every platform when we launch.

That also means that we can evolve all the platforms together over time as we go so it will be a world that really feels alive as you engage day in and day out.

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Q: Like Netflix, which conditioned us to expect a consistent experience regardless of platform.

A: In “Destiny,” your identity in the game is going to be your character and your clans … .your character will be there wherever you engage from.

Q: Are you directly competing with “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare” coming out this fall and with “Battlefield Hardline” and “Halo 5” in 2015?

A: There’s always a certain amount of competition. There’s a reason we ship in September. It gives us some time and space away from other games that will compete for shelf space.

In general we look more at competing for people’s time with entertainment. You’re going to pick something to do on a Friday night, it’s going to be a movie, a game or a TV show, and we hope that people end up picking us.

Q: What can you do differently now that you couldn’t have done within Microsoft?

A: This one really has the option of being on whatever platform a consumer happens to have or likes to enjoy playing games on, short of the Wii.

Q: How would you differentiate “Destiny” from other massively multiplayer online games out there?

A: I think the core difference is the rich physical simulation that we’ve shipped in our action games for the last 10 years.

We hope we create a hobby for (players) where it’s something they can think about and talk about and plan and engage with whether they’re traveling or between classes or wherever they might be.

Our actual line is “compatible with real life.” That’s something you can sit down and decide: Do I want a half-hour of “Destiny” or a half-hour of Netflix.

Q: A year ago people were wondering if consoles had run their course. Is the next-generation going to make it?

A: The next-gens are solidly here; they feel like great games. The consoles are fun to play on.

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Comments | Topics: Activision, bungie, destiny

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