Who ever saw this coming? In a stunning move, Bungie announced today that it's ending its partnership with Activision and bringing Destiny with it. This has major implications for both companies, and for the industry at large.
While the split has been mostly amicable on the surface, the relationship was reportedly fraught from the start. Late last year, Activision highlighted what it considered disappointing revenue for Destiny 2 in the wake of Forsaken, no doubt hoping that it would have a hit on the level of World of Warcraft. Bungie, for its part, promised that it wouldn't abandon what made the Forsaken expansion great (even if Destiny 2 still has some problems to work out).
Bungie wrote of the split, "When we first launched our partnership with Activision in 2010, the gaming industry was in a pretty different place. As an independent studio setting out to build a brand new experience, we wanted a partner willing to take a big leap of faith with us. We had a vision for Destiny that we believed in, but to launch a game of that magnitude, we needed the support of an established publishing partner."
Now, Bungie says, it's ready to take the reins and publish Destiny on its own. What does that entail for Bungie, and for Destiny at large? In the short term, at least, things should continue as normal. Bungie says the transition is already underway, and it's pledging to stick with its established roadmap for the series. After a rocky start, Destiny 2 is on a somewhat more positive course these days, and it figures to end on a relatively strong note. But looking ahead, Bungie's future could be very different. Here's what could happen.
Destiny may be on Steam and Epic before long
With the digital distribution wars starting to heat up, Activision has lately been putting more emphasis on Battle.net, which was ostensibly a Blizzard-exclusive platform until Destiny 2 arrived in 2017. But with Bungie now set to move on and take the publishing rights with it, it seems likely that Destiny will eventually be available on Steam and possibly the Epic Games Store.
It mostly depends on how long the transition ends up taking, and whether Bungie wants to pull Destiny 2, or wait for the inevitable Destiny 3. Coincidentally, Ubisoft announced just yesterday that The Division 2 will be launching exclusively on The Epic Games Store. Will Bungie follow suit? Even just a couple weeks ago, I would have said "no way", but we're in uncharted territory here. It will be especially interesting if Destiny 3's PC version launches alongside the console versions, giving it a larger natural base out of the gate.
Destiny 2 will still receive full support on BattleNet and we do not anticipate any disruption to our services or your gameplay experience. https://t.co/FFOE1iae3R— BlizzardCS (@BlizzardCS) January 10, 2019
For now, Activision and Blizzard promise that Destiny 2 will continue to be supported on Battle.net. We'll see how long that lasts.
Destiny 3 may be the last Destiny
With Bungie dropping Activision and taking Destiny with it, a new game in the series is almost definitely going to happen. Bungie will want to make a fresh start on its own terms, especially if it can do so on the next generation of consoles—which look increasingly likely to launch in 2020. And when it does, it will almost certainly be the last game in the series.
When Destiny was first revealed, it was pitched as a 10 year game, but with the tacit understanding that there would be multiple numbered games. This was natural for Activision, who have mastered the annual release with Call of Duty, but it frustrated and ultimately split the fanbase. Much of Destiny 2's lifecycle has revolved around trying to get back to the level of the first game.
Destiny 3 will likely reset everything once again, but if it ends up launching on new consoles, it will be a much easier pill to swallow. Lapsed fans are apt to return, and Bungie can make a big deal out of ensuring everyone that Destiny 3 is the big one (with expansions to be released every year into perpetuity, of course).
One wonders if Bungie isn't casting a jealous eye over to Warframe, which has enjoyed massive success since 2013—one short year before the release of the original Destiny. Unlike Destiny, Digital Extremes hasn't tried to push big Warframe sequels, ensuring a unified fanbase and steady growth across multiple platforms. Heck, if Bungie were smart, it would make Destiny 3 free-to-play and use Warframe's monetization model. Speaking of which...
Bungie's partnership with NetEase could grow
It didn't receive much coverage, but last year Chinese gaming company NetEase announced a $100 million investment and minority stake in Bungie. It also received a seat on Bungie's board of directors.
"Today, we're excited to announce that we've entered into a new partnership with NetEase to help us explore new directions," Bungie wrote at the time. "With their industry expertise, they'll empower us to build new worlds and invite players, new and old, to join us there."
Speculation around the announcement centered on a new IP, which looks even more likely with Bungie moving away from Activision. NetEase, of course, is the same company working on Blizzard's Diablo mobile game, which incurred the wrath of fans when it was announced at BlizzCon last year. With traditional developers finding massive success in the mobile space, it wouldn't be a shock if Bungie decided, say, to make a free-to-play Destiny mobile game (I wouldn't like it either, please don't shoot the messenger). Its expertise developing Destiny as a service game would certainly translate well to free-to-play mobile.
Being a Chinese mobile developer, NetEase also has a certain amount of experience making successful free-to-play games (even if they haven't exactly been good). If Bungie does indeed make Destiny 3 free-to-play, it would be a valuable partner.
Whatever happens, Bungie has the marketing muscle, development expertise, and name recognition to make a successful run as a large independent developer. In 2010, Bungie rightly foresaw that service games would be a massive part of the next generation of games, and made its bets accordingly. Activision helped offset some of the risk of getting Destiny on the ground; but with Destiny now firmly established, Bungie is ready to move forward on its own.
Consider this move one more domino in the run-up to the next console generation.