Dec 3, 2021 - Technology

Xbox chief thinks today’s Microsoft could have kept Bungie

Destiny 2 charcters sporting Bungie 30th anniversary outfits. The middle figure's right shoulder pad and headgear appear to be references to Halo. Screenhot: Bungie.

Microsoft’s head of gaming understands why Bungie, arguably the most acclaimed game studio in Xbox history, left the tech giant to go independent many years ago, but he thinks his company might have been able to retain them today.

Driving the news: Some fascinating what-if scenarios about Bungie and Xbox are top of mind going into next week, thanks to some major releases.

  • On Tuesday, Bungie will celebrate its 30th anniversary in its hit game Destiny 2, while on Wednesday Xbox will release the newest game from the franchise Bungie created but no longer develops: Halo.
  • Microsoft acquired Bungie in 2000 and launched its first console, the Xbox, alongside Bungie’s hit Halo: Combat Evolved in 2001.
  • Bungie created several more Halo games before going independent in 2007 and creating the Destiny shooter series for Xbox, PlayStation, and eventually PC and Stadia.

What they’re saying: “We’ve learned a lot,” Xbox’s Phil Spencer told Axios when we discussed Bungie’s history with Xbox in late October.

  • Asked if the split was inevitable or if Microsoft could have held on to them, he added: “Could we do it today? I think we could.”
  • But he said he understands why they left. “At the time they had big ambitions. They had sold their business for a certain amount of money. They saw what Halo turned into. And it's like, ‘OK, Microsoft benefited more than Bungie did from the success of Halo.’ There's no other story that can be written there.”
  • He mused, “If you're saying, ‘Hey, I think I've got another one of those in me. I want to really take another chance,’ I can understand the allure of doing that as an independent company.”

Between the lines: Next week’s Destiny and Halo releases had raised hopes that at least some sort of crossover would happen.

  • Early screenshots of the 30th anniversary event showed a Destiny character in an outfit that included references to Halo’s iconic Needler gun and protagonist Master Chief’s helmet.
  • Newer shots released this week have fans again looking for hints of a more substantial connection.
  • But the pending removal of Destiny from the Xbox Game Pass service has lowered hopes.
  • Spencer, an avid Destiny player, told Axios in October that he didn’t know if there was a crossover plan for the 30th anniversary. A rep for Bungie told Axios this week they preferred to keep the 30th anniversary content a surprise.

It’s not just a Microsoft thing. Bungie’s Halo game was introduced to the public by no less than Steve Jobs at a MacWorld expo in 1999.

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