The Xbox name has had one truly revolutionary “killer app” since the first big green box. Halo: Combat Evolved created a legacy of gamers, many of which still play Xbox as a product of their loyalty to the Halo name. Each platform has at least one defining franchise — Sony and Nintendo have many — but Halo as a lone wolf has always been big enough to carry the weight of the Xbox name on its shoulders.
When Microsoft purchased Bungie in 2000, effectively stealing the developer and its highly prized Halo from Steve Jobs and Apple, the company knew exactly what it was getting itself into. It needed a killer app for Xbox, a console it was developing to compete against Sony’s self-marketing PlayStation 2.
The investment paid off. Halo shifts Xbox consoles, and the name is mindlessly associated with Microsoft’s console range. When you think of Xbox, you think of Halo. You don’t even need to be a Halo fan to understand that whereever there’s an Xbox console, there’s mostly certainly a new Master Chief adventure waiting to be played.
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The franchise is Bungie’s baby, and for all of 353 Industries’ meticulous obsession with managing the identity of the Halo name, Master Chief is and always will be Bungie’s greatest creation.
We’re in a new era now, and Bungie has broken free of the shackles of console exclusivity for the cross-platform paradise/nightmare of third-party publishing, bedding with Call of Duty developer Activision to deliver the year’s if not the decade’s most ambitious title: an open-world console MMO called Destiny.
The developer leaves the Halo franchise in good hands, with Bungie’s former content manager Frank O’Connor now the franchise development director at 343 Industries. For what it’s worth, the new Halo team appears to have been inspired by the iconic Bungie culture, which O’Connor himself once slyly quipped was distinctively loose and anti-corporate.
For gamers, Bungie’s new era broadens its scope, and for the greater industry therein lies a formidable appeal to Xbox and PlayStation gamers alike: Destiny is, in some sort of twisted, tragic way, this Xbox fanboy’s way of saying to PlayStation fans, “This is what you’ve been missing out on for the past decade!”
The breathtaking polish and compelling narrative that form the foundations of Destiny are exceptionally “Bungie” in their execution, and no one, especially not Halo fans, expected any less from this wonderful developer. Yet, despite 343’s internal experience and passion for the Halo name, it’s very, very hard not to feel as though Xbox has lost an invaluable asset, and right at a time that the console struggles to find an identity.
The Xbox One has made inroads as of late, and new Xbox boss Phil Spencer has made it his duty to resestablish the brand as an integral cog in the gaming sphere, just as it was in building that formidable community of passionate Xbox gamers. However, Bungie’s decision to move on from Microsoft, while admirable in its reasoning, is certainly indicative of the Xbox name’s issues over the past 12 months: what we have now is a shadow of what we came to expect from the Xbox 360 in its early years.
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Without completely invalidating the Xbox team’s efforts to reestablish itself atop the gaming fraternity — it’s been a tough three month swing to turn things around — the release of Destiny has reignited concerns that the Xbox identity, once partly defined by Bungie’s culture and polish, is as vulnerable as The Traveler is in this stunning new sci-fi epic.
For what it’s worth, it’s a great thing that so many more gamers are able to experience Bungie’s talents, and without the developer’s move, we may never have seen a game like Destiny: only Bungie could have made something like this. But with the creation of something so fresh and compelling, comes the depressing realisation that what helped build the Xbox name, is now slowly but surely shedding its green hue.