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Independence: Adding Insult To Injury

So a couple days ago I wrote a bit on how Bungie got the rug pulled out from under them at E3.

As near as the Intertubes can piece it together, a few days before E3, Microsoft let Bungie know they wouldn't be included in the press conference. Bungie then enacted contingency plans for their own announcement, which is what precipitated the countdown on Bungie.net.

On Tuesday Microsoft told Bungie they wouldn't be allowed to do that, either, and since Microsoft is Bungie's publisher for Halo games, and Microsoft owns the Halo intellectual property, and the announcement concerned Halo, Bungie had to do what Microsoft says, prompting Bungie president Harold Ryan's apology to the fans, which can also be interpreted as a nice polite way of flipping the bird to the publisher.

By The Way: Halo 4

But wait... the announcement concerned Halo? Well, of course. Because as soon as people started asking why Bungie's announcement was nixed, Don Mattrick came up with the answer: because Microsoft's presence at this year's E3 didn't require Bungie or Halo, and the announcement deserved its own event-- by the way Bungie is working on a new Halo game, thanks very much for asking.

That cat isn't just out of the bag. That cat has booked an all expenses paid trip to Tahiti and is already in the security line at the airport.

And now what should have been a usual little Bungie product announcement turned into a clever little web-based game of some type (exactly what we'll probably never know) has turned into a full-scale executive pissing match less than a year since Bungie went independent.

It was always hard to imagine why Microsoft would allow that, and even harder to believe that, having allowed it, they'd be universally happy about it. Somewhere at Microsoft there had to be someone who bore a grudge over this, someone who thought Bungie had gotten too big for its britches, someone who thought they ought to be made to pay, even in some small way, for having the audacity to build massive shareholder value and then stroll out the front door with it, spouting platitudes about independence and creative freedom.

The Don

Ladies and gentlemen, I present that person: Don Mattrick.

Not convinced? Take a look at the LA Times blog/story where Mattrick explains the cancellation of the announcement, and see now neatly the author is led into asserting two wholly incompatible ideas in a single paragraph: the first being Mattrick's message, and the second being cold, hard fact. Here we are:

Bungie, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2000, split from the software giant last year but agreed to give Microsoft first dibs on publishing its games.

For Microsoft, the decision was a blow but not a critical hit. Although the Halo games have contributed over a billion dollars in sales for the Redmond, Wash., giant, the company is less reliant on the franchise than it once was. The first Halo game cemented Xbox as the console of choice for many serious gamers at a time when Microsoft was just entering the market and struggling to earn respect. Halo 3, released in September, singlehandedly pulled Microsoft's console division into the black for the fiscal year ending in June, giving the division its first profit since entering the market in 2001.

Let's parse that, shall we? So first, Bungie's departure is not a "critical hit" for Microsoft, and Microsoft is "less reliant" on the franchise than it was in the past. That's Mattrick's message, quite obviously, despite the lack of quotation marks or any indication of who is speaking. Certainly there's absolutely no evidence whatsoever to back this up.

In fact, the factual background that immediately follows directly contradicts that statement: That Halo 3 "singlehandedly" gave the console division its first profits in seven years.

How in the heck is delivering the first profit in seven years "less dependent"? How in the heck is it not a "critical blow"? What would be a critical blow, then, a nuclear strike?

Don't Win By Too Much

It's also been suggested that Microsoft left the announcement out because Bungie's project isn't shipping this year. That doesn't wash, as more than one project included in the show and the press conference isn't shipping this year. Some are shipping next year, and some don't even have ship dates.

Another speculation is that sine Microsoft expected it was going to "win" this year's E3 even without heavy hitters like Halo or the upcoming GTA DLC, that it could afford to hold them back.

Of what value is that? Hold it back for when-- next year's E3? Is Microsoft suddenly trying to be sportsmanlike, not running up the score against Sony and Nintendo by holding back their star players because they don't need them to win? That makes no sense at all. You play the best cards in your hand the best way you know how.

If Bungie's announcement was more appropriate for a separate event, wouldn't Bungie want to have such an event? If Bungie's announcement was more appropriate for a separate event, couldn't that have been decided earlier than this past Tuesday? If Bungie's announcement was more appropriate for a separate event, couldn't that have been decided earlier than a week ago when the press conference lineup was apparently decided?

The goose that laid the golden egg walked out the door, leaving its previous owner to mind the egg. This is a spat over visitation rights-- not a reasoned approach to managing a major trade show.

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Comments

An interresting read. I deffinitely agree with you that if Bungie's next project deserved a better event, they could have realized that much earlier.

And by the way, I loved this part: "How in the heck is delivering the first profit in seven years 'less dependent'? How in the heck is it not a 'critical blow'? What would be a critical blow, then, a nuclear strike?" hahaha.

"So Microsoft's decision to pull Halo from its presentation led to quite a bit of head scratching."

That's what the author, Alex Pham, writes after that paragraph. I wonder if he knew that H3 had put Xbox into the black for the first time before the interview.
If he did, and he too was scratching his head, why didn't he push it further? He could at least of split that paragraph. Did he even proof-read?

Maybe MS Xbox division is now in the position where it can go it alone but that just reeks of decisions based on money. The amount Bungie has done for Xbox, they simply didn't deserve to be treated the way they were.

Nice call, Narc. I posted something very similar on the Bungie.net forums a couple of days ago, basically stepping through the logic of Mattrick's reasoning's don't hold up to any sort of logical examination. I agree, I think that this amounted to a whiny, vengeful exec pissed off about one of his developers leaving, and making sure he stuck it to them.

Working off of the assumption that this was, in fact, a glorified executive pissing match, what amazes me more than anything is that Mattrick would actually pull a stunt like this. As fans, only the super devoted are ever really going to delve into these kinds of issues and give them serious thought. But isn't this kind of petulant behavior going to make the rounds through the industry? Won't it just put a black eye on Microsoft, a company that's worked so hard to try and build credibility with developers and publishers alike? Mattrick only ends up embarrassing his company and jeopardizing their hard-fought credibility with a stunt like this. Is that kind of payback at Bungie worth it? It just seems like a short-term revenge play with zero long-term benefit.

[quote=Narc]How in the heck is delivering the first profit in seven years "less dependent"? How in the heck is it not a "critical blow"? What would be a critical blow, then, a nuclear strike?[/quote]

Perhaps the XBOX Division is so used to working in the red and so comfortable knowing the Microsoft has deep pockets that erasing Bungie from the equation just gets them back to pre-Halo 3 operating levels. That...and Call of Duty 4 has been more popular on Xbox LIVE than Halo 3 for months.

But you are right. It's a stupid thing to say. Bungie has done more for the XBOX Division than anyone else and I probably wouldn't be an XBOX owner if it weren't for Halo.

It's almost as if Microsoft is teasing Bungie about Microsoft being the exclusive publisher. Imagine Bungie developing for a more powerful piece of hardware like the PS3 or joining up with Value and Steam. I bet Microsoft would be treating Bungie a little different.

[quote=Narc]Of what value is that? Hold it back for when-- next year's E3? Is Microsoft suddenly trying to be sportsmanlike, not running up the score against Sony and Nintendo by holding back their star players because they don't need them to win? That makes no sense at all. You play the best cards in your hand the best way you know how.[/quote]

Some thoughts.

Surely Bungie has other titles and IP in the works that they could talk about. Yet we aren't asking for those titles to be revealed now.

Maybe Microsoft wants to avoid another "New Mombasa" trailer scenario where the game's storyline is still shifting? If this really is a different kind of Halo game, then I suspect that MSBungie has to be really careful with how they present even the most insignificant of details.

Here's my main point: I think being a fan for MGS and XBOX is different than being a fan for Bungie. I was disappointed that I didn't get to learn about the new Halo game. But I know the game is in good hands with Bungie. We'll see it sooner or later. And I am trilled that Microsoft had a great E3 and seemed to outshine PS3 and Wii.

I'm assuming that Microsoft is waiting for a critical time to reveal the Bungie title. The trump card is usually not played at the beginning of the game, but in a later part of the game that is more critical. It certainly isn't played to win hands that could be won with lower staked cards.

Perhaps that critical time to reveal the new Bungie game will be around some kind of event that would affect the MSFT stock price or sell more Microsoft hardware and services. (That's my guess).

Bungie’s going to sell their software and make their money whenever the game is released. But Microsoft has to sell the software and then try to sell some hardware and services to take market share in the console wars...and please the shareholders. I'm guessing the censorship from Microsoft was about money.

I agree with rapture. MS really, didn't need Bungie to "win" E3. They won it mainly because of the FF 13 annoucement. But that is still no reason to screw them over like that at the last minute. They need to remember that they do need Bungie and it's support. It single-handily got them where they are. Without Bungie, MS would have ended it's venture into video games 7 years ago. So yeah, when the time is right we'll see this game that Bungie's working on, and it will be a bigger more hyped event then all of E3.

Ain't it possible (and in fact likely) that Mr. Mattrick and his associates decided to hold off on the announcement precisely to show that Microsoft isn't reliant on Halo any longer, that they can field an impressive lineup of other stuff and don't need to trot out Bungie every year to make a splash?

In other words, this isn't a spat over the breakup, except in the sense that Microsoft might be trying to say "Fine, they can go, we don't need them."

I don't for an instant believe that Microsoft was so butt hurt over the split that they pulled the announcement out of pure childish spite (and I don't know if that's what you're suggesting exactly). After all, didn't Microsoft have to OK the split in the first place? They owned Bungie. Bungie couldn't have just walked without Microsoft's approval, unless they bought themselves back, and I don't remember hearing about that. The fact of the matter is, you're right in saying that Xbox is the house that Halo built. But Microsoft kept Halo, and they made sure to structure the split so that they would produce Bungie's next few projects, almost ensuring that they'd be getting a few more Halo related titles out of Bungie. Only now they don't necessarily have to foot all the bills (I qualify that, because I don't actually have any idea how video games are financed). So, I really don't see what Microsoft would have to be butt hurt about in the first place.

[quote=stan]Ain't it possible (and in fact likely) that Mr. Mattrick and his associates decided to hold off on the announcement precisely to show that Microsoft isn't reliant on Halo any longer, that they can field an impressive lineup of other stuff and don't need to trot out Bungie every year to make a splash?[/quote]

That explains everything but the timing. If MS wanted to clearly demonstrate that having Bungie as a 1st party developer was not essential to the success of the platform, then that would have been a conclusion reached much earlier than a few days before E3, and could have been rationally explained to Bungie-- and frankly I think they would have agreed with it. There was no need, in order to demonstrate this position, to revise Bungie's involvement twice, first within days of the show, and then within less than 24 hours of Bungie's alternative event.

[quote=stan]I don't for an instant believe that Microsoft was so butt hurt over the split that they pulled the announcement out of pure childish spite (and I don't know if that's what you're suggesting exactly). [/quote]

Actually, that is exactly what I am suggesting. Microsoft (like Bungie) is not a faceless institution, but a collection of people. While Microsoft's main activity and motivating force is business, people have other motives.

[quote=stan]After all, didn't Microsoft have to OK the split in the first place? They owned Bungie. Bungie couldn't have just walked without Microsoft's approval, unless they bought themselves back, and I don't remember hearing about that. [/quote]

You have hit on the central issue. There is absolutely no business justification whatsoever for that decision-- none has even been offered. The "Bungie works better as an independent" simply doesn't hold water, and the idea that Microsoft approved this cheerfully also doesn't fly. Even if there were elements in the company friendly to Bungie who wanted to see them independent, it is logical, perhaps inescapable, to assume that there would be those who would disagree. My thesis is that, based on the actions surrounding Bungie's E3 involvement that seem punitive to Bungie while providing no tangible benefit to Microsoft (at least, no additional benefit) these actions result from a person or persons who do not agree with the decision to allow Bungie to leave, or are at least interested in making sure that Bungie feels some negative consequences as a result of that decision.

[quote=stan]The fact of the matter is, you're right in saying that Xbox is the house that Halo built. But Microsoft kept Halo, and they made sure to structure the split so that they would produce Bungie's next few projects, almost ensuring that they'd be getting a few more Halo related titles out of Bungie. Only now they don't necessarily have to foot all the bills (I qualify that, because I don't actually have any idea how video games are financed). So, I really don't see what Microsoft would have to be butt hurt about in the first place. [/quote]

Control. In theory, MS could influence what, how, and when Bungie devloped Halo titles. Another one of the statements that gets made over and over again when it comes to Bungie is that things ship "when they are done". That was true when Bungie was independent. It was complete and utter hogwash under MS, and they screwed themselves over by putting them on a 3 year treadmill starting with Halo 1. Because they insisted on a launch title, they ended up missing out on having a 360 launch title because they wouldn't delay Halo 2. Ironically I think the only Halo game Bungie released on its own schedule was Halo 3, and it came out a couple months earlier than the first two.


Rampant for over se7en years.

Those are all good points, especially your first. But I still cannot believe one man's (or even a handful of men) pettiness brought this about. Don Mattrick (who, it seems, would be the prime suspect as the originator of the pettiness) answers to somebody. And while Microsoft might not be a faceless institution, they are a HUGE, powerful, wealthy, and I'd have to imagine internally regulated corporation. And if Mattrick's pettiness is so transparent that those of us with only very limited knowledge of what went down are able to see his true colors, don't you think that some of his superiors might have noticed as well? And even if some of the higher-ups agree with Mattrick that Bungie got off easy, or that they shouldn't have been allowed to leave, or whatever, I just really do find it difficult to believe that they would sign off on this sort of overtly spiteful action. It's just not good business (as evidenced by all the fervor it's created).

Maybe I'm naive, but I think this was just a poorly thought out, spur of the moment move on Microsoft's part in response to what they were seeing at E3 (or what they knew was coming), and that all the things that we read that make us suspect there's something more sinister going on are just their attempt to cover up their silliness.

And if you're right, I'd expect for us to hear something about Mattrick somewhere down the line. Because I don't think the big men will be happy with him tinkering with big money projects just because he's upset over how the Bungie split went down.

[quote=stan]Those are all good points, especially your first. But I still cannot believe one man's (or even a handful of men) pettiness brought this about. Don Mattrick (who, it seems, would be the prime suspect as the originator of the pettiness) answers to somebody. And while Microsoft might not be a faceless institution, they are a HUGE, powerful, wealthy, and I'd have to imagine internally regulated corporation.[/quote]

It's a false argument. There are always arguments like, "company X is so large, successful and bureaucratic that nothing like Y can happen". I could just as easily say, Microsoft is such a big and rich company that there is no way a design flaw would slip into their console that would cause unexplained failures years after release and cost them billions of dollars. Yet things like that do happen. Companies are human institutions and they are subject to all kinds of human failures-- incompetence and pettiness included.

[quote=stan]And if Mattrick's pettiness is so transparent that those of us with only very limited knowledge of what went down are able to see his true colors, don't you think that some of his superiors might have noticed as well? And even if some of the higher-ups agree with Mattrick that Bungie got off easy, or that they shouldn't have been allowed to leave, or whatever, I just really do find it difficult to believe that they would sign off on this sort of overtly spiteful action. It's just not good business (as evidenced by all the fervor it's created).[/quote]

Stealing a software company's compression algorithm isn't good business either, yet MS has done it. As I understand it Mattrick is pretty much top dog in his division, and he's probably responsible for results, not methods. Even if he is responsible to others, he probably doesn't have to clear a decision like who gets included in the press conference in advance. My guess is that he could probably do this, but may not be immune from potential consequences if he has deemed to have riled an important partner. Or perhaps he didn't make this call, but somebody else did, and he's just trying to put the best face on things by presenting the most plausible business justification he can for the way things happened. I don't think anybody outside the immediate situation will ever know.

[quote=stan]Maybe I'm naive, but I think this was just a poorly thought out, spur of the moment move on Microsoft's part in response to what they were seeing at E3 (or what they knew was coming), and that all the things that we read that make us suspect there's something more sinister going on are just their attempt to cover up their silliness.[/quote]

Wow. If you think that, then you think MS employees are way, WAY more incompetent than I do. I agree that in general one should never ascribe to malice what can be explained by incompetence, but in this case I'm inclined to disagree.

[quote=stan]And if you're right, I'd expect for us to hear something about Mattrick somewhere down the line. Because I don't think the big men will be happy with him tinkering with big money projects just because he's upset over how the Bungie split went down.[/quote]

Actually if I'm right, I wouldn't expect to hear anything from Mattrick, although I might expect to hear about something happening to him, if he indeed has superiors who don't approve of what happened. Perhaps his superiors feel as he does, and he simply gets to be the guy who takes the pie in the face for giving Bungie its comeuppance.

If I'm wrong-- if I'm absolutely, 100%, dead wrong, then I'd expect to hear from him or someone else to that effect-- that is, assuming anyone involved is actually reading any of this stuff.

So far I haven't heard any of that.


Rampant for over se7en years.