Ready for launch

Ready for launch
Michael French

By Michael French

June 30th 2011 at 1:22PM

Inside Bungie's plan to publish other studios' mobile and social games

Today Bungie took the wraps of its Bungie Aerospace initiative, a new small division of the studio dedicated to publishing externally developed games for mobile and social platforms.

It’s a unique move for the studio, which has fought hard for its independence – it started as an independent studio, was bought by Microsoft as Halo production ramped up, then divested from the Xbox firm as the trilogy of games ended.

So what does this independent studio know about publishing that actual publishers don’t? Why move into social and mobile?

Develop yesterday caught up with Bungie’s Pete Parsons (COO) and Eric Collins (community manager) plus Jordan Weisman (head of Harebrained Schemes, developer of the first Aerospace game, Crimson) to get the answers.

How long have you been working towards Aerospace? Give us the background.

PP: Bungie Aerospace is a small but focused effort to partner with some really great talent and make some fun mobile and social experiences and then share them with our fantastic community.

We’ve been thinking about this for quite a while, and now we’re an independent developer it was a great opportunity to start putting that into action with some of the developers we know and the companies we have formed relationships with.

JW: We’ve worked with Bungie on other projects when at other studios. While it’s a new venture and a new idea it’s an ideal that has been with the studio for a long period of time.

What does Bungie bring to this space that others don’t? Why should a publisher work with Bungie when they can self-publish themselves?

JW: We’re in a world where developers can do that and put something out there. But there are challenges with all of that. Working with Bungie in that publisher/developer role is good because we have a small team but have access to QA, audio labs, user testing and other things a 15-man shop just doesn’t have access to.

And then, the dirty little secret about digital distribution isn’t publishing, it’s getting noticed. There are 350,000 apps on the App Store. It’s hard to get noticed. So, aside from helping us make a better game, Bungie has a large community that is very interested in what Bungie likes. There is an audience there that likes what Bungie likes.

So what kind of games does Bungie ‘like’?

EC:  It’s actually very agnostic, our influences are all over the map. We’re interested in talented teams that make great experiences. It’s not about a specific style or genre – we just care if it’s fun.

So it’s all about how much that Bungie.net audience trusts Bungie’s opinion?

EC: It’s not just trust – the community is very independent and like what they like. So quality is important, not just what we tell them to play – it has to resonate with them.

But we definitely have ‘a megaphone’, a lot of people that watch our site and tune in to what we do and we think we can focus that death-ray on Jordan and give his game a leg up. But quality is key.

How does it work in a funding sense? What can another developer expect if they do a deal with Bungie?

PP: Well, it’s like every other developer publisher relationship where the developer does the work and the publisher takes the credit and the money… I’m kidding of course. [Editor’s note: text undermines some of the delivery. He really is just joking.]

In seriousness, it’s different per team, but we see these relationships not so much as publishing deals but partnerships.

Is there important to get a message out that Bungie isn’t a traditional ‘publisher’? You joke about publishers taking the credit and the money, but that relationship is perceived like that – that joke exists on that principle.

EC: I think we’ve spent the past many years proving that Bungie is all about good games, and community, and a passion for making games.

JW: And from experience I really have felt that from them. This is a relationship and partnership. We are working on this together.

How does the use of Bungie.net factor into all of this? Can an Aerospace developer use your online service element as well as the community?

EC: It’s definitely both. So we have a large infrastructure for creating leaderboards and lots of metrics around play that developers can use if they want. And that system we’ve built is platform agnostic so it can be used on Facebook or with Apple’s GameCenter as well. It’s a cool tool – and we’ve used it for a lot of success in our community.

A lot of work went into building that player analytics element for the first Halo games. You’re quite fortunate that in an age where commentators and developers are going heavy on metrics and data for social and mobile games, you have a system that was built for one of the biggest modern game franchises.

PP: Yeah, we’ve been building that for  years, not just for the universes we’ve created, but it has potential for the small teams we bring in.

What’s your take on the overcrowding in the new mobile and social platforms – how do you plan to cut through?

PP: As Eric said, the first step is a great game. Without that, you eventually fail, no matter what you through at it. But armed with a great game receptive audiences build awareness – that’s what we’re hoping to bring together with Jordan. A game that people will love introduced to Bungie’s audience that eventually finds an even wider set of fans.

Other hugely respected US studios like id and Epic Games have tried mobile, too. They argue that it’s ripe for increasing sophisticated games – like the ones you all produce on console. Does Bungie agree?

EC: I think there’s plenty of room for both. There are lot of good, increasingly high-end games, but lots of good simpler games. I think, like console, these new areas are just as ripe for variety.

How soon will Aerospace open up to other developers?

EC: We have some partnerships that we will be talking about in the weeks to come. And the contact info is out there for those who want to speak to us. [Head to www.bungieaerospace.com] That said, this is a small focused effort on finding teams that are good and that we are excited about working with.

Is there a bigger play here for Bungie to learn from as you move from making games for one console to your new multiplatform effort?

PP: Yes. Most of the Bungie team is 100% focused on making that new game we have previously talked about and its universe. And we’ve said that the game will be on multiple platforms and devices, so it’s a really great opportunity for us to not just partner with great talent and expose those people to a big community, but learn a lot along the way. We’re not just learning with the games sold through Aerospace either – we launched a Bungie mobile app just a few weeks ago, and still have a five-star status on the App Store. Simply, we are building and learning as much as we can about this market.

EC: The aerospace metaphor really has meaning here: we are building, and there is exploration and we are assembling ‘rockets’ and going places we haven’t gone before. Its important for us to learn about this market and form partnerships and relationships with really talented teams. We talk about 20 years of development but we aren’t afraid of working with other teams and doing things that are fresh and new from other perspectives.