Before Bungie agreed to a landmark publishing deal with Activision for the Destiny franchise, the studio considered signing with Microsoft or Sony for the franchise. Speaking to GamesBeat, former Bungie higher-up Martin O’Donnell said Bungie rejected the partnership opportunities with Microsoft and Sony because those companies apparently wanted to own the IP and this was a non-starter for Bungie.
Working with Activision allowed Bungie to retain ownership of the Destiny IP, and this was part of the reason why Bungie signed with the Call of Duty publisher, O’Donnell said. In his remarks, O’Donnell used air quotes when saying Activision “allowed” Bungie to own Destiny, alluding to the reportedly strained relationship between Bungie and Activision.
Former PlayStation Worldwide Studios boss Shawn Layden was also featured in the group interview, and he had a huge grin on his face as O’Donnell was sharing his story.
“We almost stayed with Microsoft. We almost went to Sony, believe it or not,” O’Donnell said. “Both Microsoft and Sony, and Shawn can probably confirm this, pretty much want to own the IP if they can. So Activision allowed us [air quotes] to own the IP, and how successful that turned out to be is a whole different thing.”
This is not the first time that O’Donnell has spoken about the early days of Destiny and why it chose Activision as the publisher. In 2020, O’Donnell remarked, “The reason why we went with Activision was not just the money, but it was because as part of the contract–they didn’t own the IP.” He confirmed back then that Bungie almost signed with Microsoft for Destiny, but this is seemingly the first time we’re hearing that Sony was also in the running.
O’Donnell said owning the Destiny IP was a “non-negotiable” item in discussions about potential publishing partnerships for the series.
While Sony ultimately did not win the contract to publish Destiny, Activision did partner with the company on various co-marketing deals that brought a series of content to PlayStation users first.
In that earlier interview, O’Donnell alluded to one of the reasons why Bungie fired him. He suggested that some members of Bungie’s leadership team wanted to give Activision more control of Destiny, and he was not among them.
“That was probably my biggest disappointment–we worked for a decade to make sure we could be in a position where we could stand up to the publisher and say, no, we own the IP–you can’t mess with it. And I was overruled and eventually let go,” he added.
O’Donnell also shared a juicy story about a dinner he had with Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick and a CFO that O’Donnell referred to as an Austrian man from the “Vienna School of Economics.” He never mentions a name, but Activision’s former CFO was Thomas Tippl, an Austrian man who was involved in the deal to sign Bungie for Destiny.
O’Donnell shared that he has a saying, “be nice to the goose,” which means you should be nice to the goose because that’s where golden eggs come from. In this analogy, Bungie is the goose that lays the golden egg that is Destiny. This unnamed Austrian business executive told O’Donnell, “Yeah, I like that story … golden eggs … the goose. But sometimes there’s nothing like a good Foie gras.”
Foie gras is the French cuisine that is made from goose liver after the bird is fattened by forced feeding. O’Donnell was spooked that Activision saw Bungie as a goose to be fattened and then killed off, and today he wishes he had raised concerns to his colleagues.
Overall, O’Donnell said he had misgivings about the Destiny deal with Activision from the beginning. “It turned out to be exactly as bad as we thought it was going to be. Everybody who no longer works for Bungie is going to say, ‘Yeah, it was bad from the start,'” he said.
Bungie and Activision broke up in January 2019, with Bungie retaining ownership of the Destiny series and moving forward in a self-publishing capacity.
O’Donnell is now working with Highwire Games on Six Days in Fallujah.
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