Are the Halo developers going back to Mac?

Bungie Studios and Microsoft have decided to go their separate ways, answering the prayers of many Mac gamers who have wished for this day ever since Microsoft’s acquisition of Bungie was first announced in 2000. While, at least for the short term, Bungie plans to continue focusing its development on the Mac platform, the company’s franchising director told Macworld that it’s possible they’ll be interested in the Mac again, too.

Bungie remains a legend for many Mac gamers for their development of Marathon, a first person shooter franchise that appeared on the Mac first (though Marathon itself was preceded by another Bungie FPS, Pathways Into Darkness). Their equal-handed treatment of the Mac through the Marathon games and later with their strategy game series Myth solidified in many gamers’ minds Bungie’s position as a premier developer of Mac games — especially after Bungie introduced its monster hit first person shooter game Halo on the keynote stage with Steve Jobs at Macworld Expo in New York.

In 2000, Microsoft announced that it would acquire Bungie, and that Halo would be reimagined as an exclusive to the company’s then nascent Xbox game console. While Halo did ultimately appear for the Mac (and PC) a couple of years later, Halo went on to become a huge seller for the Xbox, spawning two sequel games. The most recent title, Halo 3, debuted as the best-selling video game in history, racking up US$300 million in worldwide sales during its first week of availability.

Bungie is being careful to indicate in announcing its separation from Microsoft that it is continuing to focus development on Microsoft game platforms, including Xbox 360 and Windows, but the company may be open to other opportunities going forward, according to spokesman Brian Jarrard, franchising director at Bungie.

“Although we have no announcements to make at this time, we don’t rule anything out going forward,” said Jarrard.

For now, said Jarrard, Bungie plans to focus on producing new content for Halo 3 and Halo Wars, a new Halo-themed strategy game currently in development with Ensemble Studios, the Microsoft game studio behind the Age of Empires and Age of Mythology series. To that end, Jarrard said that Bungie and Microsoft will continue “a fairly typical developer/publisher business model.”

“But sure, now that we’re branching of and controlling our destiny, that puts us in a position where we could put ourselves back on the [Mac] platform definitively again,” said Jarrard.

“It was a combination of factors” that led to Bungie’s decision to leave the Microsoft fold, according to Jarrard. “It’s what needed to happen for our studio, for people that had been here so long to be in control of our future and our [Intellectual Property] again. It helps us all get inspired again, and reinvigorated.”

Microsoft was very receptive to Bungie’s decision, according to Jarrard, and entered in to a business agreement that enables Bungie to go its own way. Microsoft still retains a minority equity stake in the business, and Bungie remains focused on making games for Microsoft platforms. Bungie got help from Don Leeds of B-Hive Global, a business consultancy and advisory service whose principals include musician and producer Nile Rodgers, who himself executive produced the soundtrack to Halo 2.

With Bungie’s departure from Microsoft, the company will start to be a lot more publicly visible, according to Jarrard. “I think it’s definitely safe to say that now we are emerging from underneath the Microsoft umbrella, we want to build the Bungie brand in everything from recruiting to PR. Everyone knows these great Halo games, and it’s about time they started to know more about the company behind them.”

Day to day business operations for Bungie won’t be changing. The company remains located in Kirkland, Wa., where it has been as a Microsoft game studio. “In fact, we just acquired a new building in back of our current location to facilitate some new growth we’ve planned,” said Jarrard.

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