The year 2022 – to be henceforth known as The Year Where Everything Got Consolidated – is only a month old and already the video game industry has seen three major acquisitions totaling $85 billion. The latest of those sees first-person shooter powerhouse Bungie joining Sony and PlayStation Studios in a $3.6 billion move. And while both Bungie and Sony say that the studio will continue to be a multiplatform developer, that may only end up proving true for Destiny, which continues to enjoy a thriving community and long-term support. Bungie has other projects in the works, and even as Bungie says those will remain multiplatform games, now that Bungie is with Sony, that could change sooner or later.
Regardless of whether it does or doesn’t, though, this move marks, in spirit at least, the end of an era for Xbox fans. Bungie has joined PlayStation, which is the video game equivalent of Red Sox great Wade Boggs signing with the Yankees. And as an Xbox fan who has covered the Microsoft console beat for nearly 20 years, I want to look back at what Bungie has meant for the Xbox platform and community.
Quite simply, Xbox probably wouldn’t be here today, buying Bethesda and dozens of other studios while celebrating its 20th anniversary, if it wasn’t for Bungie. As the recent six-part Xbox documentary Power On details, Microsoft’s entry into the home console market was a difficult, expensive, and mentally taxing endeavor in which success was not assured while up against entrenched powerhouses Nintendo and Sony. The unconnected consoles of the turn of the century needed ‘killer apps’ to bring people into their ecosystems, and if it wasn’t for Bungie’s industry-changing shooter Halo: Combat Evolved (and yes, there is no hyperbole in the term “industry-changing” here), the Xbox might not have sold enough units to continue justifying its existence in its first year – particularly when Microsoft was losing money on every console sold just to try and gain a foothold in the marketplace. With respect to Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee, nothing outside of Halo in the first year was going to convince people to drop $300 on the big black box, or its hulking controller.
Xbox probably wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Bungie.
Halo put Xbox on the map. Millions of split-screen co-op sessions were started, thousands of Halo multiplayer LAN parties were hosted, countless Covenant were slain. And through all that, relationships were forged and strengthened. Halo mattered, and so the Xbox mattered.
Halo 2 took it all to a whole new level by leveraging Xbox Live – the broadband-only online gaming service that launched a year after Halo 1 and the console itself did – in a way that had never been seen in the console space or, heck, even the PC space, in which browsing server lists to find multiplayer matches was the norm of the day. Halo 2 turned multiplayer lobbies into virtual couches where you could hang out with your friends and game with them all night long without ever being separated. It was a revelation, and when combined with Halo 2’s new mechanics – hello, vehicle boarding and weapon dual-wielding – and memorable complement of maps, it made Xbox the place for multiplayer gaming on consoles. Suddenly an entire new world of multiplayer had opened up in the living room. Two-player co-op, one-on-one fighting games, and four-player same-screen brawls were complemented by 4v4 Slayer matches and 16-player Big Team Battles. This was a step change for console multiplayer gaming, and it all started on Xbox thanks to Bungie.
It took years for the competition to catch up, both on Xbox and on other consoles. And by the time they had, Bungie had helped propel a second console, the Xbox 360, to stratospheric success with Halo 3 – a game whose “Finish the Fight” tagline and trilogy-completing story helped make its launch a moment that rippled throughout all of pop culture. And that is to say nothing of Halo 3: ODST, a riveting spinoff that remains beloved by Xbox fans today, and Halo: Reach, Bungie’s full-circle goodbye to the franchise they’d built.
And so I’m left to reflect. If Bungie chooses to release future games on Xbox, as they insist they will, that would of course be great. But even if they don’t, then it’s been one hell of a ride. And for PlayStation fans, enjoy it, because I think Bungie’s just getting started.
Ryan McCaffrey is IGN’s executive editor of previews and host of both IGN’s weekly Xbox show, Podcast Unlocked, as well as our monthly(-ish) interview show, IGN Unfiltered. He’s a North Jersey guy, so it’s “Taylor ham,” not “pork roll.” Debate it with him on Twitter at @DMC_Ryan.