Why Sony Bought Bungie
Sony announced Monday the acquisition of former Microsoft studio Bungie Inc for $3.6 billion. Bungie has also been under the Activision umbrella in between stints as an independent studio. The move indicates Sony’s intention to bolster its live service offering by acquiring some very experienced talent.
The news comes in the wake of Microsoft’s industry-shifting acquisition of Activision Blizzard for nearly 20 times the cost, wrapping up a month of high-spending consolidation in the video game industry. Three of the industry’s most notable third-party developers, Bethesda, Bungie, and Activision Blizzard, have now been incorporated with two of the biggest console manufacturers.
Traditionally console manufacturers have only published their suite of first-party software to the consoles that they sell. Microsoft was first to break the mold, and to do so early on by publishing some of their first-party titles to PC at some point after their Xbox release. But now, with the explosion of gamepass, titles from Microsoft’s studios are simultaneously released on PC as well as Xbox.
Sony has been slower to take a similar approach. A handful of their biggest titles have seen a second life on PC, releasing generally a year or more after their initial release on Playstation consoles. The acquisition of some of these heavy-hitting multi-platform studios will likely result in more instances of Sony/Microsoft-owned studios releasing their games on multiple platforms. Sony’s own MLB the Show was released on Xbox for the first time last year, marking a subtle occurrence of a huge shift in the industry.
Despite being announced just two weeks after Microsoft announced the acquisition of Activision Blizzard, Sony’s new acquisition is likely just as much a telling sign of their push for exploring a genre of games that typically hasn’t been in their wheelhouse. Known for their story-focused titles, Sony doesn’t publish very many live service games. The purchase of Bungie will both bolster their immediate incoming revenue with the ongoing Destiny 2 while also bringing in a host of talented game developers who will bring a different perspective to Sony — a perspective that they haven’t seemed to have internally.
Microsoft and Sony may both be acquiring big name studios, but they seem to be doing so for very different reasons. Microsoft is looking to boost its output, concentrating on software sales of both games and their subscription service game pass. Sony, on the other hand, seems to be looking to acquire studios for their knowledge base and potential for producing new IP, meanwhile both Bethesda and especially Activision Blizzard have a huge number of ongoing IP that are produced between them.
Microsoft Vs. Sony — Is This the End of the Competition?
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Although there is almost assuredly a level of competition that is driving Sony’s latest acquisition, the proximity to Microsoft’s announcement of their acquisition of Activision Blizzard certainly makes it an impossibility that this acquisition is in any sort of reaction to Microsoft’s. It’s more likely that Sony is acting in reaction to Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda last year, if anything. But perhaps this could be something entirely different. Microsoft and Sony seem to have been on diverging paths for a while now. Although this may appear to indicate that Sony is following in Microsoft’s footsteps, it’s also possible that this represents Sony simply wanting to bolster their first-party offering. Only time, and future Sony decisions, will tell what the future of the console battle will be, but there’s no guarantee that Sony and Microsoft will be facing off so directly as they have been in the past. Microsoft may be starting to shift its focus, much as Nintendo has for the last few generations of consoles. Now we think of Nintendo as being almost entirely separate from the competition. Maybe in the future we’ll have three different companies truly charting their own paths. But as long as the competitive spirit remains to drive innovation, I don’t think that’s anything short of a win for everyone else.