Is Activision Burning Down?

Bungie shocked the video gaming world when it announced that it had cut ties with Activision, the longtime publisher of the Destiny franchise. And not only did the two split up, but Bungie was able to retain full ownership of the Destiny intellectual property. Meanwhile, reports have been shooting around suggesting things aren’t so hot over at Blizzard. Before any of this drama, several licenses, such as Marvel, left Activision for one reason or another. With the exception of Call of Duty, the titanic publisher seems to be hemorrhaging good will, IP, and even people.  Is that bad for Activision? Or video games? Does Activision even care?

Out of all the long-running developers out there, Activision’s tune hasn’t really changed along with the times, especially when it comes to the emergent “games as service” models. It has certainly dipped its toes in things like microtransactions and loot boxes, which you can see in the latest Call of Duty, but generally speaking the publisher has stuck to its guns with annualized release models. Each year sees a new Call of Duty, a new kids-oriented game (previously Skylanders, now ostensibly things like Crash and Spyro), and until recently, Destiny. Meanwhile word on the street is that Blizzard is under pressure to make more games and spend less money. Also, Bungie is gone.


Looking at the bigger picture with Destiny is telling enough. Clearly, Bungie wanted to make a service game all along. Destiny was pitched as this nebulous thing that was going to be a ten-year run or something like that, but then when it finally dropped, it had Activision Release Model written all over it. Bungie was sort of pigeon-holed into dropping expansions like Destiny is some sort of World of Warcraft-chaser, and then Destiny 2 was a thing that had to happen, with its own set of drama. Meanwhile, towards the end of the relationship, Bungie is clearly sowing seeds to move to the original service plan.

With the yearly pass, and phasing out even asking for money for the older expansions before Forsaken, Destiny 2 is poised to transition from a “sequel,” to a platform. It’s obviously super early in this new world, and past agreements and structure may make it impossible to carry on with the Activision-released software as the platform. A re-branding may be inevitable. But will that be called Destiny 3? I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t. But back to the topic at hand, which is Activision and its struggling identity outside of “corporate malfeasance.”

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It's quite possible Activision is starting to figure it doesn’t need all the extra stuff. It has King just passively printing millions of dollars a day on its ridiculous mobile games, Call of Duty back in action for the foreseeable future, and in-house IP like Crash performing far better than it has in decades. Meanwhile, the annual Spider-Man thing collapsed under its own weight, and Activision’s relationship with Platinum Games, well, didn’t go well (although that Transformers game was pretty dope). While Sekiro: Shadows Die twice is somehow a thing that’s happening, who knows if that’s a one-off or not with FromSoftware.

Ultimately, I’m the most curious about what we’ll learn when the inevitable investigative piece comes out years (or months) from now exploring what exactly happened between Activision and Bungie, especially those final moments. That whole situation could say a lot about Activision’s current corporate mindset, and what its goals for the future are. Right now, it seems like its moving to rely on its own, internal productions, and slowly getting rid of deals with outside developers and/or IP. This is all just casual observation from the outside, but a lot has happened with that company in a relatively short time. And with how unstable the AAA games industry is already, it will be fascinating to see the long-term ramifications both within and outside Activision, for things that have gone down in the past five years.

Lucas White
Lucas White

Writing Team Lead
Date: 01/18/2019

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