Bungie CEO talks Microsoft deal

"I think the important thing to our fans and to us is that the Bungie way continues," Alexander Seropian said. That way will continue in Redmond, however, not in the company's Chicago birthplace.
Written by Peter Cohen, Inactive on
Alexander Seropian, founder and CEO of game developer Bungie Software Products Corp., told MacCentral that its acquisition by Microsoft Corp. will stretch, not break, Bungie's current line of Mac and Windows titles.

Seropian put an optomistic spin on the future of Bungie's products, its corporate culture and its employees. He also commented on the most pressing question many Mac gamers have -- the fate of the company's long-awaited Halo title.

"It's very flattering that there are a lot of people that really care about us," said Seropian, referring to the copious and often heated commentary the announcement provoked among gaming fans. "I don't think anyone expects that the games we make will become bad. If anything, with access to the resources we'll have, our games will get better."

Bungie's founder also hopes that fans of his company's products in the past will keep an open mind about what Bungie has planned for the future. "If they have any respect for us, they owe it to themselves to think that we know what we're doing," he said.

"The most important thing to understand is that Bungie is still the same people. We're still going to have a weird sense of humor and all that stuff we're known for. The difference is that we don't have to worry about paying the rent and we have access to a huge infrastructure that we didn't have before."

However, Seropian acknowledged some changes are afoot for Bungie, including relocating the company's Chicago headquarters to Microsoft's (msft) corporate campus in Redmond, Wash. A facility is being built for Bungie, and Seropian said that the Bungie team should take up residence in its new home in mid-July.

There will be a few casualties; for personal or professional reasons, several members of Bungie's staff elected not to come along, including one high-profile Bungie employee -- Peter Tamte, executive vice president of publishing.

Tamte is a former Apple exec who also founded Mac game publisher MacSoft and joined Bungie last year. Tamte told MacCentral that he is very enthusiastic about Bungie's future with Microsoft. Although he was offered excellent opportunities within the new corporate structure, Tamte said he and his family ultimately decided to stay in the Midwest.

When asked about how Bungie's move to Redmond will affect its corporate culture, Seropian said that it's business as usual. "I think the important thing to our fans and to us is that the Bungie way continues. What we're all about is the games, and around that, encapsulating it, there's the company's personality. I don't see that changing as we go forward."

Seropian downplays rumors that Bungie cut its deal with Microsoft because the company was running out of funding. "There's been a lot of speculation about money and about our financial condition -- that we were running out of cash. That's what we did our Take-Two deal for," said Seropian, referring to Take-Two Interactive Software's 19.9 percent ownership of Bungie. Take-Two turned over its ownership stake in Bungie to Microsoft as part of the deal. In return, Take-Two gains Bungie's Myth game series, Oni and distribution rights to two as-yet-unannounced titles based on the same technology as Halo.

"We were already funded through Halo's completion," Seropian said. "This was the realization that the market is changing, and we had to make some difficult decisions farther down the road. It's better to make those decisions now."

Seropian cited the opportunities for early X-Box development as prime motivation to cut a deal with Microsoft now rather than later. As part of Microsoft, Bungie's programmers can be a formative influence on how the game console is crafted, and he said Bungie believes X-Box will dominate the next generation of video game consoles. "That's the reason we're moving out to Redmond; it's so Jason [Jones, Halo's project lead] can work with the team that's developing the X-Box."

Will the change in ownership of Oni affect Bungie's involvement in the project at all? No way, Seropian said: "Oni is still a Bungie product."

The third-person combat game is now in the hands of Take-Two Interactive and is still on track for a fall release. Oni will be published for the PC and Mac this October by Take-Two subsidiary Gathering of Developers; the PlayStation 2 version will follow shortly thereafter under the Rockstar Games brand.

Seropian said the Bungie West team -- the development studio in San Jose, Calif., that is working on Oni -- will complete the title in its current surroundings. Once Oni is done, Bungie West will pack its bags and join the rest of the team in their new digs in Redmond.

Seropian remained taciturn about Halo's future on the Mac, reiterating comments he made in a letter to fans posted on Bungie's Web site. Is there any reassurance he can offer Mac gamers who have been pining for the game since they first saw it in July 1999, when Jason Jones demonstrated Halo on a Mac at Macworld Expo/New York? "The team that's making Halo is still comprised of the same people that have been working on it all along," Seropian said. "None of that has changed. It's still our choice about what platforms Halo will support, and we simply haven't yet made a final decision on that."

Seropian insisted that Microsoft isn't exercising any undue influence on Bungie's business practices or technical decisions, however. Microsoft is very conscious of who Bungie is and what makes them unique, Seropian said, and the company is intent on making sure that Bungie keeps that identity.

"I'm not a programmer anymore -- I'm a businessman. Why the hell would Microsoft want me?" he asked. "That's why I'm going to Redmond. I'm going to protect what Bungie has and to build a group there that has the same spirit as it has here."

Peter Cohen covers gaming for MacCentral's MacGaming section.

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