Destiny

Former Destiny dev admits Activision deal was "bad from the start"

by Brad Norton

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Activision assumed control over the Destiny franchise for almost five years until their split from Bungie in 2019. Now former franchise dev and composer Martin O’Donnell has just revealed how troubling the initial deal truly was.

Initially pitched as an evolving multiplayer project spanning a full decade, Bungie’s follow up to the Halo series was its most ambitious undertaking yet. After shopping the idea around to big-name publishers, the developers eventually settled with Activision. In January 2019 this relationship came crashing down as Bungie assumed full rights to the Intellectual Property (IP).

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O’Donnell, an iconic gaming composer that just so happened to work on the first iteration of Destiny, has now shared his explosive take on the deal. Even outlining how developers at Bungie “knew it was a risk right from the get-go.” 

In a July 6 interview with popular Halo YouTuber ‘HiddenXperia,’ O’Donnell vented his frustrations with the agreement, and offered his first thoughts on the matter since his messy firing from Bungie in 2014.

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Destiny promotional artwork
Bungie
Destiny released in September 2014 but has since seen radical changes to its original form.

Initially close to signing a new deal with Microsoft, O’Donnell explained why Bungie turned it down. The corporation owns the Halo IP. Despite Bungie developing games in the franchise all throughout the 2000s, it was Microsoft’s franchise through and through. They wanted to take Destiny in a different direction and maintain control of the property.

“The reason we went with Activision, as part of the contract, they didn’t own the IP,” he explained. “Microsoft owns the Halo IP. We wanted to make sure that whoever we worked with next would not own the IP.”

While many offers were on the table following the success of the Halo franchise, they signed with Activision to keep Destiny as their own. Unfortunately, this didn’t quite pan out as many of the higher-ups at Bungie had envisioned.

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Destiny Ghost intro mission
Bungie
Bungie even replaced Peter Dinklage as the voice of your Ghost companion soon after release.

“It was bad from the start,” O’Donnell explained. Activision didn’t have “the legal right to mess with the IP.” The only way to keep that rule enforced was for all of the leaders at Bungie to agree and outright say that “you can’t mess with the IP.” Ultimately, there was a difference of opinion, and “that’s not what happened.” Certain Bungie developers sided with Activision on the direction of Destiny while others did not. That’s why they fired me,” he said.

"That was probably my biggest disappointment. We worked for a decade to make sure we could be in a position where we could stand up to the publisher and say, no, we own the IP, you can't mess with it. And I was overruled and eventually let go.”

The topic begins at the 1:38:30 mark for mobile readers

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zG18XfsnvI

It’s no secret that development on Destiny was extremely scattered before release. Iterations of the game were scrapped and much of the story was altered last minute. Most simply ended up on Grimoire cards instead.

There’s no telling how much of this was down to the clash between Bungie and Activision, though it certainly seems to have been the main factor behind Destiny’s sloppy launch.

Reflecting on the end of the relationship in 2019, O’Donnell thought to himself that it was “about time.” Much of his work on the Destiny soundtrack alongside Beatles member Paul McCartney was kept under wraps by Activision. Though you can listen to their efforts on Music of the Spheres thanks to recent leaks.