Earlier today Activision announced a 10-year deal to publish and distribute games based on Bungie's new, non-Halo IP, and the internet went predictably mental. We got Bungie's Brian Jarrard on the phone this afternoon to talk about the deal, the new IP and what it means for the developer.
Eurogamer: To paraphrase a question I recently asked Jason West and Vince Zampella, what first attracted you to multi-billionaire publisher Activision?
Brian Jarrard: Well you know, honestly, Bungie for over the past year has been working really hard on trying to secure our future, and it's been no secret that Jason Jones and our core team have been working on sort of the initial foundations of our next big IP and our next big universe in parallel to the team making Halo: Reach. This is a big step for us, this is a huge chapter, and it's not something the studio has taken lightly.
So, Activision was one of many partners that Bungie has been in talks with, and this discussion began in earnest about nine months ago, so there's only a couple of publishers in the world who could have the scale and scope to align with what we would like to achieve in our visions for our next creative universe, so I think at the end of the day there's a couple of reasons why it ended up being Activision.
Most importantly was that we have a tremendous deal, we have a tremendous partnership, and Bungie did not have to compromise sort of the core values of our studio. We have these seven principles of our constitution, and we stuck by those and were able to find a deal that aligned perfectly.
Specifically I'm referring to really important things to us like the fact that we remain an independent company, the fact that we will actually own this IP outright, the fact that we have a significant degree of creative control and this will be a true partnership for us. So Activision was the partner that ultimately believed in those terms for us, and in return we definitely can't deny their ability to bring huge entertainment to market on a global scale, their multi-platform experience and expertise, and they're just a really great marketing and distribution company, so I think all those things together made Activision the clear choice for Bungie.
Eurogamer: One of the things Activision brings to the party of course is their ability to handle games that have plastic peripherals that cost $100. Is that the direction you'll be taking with your new IP?
Brian Jarrard: [Laughs politely.] Um, you know we haven't got that far into it, but that definitely wasn't one of the initial discussions that we had. I could say that more interestingly to us and possibly more appropriate in the future was Activision's experience in the online space.
Eurogamer: It's funny you should say that, because one of the weird things in the press release is the "10 year" thing rather than it being a two or three game deal, which makes me wonder if this is an MMO maybe.
Brian Jarrard: I can't get into specifics, but we're definitely looking at building a universe that people want to spend time in. Much like Halo but we have much more grandiose vision here, so it's a long-term partnership for us. We're really embarking on something that will be a significant undertaking for the studio that will involve multiple games set inside this brand new IP and universe. But clearly Activision does have good experience running large-scale universes over a long period of time, so that was one appealing attribute that drew us to them.
Eurogamer: Yeah, they've got a fairly successful massively multiplayer game.
Brian Jarrard: I've heard that, yes.
Eurogamer: Specifically, there's a lot of interest in whether the fact it's multi-platform means that you'll support PS3 or indeed PC, Wii or handhelds - can you talk about that?
Brian Jarrard: I can't go on record and specifically list off what those platforms will be, or what order they may or may not arrive in, but certainly one of our biggest goals - and really we think about it as storytellers, as people who work in creative mediums - it's our desire to share our stories and our universe with the largest possible audience, and certainly we've had an amazing run on 360 and I'm sure we'll continue to do so, but there are bigger opportunities out there for us and we would love to be able to reach more fans than we have before and really bring our experience to them on the platforms and devices of their choosing.
So certainly that's something we're planning for and working towards in the future, so it's great that's one area Activision has a lot of experience in.
Eurogamer: Will be there any common ground with the Halo series in terms of gameplay or setting? Is it science-fiction again?
Brian Jarrard: Well, I don't want to go that far either. We're very sensitive to... we have a lot of work to go on Halo: Reach, and that's certainly our main priority right now and our main focus. We've got to knock this game out of the park and we've got a lot of work to go although a lot of great headway's been made.
But I think it's safe to say that we definitely are building our next big action game universe. I think Bungie's roots are firmly ground in the action genre, I feel like it's one of the core strengths of the studio, and we'll be building on those pieces that have helped define and shape Bungie over the past two decades.
Eurogamer: Going back to the PS3 thing, given that your studio has spent so long working exclusively on Xbox 360, what sort of steps have you had to take to open yourselves up to multi-platform development?
Brian Jarrard: We've been working right now simply on more of a pre-production level, so things that are really platform-agnostic. There's a lot of early work that Jason and the team have been doing on establishing the world. Because the bulk of our team is working on Reach, so we won't be able to dive in headfirst into all the details and full production until after Reach is completed. But I think that's one of the great things that makes it less daunting, because Activision has a really good network of shared services and people that have expertise on various platforms, so it makes it less daunting for us that once we do start to tackle those discussions we won't be going in blind - we'll definitely have some people who have a lot of experience under their belt to help us make the right decisions.
Eurogamer: You say it's in pre-production - it makes me wonder why announce it now rather than when Halo: Reach has shipped?
Brian Jarrard: There's a couple of reasons. For one, this discussion with Activision really started nine months ago but the term sheet was signed on March 31st and the long form was just completed this week, so the deal is now official, it's final, it's locked. And it's pretty hard to keep something like that under wraps.
And we also, really, to be truthful, want to be sensitive to Halo: Reach, and this wasn't something we wanted to make be a big deal at E3. We don't want to overshadow the project that we're currently working on, and we knew it was going to be big news, and now that it's official we decided to get it out there and for us the hope is the news hits and then we want to quickly return focus and get our heads down on Reach. We have our beta launching on Monday and then we have a really busy schedule for the rest of the year, so for all intents and purposes our day-to-day lives are not changing for quite a while, so it's business as usual for us.
Eurogamer: A cynical person might say that Activision's had a lot of bad press regarding the Infinity Ward thing lately and this is a good news story they can get out there to take some of the pressure off. Do you think that's fair?
Brian Jarrard: Yeah, I'm not going to lie, timing was certainly something we discussed, but like I mentioned the long form agreement was just signed this week so it was... and we have our beta coming up and we didn't feel like it was fair to the Halo community and frankly to our friends at Microsoft and to our own team to have this news overshadowing a really momentous occasion for Reach. So we had a really short window to work with.
I agree the landscape's a little bit volatile right now, the timing is definitely interesting, but I feel like it is what it is - we want to get this news out there. We're really excited that we have a secure future that aligns with our creative vision, and we just want to get back into doing what we do, and have our team focus on making games. When the time comes we'll have a lot of new time to show, and at that point Bungie's next game and next IP will start to speak for itself.
Eurogamer: Does what happened with Infinity Ward make you nervous at all?
Brian Jarrard: No, it doesn't, and I definitely don't want to comment or speculate. I think I probably know as much about it as you do - we all read the internet, it's hard not to follow it, but we're pretty comfortable. We have a great deal with Activision, I think a couple of key points for us again is we're a fully independent company, we're not owned by Activision, we're not first-party for them, we're still our own studio, and we still own this IP for ourselves and have creative control to make the games we want to make. So, not that we would have concerns about being in any sort of situations down the road, but I feel like we're entering into this partnership on the right foot and have a really great mutual understanding of where each of our groups will plug in in the future.
Eurogamer: One of the things that's always been noticeable about Bungie is that you're famously well engaged with your community - are you going to be able to control that aspect of your output on this IP or do you think Activision will take the lead there?
Brian Jarrard: No, absolutely, we will still maintain our culture, we will still maintain our voice and our identity, and our community's a huge part of that. Frankly speaking I think Activision, certainly when they're looking at a partner like Bungie, beyond just our development track record and our predictability and our ability to generate sales off of quality games, our built-in community and our rapport and that relationship that we have is a huge strength to our studio.
I know for a fact that not only will we continue doing that but that they are counting on us to do that. It's really important to us that every aspect of our game from the experience that people have in their homes to the way we sustain the game and talk about it... we want to make sure we're controlling and all of that and our voice rings true and through this partnership that's definitely the way it's going to go.
Eurogamer: How do you actually go about starting a new IP from scratch?
Brian Jarrard: You know that's probably a much much bigger discussion than I can get in in the three minutes we have left, so I will give you a rain check and promise to you that when we can crack that seal open I would love to get Jason and Joe and a few of the guys and really let them kind of walk you through that creative process.
But I can tell you we've been talking about our next big thing for a long time now. Ever since we've divested from Microsoft it's been our intent to continue making these Halo games and make them as awesome as possible, but we've also had an eye towards the future and what would be next, so it's kind of like a snowball where it started out slow with people just starting to throw ideas around and over time it just picks up more and more momentum and gets bigger and bigger, and we've been hiring more people against it, and now suddenly we have the beginnings of a more formalised pre-production and the goal is that as soon as Reach is completed and out the door the majority of our team will be able to roll right into our new project.
Of course we'll still have some people who will be fully focused on supporting [Reach] after release and being there for our community, but right now things are moving really fast. We have a 180-person studio now and we need to be able to absorb the bulk of the team onto our new project and hit the ground running.
Eurogamer: There's a similarity between the Respawn Entertainment guys deal with EA and your one with Activision. You both own the IP, you both remain independent. Is that something you think we'll see more of?
Brian Jarrard: We talked about that a lot with the Activision folks, and I get the impression you're not going to see a lot more of that, because to hear them talk about it - and I think it's better to look at their perspective because I have a pretty insular view of these things - but there aren't that many developers out there that can demand and get that kind of deal. I think you can count them on one hand.
So we're really fortunate to be in that kind of position in that we have the ability to embark on our own path and control our own destiny, and as far as if there's going to be a big change, I don't think there is, because I don't think there's enough developers out there that have the track record to attract a deal like this.
Eurogamer: The terms of the deal aren't being discussed but you've said it's a 10-year deal on this one franchise. Could the deal expand beyond that to encompass working on other stuff for Activision beyond this IP?
Brian Jarrard: It's certainly possible but it's not something that's specifically identified right now. That would be an incremental, secondary discussion that might come at a later date, but we have such grandiose plans for our next big chapter that it's going to take all of our best and brightest minds to work on it, so it's not going to be a scenario where we suddenly have three different teams working on three different projects.
Eurogamer: Yeah, so it'll be a while before we see Bungie's take on Guitar Hero.
Brian Jarrard: Yeah, I would say probably never? [Laughs.]