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Bungie is an American video game developer founded in May 1991 under the name Bungie Software Products Corporation by two undergraduate students at the University of Chicago, Alex Seropian and Jason Jones. Originally based in Chicago, the company concentrated primarily on Macintosh games during its first nine years of existence, producing the popular Marathon and Myth series as well as games such as Oni. In 2000, Bungie was acquired by Microsoft, and their then-current project, first-person shooter Halo: Combat Evolved, was repurposed into a launch title for Microsoft's new Xbox game console. Halo went on to become the Xbox's "killer app", and the game and its two sequels have sold millions of copies.
On October 5, 2007, Bungie announced that it had split with Microsoft and become a privately held independent company, Bungie LLC. Despite splitting from Microsoft, the studio will still be producing products for Xbox 360 but is free to develop for other companies and their platforms. The company is currently based in Kirkland, Washington.
Among Bungie's side projects are Bungie.net, the company's official website, which includes forums as well as statistics-tracking and integration with Halo 2, Halo 3, and Halo 3: ODST. Bungie also sells company-related merchandise and runs other projects including an official Bungie podcast and online publications about game topics. The company is well known for its informal and dedicated workplace culture, and is currently working on multiple projects, including Halo: Reach and Destiny.
Bungie was founded in May 1991 by Alex Seropian and Jason Jones. The origin of the name "Bungie" is the subject of conflicting answers. Many in the company treat it as a closely guarded secret, and while a bonus disc provided in the Halo 3 Legendary Edition states the name is "the punchline to a dirty joke", the explanation has been used before by Bungie for other questions as explanations for other company secrets. According to the Marathon Scrapbook Seropian "agonized over what he would name his company, finally settling on 'Bungie' because 'it sounded fun.'"
The company's first game was called Gnop! (Pong spelled backwards) and was offered free of charge. The team focused on the Macintosh platform, not Windows-based personal computers, because the Mac market was more open and Jones had been raised on the platform. Following Gnop!, Bungie produced Operation Desert Storm, which went on to sell 2,500 copies, and the role-playing game Minotaur: The Labyrinths of Crete in 1992.
Bungie next began working on their first 3D game, Pathways into Darkness, which was released in 1993. Pathways was produced by a two-man team consisting of Jones and his friend Colin Brendt. The game was a moderate hit, and attracted attention and money to the company. Bungie moved into their first studio soon afterwards; Martin O'Donnell remembered that the studio "smelled like a frat house" and reminded staff of a locale from the Silent Hill video games.
Marathon, Myth, and Oni
Bungie's next project began as a loose sequel to Pathways into Darkness, but evolved into a futuristic first person shooter called Marathon. The first game's success led to a sequel, Marathon 2: Durandal, which was later the first game Bungie ported to Windows 95. The series introduced several elements, including cooperative mode, which made their way to later Bungie games.
Bungie's success gave rise to a large third-party developer community as well as a short-lived newsletter published through BBS. Following the success of Marathon, Bungie released the Myth series of games, which stressed tactical unit management as opposed to the resource gathering model of other combat strategy titles. The Myth games won several awards and spawned a large and active online community, and (like the Marathon series) are still being actively maintained, developed for, played over the internet, and discussed in forums by fans. Myth: The Fallen Lords was the first Bungie game to be released simultaneously for both Mac and Windows platforms. In 1997, Bungie established Bungie West, a studio in California. Bungie West's first and only game would be Oni, an action title for the Mac, PC and PlayStation 2.
Halo and buyout
In 1999, Bungie announced its next product, Halo, as a first-person action game for Windows and Macintosh. Halo's public unveiling occurred at the Macworld Expo 1999 keynote address by Apple's then-interim-CEO Steve Jobs (after a closed-door screening at E3 in 1999).
On June 19, 2000, soon after Halo's preview at Electronic Entertainment Expo 2000, Microsoft announced that it had acquired Bungie Software and that Bungie would become a part of the Microsoft Game Division under the name Bungie Studios. Halo would be developed as an exclusive title for the Xbox. The reasons for Bungie accepting Microsoft's offer were varied. Jones stated that "I don't remember the details exactly, it was all a blur. We'd been talking to people for years and years—before we even published Marathon, Activision made a serious offer. But the chance to work on Xbox—the chance to work with a company that took the games seriously. Before that we worried that we'd get bought by someone who just wanted Mac ports or didn't have a clue." Martin O'Donnell, who had joined Bungie as an employee only ten days before the merger was announced, remembers that the stability of the Xbox as a development platform was not the only benefit. Around the same time, it was discovered that Asian versions of Myth II could entirely erase a player's hard drive; the glitch led to a massive recall of the games right before they shipped, which cost Bungie nearly one million dollars. O'Donnell stated in a Bungie podcast that this recall created some financial uncertainty, although accepting the offer was not something "Bungie had to do." Seropian and Jones had refused to accept Microsoft's offer until the entire studio agreed to the buyout.
As a result of the buyout, the rights to Myth and Oni were transferred to Take-Two Interactive as part of the three-way deal between Microsoft, Bungie and Take-Two; most of the original Oni developers were able to continue working on Oni until its release in 2001. Halo: Combat Evolved, meanwhile, went on to become a critically acclaimed hit, selling more than 6.5 million copies, and becoming the Xbox's flagship franchise.
Halo's success led to Bungie creating two sequels. Halo 2 was released on November 9, 2004, making more than $125 million on release day and setting a record in the entertainment industry. Halo 3, the final installment in the Halo trilogy, was released on September 25, 2007 and surpassed Halo 2's records, making $170 million in its first twenty-four hours of release and becoming the most pre-ordered game in history.
On October 1, 2007, a mere six days after the release of Halo 3, Microsoft and Bungie announced that Bungie was splitting off from its parent and becoming a privately-held Limited Liability Company named Bungie LLC. As outlined in a deal between the two, Microsoft would retain a minority stake and continue to partner with Bungie on publishing and marketing both Halo and future projects, with the Halo intellectual property belonging to Microsoft.
While Bungie planned on revealing a new game at E3 2008, Bungie studio head Harold Ryan announced that the unveiling was canceled. Bungie announced the project originally meant for E3 in October, a prequel and expansion to Halo 3 titled Halo 3: ODST. Bungie and Microsoft revealed the company was developing another Halo-related game, Halo: Reach, for release in 2010. Reach will be Bungie's last game in the Halo franchise.
Bungie is currently expanding, though they have not committed to details about new projects and ship dates. The company has grown from roughly 120 employees in May 2008 to 165 in June 2009, outgrowing the studio Microsoft developed. Ryan has helped to redesign a former multiplex in Bellevue into new Bungie offices, with the 80,000 square feet replacing the 41,000 square feet they currently occupy. Bungie is currently looking for a publisher for their new IP, which they have not yet revealed.
Bungie.net serves as the main official portal for interaction between company staff and the community surrounding Bungie's games. The "News" area of the site contains information about events in the community, project news, and weekly postings called "Bungie Weekly Updates". Bungie.net also features forums where users can interact. When Bungie was bought by Microsoft, the site was originally seen as in competition with Microsoft's own Xbox.com site, but community management eventually won out as the bigger concern. The website also contains screenshots, blogs, and a media player.
Bungie.net profiles can link to player's Xbox Live accounts and display their Bungie game achievements and statistics. Detailed information about each game of Halo 2,"Halo 3", and "Halo 3:ODST" played is recorded, and can be viewed using the "My Stats" area of the website. This information includes statistics on each player in the game, and a map of the game level showing where kills occurred, called "Heatmaps".
While Bungie had long provided places for fans to congregate and talk about games, as well as releasing new information and screenshots over Bungie.net, they had historically made less effort and been less successful at providing access to the inside workings of Bungie and its staff. As part of a move to become more familiar in the game industry, Bungie recruited recognized and respected voices from the fan community, including writer Luke Smith. The developer hosts a podcast where staff members are interviewed in a round-table, informal atmosphere.
Martin O'Donnell described Bungie's workplace culture as "a slightly irreverent attitude, and not corporate, bureaucratic or business-focused"; artist Shi Kai Wang noted that when he walked into Bungie for an interview, "I realized that I was the one who was over-dressed, [and] I knew this was the place I wanted to work." Frank O'Connor comically noted that at a Gamestop conference, the Bungie team was told to wear business casual, to which O'Connor replied "We[Bungie] don't do business casual."
This informal, creative culture was one of the reasons Microsoft was interested in acquiring Bungie, although Jordan Weisman said that Microsoft came close to destroying the company's development culture, as it had with FASA Studio. Studio head Harold Ryan emphasized that even when Bungie was bought by Microsoft, the team was still independent: One of the first things [Microsoft] tried after acquiring Bungie, after first attempting to fully assimilate them, was to move Bungie into a standard Microsoft building with the rest of the game group. But unlike the rest of the teams they’d brought in previously, Bungie didn’t move into Microsoft corporate offices – we tore all of the walls out of that section of the building and sat in a big open environment. Luckily Alex and Jason [Seropian and Jones, Bungie’s founders] were pretty steadfast at the time about staying somewhat separate and isolated. Microsoft eventually moved the studio to Kirkland, Washington, where the company has stayed since. Despite the move, financial analyst Roger Ehrenberg declared the Bungie-Microsoft marriage "doomed to fail" due to these fundamental differences. Bungie also pointed out that they were tired of new intellectual property being cast aside to work on the Halo franchise. Edge described the typical Bungie employee as "simultaneously irreverent and passionately loyal; fiercely self-critical; full of excitement at the company’s achievements, no matter how obscure; [and] recruited from its devoted fanbase."
The Bungie workplace is highly informal, with new and old staff willing to challenge each other on topics, such as fundamental game elements. Staff are able to publicly criticize their own games and each other. Fostering studio cooperation and competition, Bungie holds events such as the "Bungie Pentathlon", in which staff square off in teams playing games such as Halo, Pictionary, Dance Dance Revolution, and Rock Band. Bungie also faces off against professional eSports teams and other game studios in Halo during "Humpdays", with the results of the multiplayer matches being posted on Bungie.net.
Bungie's staff and fans, known as the "Underground Army", have also banded together for charity and other causes. After Hurricane Katrina, Bungie was one of several game companies to announce their intention to help those affected by the hurricane, with Bungie donating the proceeds of special t-shirts to the American Red Cross. Other charity work Bungie has done included auctioning off a painting of "Mister Chief" by Frank O'Connor, a Halo 2 soda machine from Bungie's offices, and collaborating with Child's Play auctions. Bungie also responded to a story about a gamer who lost all the personalization on his Xbox 360 when Microsoft repaired his console by sending the gamer an autographed Master Chief helmet and other memorabilia.
Many of Bungie's employees have left the company to form their own studios. Double Aught was a short-lived company composed of several former Bungie team members, founded by Greg Kirkpatrick. The company helped Bungie develop Marathon: Infinity, the last game in the Marathon series. Wideload Games, creator of Stubbs the Zombie in "Rebel Without a Pulse", is another company that came from Bungie; It is headed by one of the two Bungie founders, Alex Seropian, and 7 out of the 11 employees previously worked at Bungie. Other companies include Giant Bite, founded by Hamilton Chu (former lead producer of Bungie Studios), and Michal Evans (former Bungie programmer), and Certain Affinity. Founded by Max Hoberman (the multiplayer design lead for Halo 2 and Halo 3), the team of nine includes former Bungie employees David Bowman and Chad Armstrong (who later returned to Bungie) as well as folks from other developers. It collaborated with Bungie in releasing the last two maps for Halo 2.