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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.

Go deeper

45 million Americans under winter storm watches near New England

Computer model projection showing the winds moving around the powerful East Coast storm on Saturday Jan. 29, 2022. Image: https://earth.nullschool.net

Nearly 45 million Americans are under winter weather alerts and warnings from North Carolina to northeastern Maine Thursday night, as a major winter storm threatens the region.

Why it matters: It is predicted to be the biggest blizzard since 2018 to strike the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow possible in parts of eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.

Judge nixes Gulf of Mexico oil leases in climate-focused ruling

Tug boats prepare to tow the semi-submersible drilling platform Noble Danny Adkins through the Port Aransas Channel into the Gulf of Mexico on December 12, 2020 in Port Aransas, Texas. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday canceled the Biden administration's late 2021 sale of new oil-and-gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why it matters: The ruling that the greenhouse gas emissions analysis by the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was insufficient is a win for green groups that challenged the decision, as they seek to curb fossil fuel production.

5 hours ago - World

Zelensky questions U.S. warnings of "imminent" invasion in Biden call

Biden and Zelensky at the White House last October. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty

President Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had a back-and-forth in their call this evening about just how "imminent" the threat of a Russian invasion might be, according to three sources briefed on the call.

Why it matters: Biden has said previously that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin will probably "move in" to Ukraine, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday afternoon that "an invasion could come at any time."