Halo, Modern Warfare and A Leap of Faith

The largest game publisher in the world managed to end April on a high note despite two months of bad press, growing gamer discontent and a half billion dollar lawsuit over the personnel imbroglio surrounding their Modern Warfare games.

It would have taken huge news to divert attention even slightly from the growing soap opera of discontent bubbling up from the makers of Modern Warfare 2. But that's just what Activision delivered in the last week of the month, revealing that the makers of Xbox 360 mega hit Halo were now designing a multiplatform game for Activision to publish.

Perhaps ironically, developers Bungie were enticed to sign an agreement with Activision by the sort of deal that the now disintegrating Modern Warfare studio Infinity Ward were up in arms about not getting.

Apparently, Bungie's deal with Activision, which is for a single new gaming property and all of the games that come out of it, gives them the sort of control almost unheard of in today's world of hundred million dollar games and few self-published titles. Under the agreement, Bungie will still own the franchise, retain independence and even have control over things like the final cost of the game.

I pointed this out to Thomas Tippl, Activision's Chief Operating Officer, a few hours after news hit of the deal. Why, I asked, did you give Bungie the deal that Infinity Ward was asking for?

"These two things are completely unrelated," Tippl said. "We have been very focused on bringing the best talent to work in our studio model. We have done that successfully over the past two years as can be seen with our merger with Blizzard, bringing Bizarre to join our portfolio and attracting some of the best shooter talent, including some of the Dead Space team. That's been part of our strategy and it's not going to change.

"The Infinity Ward situation is completely different from that. I'm sure you have read our cross complaint and I think it's self-explanatory."

In the complaint, Activision paints a pretty unflattering picture of former Infinity Ward heads Jason West and Vince Zampella, both fired by the company for, among other things, "insubordination." According to Activision, the two were trying to make the people at their studio unhappy so they would quit and come to work for the two at a studio that they were secretly setting up behind the publisher's back.

West and Zampella denied that was the case, saying that Activision withheld bonuses and broke promises. West and Zampella have since set up a new studio and inked a publishing agreement with Activision's chief rival, Electronic Arts.

And what about Bungie's take on all of this?

In 2000, the company was purchased by Microsoft, after apparently deciding not to partner up with Activision. Seven years later, Bungie cut a deal to free itself from Microsoft and become a private company once more.

I asked Bungie head Harold Ryan, who was on the same call with Activision's Tpipl, what had changed in the ten years since they had first rejected Activision as a partner.

"I was at Microsoft when Bungie was first acquired," said Ryan. "For Bungie, the thing that was most exciting (about the Microsoft deal) was the opportunity to help define the Xbox and bring the game we wanted to play to a new platform.

"That at the time was the right decision for Bungie."

And now?

"I think this is the opportunity for us to look at where we succeeded over the last ten years and where we didn't do as well as hoped," he said. "This will allow us to really hit millions of players across the world, and do that on the platform of their choice."

Perhaps this is a chance for Bungie to move from helping to define a console to helping to define a medium.

Well Played is a weekly news and opinion column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its bigger impact on things to come. Feel free to join in the discussion.