Bungie’s independence reportedly under threat, developers suffering low morale

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Around a month on from a major round of layoffs, Bungie developers have opened up to IGN about low morale within the studio, and the risks that Sony could take away the autonomy of what is currently an independent subsidiary of Sony if they cannot meet financial targets.

Roughly 100 Bungie employees (around 8% of the once 1200-strong studio) were let go at the end of October, with Bungie CEO Pete Parsons taking to Twitter at the time to confirm the redundancies. This was one part of a major cost-cutting exercise, with other measures including a hiring freeze, annual pay adjustments halted, performance bonuses reduced to the contractual minimum, and cutting back on internal niceties of working at the studio.

One source told IGN that, “We know we need Final Shape to do well, and the feeling at the studio is that if it doesn’t we’re definitely looking at more layoffs.”

All of this came about after a disappointing year for Bungie’s once reliable money-maker Destiny 2. The latest expansion, Destiny 2: Lightfall, had failed to retain enough players and thus to generate income through its season passes and microtransactions. Revenue was down to the tune of 45%, and just at the wrong time for the studio, as they are ramping up production on their reimagining of the 1990s FPS franchise Marathon, and other unannounced projects.

Rejuvenating Destiny 2’s financial fortunes has become paramount for the studio, leading to them delaying The Final Shape’s release by a few months to June 2024. That will hopefully help tide them across to Marathon’s release and whatever the next stage of the Destiny franchise is.

But should this be a problem for Bungie? Back in 2022, the studio was acquired by Sony, with the developer set to retain its independence and autonomy to self-publish its games – it’s expected that Marathon will be cross-platform on Xbox, for example – but still give input through Sony’s push toward live service games. Since then, Bungie’s expertise in running Destiny 2 has been reportedly tapped to give perspective on Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us multiplayer Factions game.

However, with diminishing returns, it seems that Sony might force a change to this situation. The studio is led by a board of directors that PlayStation Studios head Hermen Hulst, Sony senior VP Eric Lempel, Bungie co-founder Jason Jones, Bungie CTO Luis Villegas, and Bungie CEO Pete Parsons. Speaking to IGN anonymously, several current and former Bungie employees state that a meeting took place after the layoffs last month that suggested this shared control could be at risk.

This would be a quite shocking move for a company that has long prided itself on its independence. Even when a studio within Microsoft, Bungie stood alone and was able to regain full independence in 2011. After that, they had Activision as a publisher for Destiny and the early years of Destiny 2, but railed against Activision’s structured management of the game and again splintered off to self-publish the game’s later expansions. With Sony’s acquisition and those original promises, it felt like Bungie had found a perfect spot. If that deal were to change, and leadership to be removed, though? That would be a massive moment in Bungie’s long and storied legacy.

Sony and Bungie did not respond to IGN’s request for comment.

Source: IGN

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