Fact Checking: Is Bungie’s Next Game Xbox Exclusive?

An intriguing equation...

An intriguing equation...

In a perhaps unfortunate turn of events for independent developer Bungie, due to the ongoing legal battle between their new publisher and the founders of Infinity Ward, the terms of their publishing agreement signed with Activision in the spring of 2010 have become public. Buried in the 27 page contract, along with a lot of boring sections on employee compensation and publisher liability, were a few scant details on a series of four original games currently under development.

What is revealed is fairly vague. The “Destiny” games are described as “massively multiplayer-style sci-fantasy action-shooters” set to be released every other year starting in 2013, with major DLC packs or digital expansions code named “Comet” to be published in the off years.

The first game, Destiny #1, has been widely reported as being exclusive to the Xbox 360, at least until Fall 2014, but that assumption is based on a flawed reading of the language. While the contract does mandate a release of the Xbox 360 and Xbox 720 versions by holiday 2013, with the PS3 SKU targeted at release late in 2014, it does not actually preclude the possibility that both will launch together.

There are several ways we might interpret the language being used. As it stands now, the contract is explicit that Bungie are not required to release both versions in 2013, but given this contract was signed in 2010 after a decade of exclusive development for Microsoft hardware, they may have been uncomfortable committing to delivery of a game on a platform they have no experience with on the same timeline as one they’ve been intimately involved with all generation.

Click for the Platform section of the contract. Relevant passages have been highlighted.

The contract explicitly calls for a technical investigation and a business feasibility study to determine if a PS3 version of the game is viable. It also forbids Bungie from willfully making any development choices in the Xbox 360 version that would make a PS3 version impossible. The implication is Activision is very eager for the game to release on both the PS3 and 360, even if Bungie was apprehensive about the well documented challenges in developing for Sony’s more esoteric hardware.

We do know Bungie has been hiring experienced PS3 engineers going back to 2010, and according to the contract the decision on whether to do a PS3 version would have been made by March 31st of 2011. For all we know at that time Bungie had brought in enough PS3 programming talent that a PS3 version would not need any more time than the 360 SKU to complete. At that point the contract would have been amended to reflect the decisions regarding the PS3 version no matter what the outcome, and since we don’t have the updated contract we don’t know the current state of affairs. Destiny #1 may be set for a simultaneous release on PS3 and 360, the PS3 version may have been killed all together, or they could be proceeding with the plan to take an extra year to work on the PS3 edition.

The other possibility is that Bungie could not commit to a PS3 version of Destiny #1 in 2013 because of a preexisting agreement with their former owners at Microsoft. Despite being acquired by Microsoft in 2000, Bungie officially became an independent LLC in 2007. Microsoft maintained ownership of the Halo IP, continued to have a minority stake in the developer and an exclusive publishing deal until this 10 year partnership with Activision was signed. Although the exact nature of Bungie’s business relationship with Microsoft is not public, it is conceivable that some lingering obligation prevents Bungie from releasing a game on any platforms that compete with Xbox in the 2013 time frame.

Ultimately, it would be a mistake to read too much into a contract as old as this one. It was signed only months after Bungie’s last Halo game for Microsoft had shipped when work on Destiny must have been in its infancy. The contract has certainly been amended in some fashion by now, and we cannot even say with any certainty the 2013 target date is valid, or whether or not the whole series has been moved to the Xbox 720 and PS4 at this point.