The year 2022, dubbed “The Year Everything Got Consolidated,” has only been a month, and the video game industry has already seen three significant acquisitions totaling $85 billion. Bungie, the leading first-person shooter developer, has agreed to join Sony and PlayStation Studios in a $3.6 billion deal. While both Bungie and Sony have stated that the company would continue to develop games for several platforms, this may only be true for Destiny, which has a vibrant community and long-term support. Bungie has other projects in the pipeline, and while the company claims that they will remain multiplatform games, that could alter now that the company is owned by Sony.
Regardless of whether it succeeds or fails, this move symbolizes the end of an era for Xbox lovers, at least in spirit. Bungie has joined PlayStation, which is akin to Red Sox legend Wade Boggs joining the Yankees in baseball. As an Xbox fan who has covered the Microsoft console beat for nearly two decades, I’d want to reflect on what Bungie has meant to the Xbox platform and community.
Simply put, if it weren’t for Bungie, Xbox would not be celebrating its 20th anniversary today, buying Bethesda and dozens of other studios. Microsoft’s entry into the home console industry was a challenging, expensive, and physically exhausting venture, as detailed in the latest six-part Xbox documentary Power On, in which success was not guaranteed against entrenched powerhouses Nintendo and Sony. The Xbox might not have sold enough units to justify its existence in its first year if it weren’t for Bungie’s industry-changing shooter Halo: Combat Evolved (and yes, there is no hyperbole in the term “industry-changing” here), especially when Microsoft was losing money on every console sold just to gain a foothold in the marketplace. Nothing outside of Halo in the first year could persuade anyone to spend $300 on the enormous black box and its gigantic controller in the case of Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee.
The Halo Game
Halo was the game that put Xbox on the map. Countless Covenant were slain, millions of split-screen co-op sessions were begun, and thousands of Halo multiplayer LAN parties were staged. Relationships were formed and strengthened as a result of all of this. The Xbox was important because of Halo.
Halo 2 took it to a whole new level by utilizing Xbox Live – the broadband-only online gaming service that debuted a year after Halo 1 and the console itself – in a way that had never been seen before on a console or, for that matter, on a PC, where browsing server lists to find multiplayer matches was the norm. Multiplayer lobbies in Halo 2 were transformed into virtual sofas where you could stay out with your pals and play games with them all night long without ever being separated. It was a revelation, and when combined with Halo 2’s new mechanics – hey, vehicle boarding and weapon dual-wielding – and unique map selection, it cemented Xbox’s position as the console of choice for multiplayer gaming. Suddenly, a whole new multiplayer world had appeared in the living room. 4v4 Slayer bouts and 16-player Big Team Battles were added to the two-player co-op, one-on-one fighting games, and four-player same-screen brawls. This was a watershed moment for console multiplayer gaming, and it all started with Bungie on Xbox.
Both on Xbox and on other systems, it took years for the competition to catch up. By the time they did, Bungie had already helped catapult a second machine, the Xbox 360, to unprecedented success with Halo 3 — a game whose “Finish the Fight” motto and trilogy-ending tale helped make its debut a cultural watershed event. That’s not to mention Halo 3: ODST, a thrilling spinoff that Xbox fans still like, and Halo: Reach, Bungie’s full-circle goodbye to the franchise they’d created.