Why Sony Really Bought Bungie (and It’s Not Just About Microsoft)

Why Sony Really Bought Bungie (and It’s Not Just About Microsoft)
Image: Bungie

Sony acquired Bungie on Monday in yet another colossal acquisition between two gaming giants. While the advantages of owning a triple-A developer with a popular IP would seem obvious, the specifics of the deal have led to questions about Sony’s strategy in the intensifying war against Xbox.

Before I attempt to explain Sony’s strategy, let’s talk about some of the important details we already know about the Bungie acquisition, and what will happen once the deal goes through. As we learned, Sony is spending $US3.6 (A$5) billion to buy Bungie, the developers of the first-person shooter franchise Destiny and the creators of the Halo franchise (which is now under Microsoft rule).

Despite being wholly owned by Sony, Bungie will continue to act as an independent studio when it comes to the development and publishing of its games. And in case this purchase worried Microsoft fans, Bungie games — both current and upcoming — promise to be multi-platform, meaning Sony won’t force console exclusivity. Expansions, cross-platform features, and in-game items will continue to be offered on Xbox as they are on PlayStation. And finally, Bungie will exist alongside Sony’s PlayStation Studio group rather than joining some two dozen other studios under the division. In short, Bungie will operate as normal but now belongs to Sony.

Comparisons between this acquisition and Microsoft’s recent $US68.7 (A$95) billion Activision Blizzard purchase (that is 19 Bungies) are inevitable, and they’ve led some to question whether Sony is properly leveraging its new asset. After all, Microsoft just purchased multiple triple-A IPs from one of the largest existing game developers. Some of those titles will likely become exclusives and the others will at least help bolster Game Pass subscriptions. So then, was it that Sony hopes to gain from buying a single studio that has focused all recent efforts on one game?

In the short term, Sony will welcome a larger player base and a steady stream of income from the purchase of expansions and in-game currency made by Destiny’s sizable and stable player base. Maintaining that player base means keeping them together rather than fracturing the group (which can team up and compete thanks to cross-play) with exclusivity. Microsoft will do the same with Call of Duty although it’s unclear whether that’s a strategic decision or a requirement to honour existing agreements.

There is also speculation that Sony could be holding Destiny as ammunition in a Cold War against Microsoft — pressuring its rival to keep popular Activision Blizzard games running across multiple platforms. This, to me, seems like an unlikely factor or consequence of the deal considering Microsoft already holds the rights to Halo. Also, Sony would create unnecessary ill will having already promised gamers that it will keep Destiny and forthcoming Bungie releases (including an unnamed new IP set for 2025) on Xbox.

Beyond a popular game that could help fill a gaping first-person-shooter hole in its catalogue, Sony is buying a studio with pedigree, one it can help expand and trust enough to release quality titles. Sure enough, Bungie CEO Pete Parsons wrote in a blog post that the most immediate change will be the ability for Bungie to more quickly hire talent across the studio. If all goes well, Bungie will follow Naughty Dog and Insomniac Games as Sony-owned studios whose releases drive huge sales figures and snatch awards at the end of each year.

“This is a strategic step towards continuing to evolve the gaming experiences that we build,” Jim Ryan, Sony Interactive Entertainment’s CEO, wrote in a blog post. “Bungie’s expertise in delivering a world-class service approach and long-term community engagement is extremely compelling and will support the development of several future live services titles from PlayStation Studios.”

I mention the two studios above because they are involved in another element to the Bungie deal that has flown somewhat under the radar: the potential for Sony to expand Destiny beyond gaming, which is something Bungie was already planning prior to this announcement. Read between the lines of what both Sony and Bungie execs have said so far and the writing is on the wall.

“Together, we share a dream of creating and fostering iconic franchises that unite friends around the world, families across generations, and fans across multiple platforms and entertainment mediums,” Bungie CEO Pete Parsons wrote in a post.

Take this as speculation, but that sounds a lot to me like “Destiny the TV show/movie” could soon be in the works. Bungie is hardly keeping it a secret, either. Last year, the studio posted a job listing (via IGN) for a new senior executive who could “drive projects that extend the Destiny franchise into new categories including TV, films, books, comics, and audio formats.”

Sony could make for the ideal partner. Not only has the company shown an ability to nurture studios, but Sony Pictures — a sister division within the Japanese conglomerate — has the knowledge and resources to turn Destiny into a massive media franchise. We are mere weeks away from the release of the Uncharted movie, an adaptation of one of Sony’s most successful video games series. And the post-apocalyptic thriller franchise The Last of Us is in the process of being turned into an HBO TV series.

Whether an ironic twist or a sharp jab at the competition, the Sony/Bungie announcement comes a day after Paramount+ debuted the trailer for the long-awaited live-action Halo series, which will bring the franchise originally created by Bungie to life. With this acquisition, it appears more likely than ever that the war against Guardians and Spartans will find a new battlefield beyond the controller.