Composer and former Bungie audio director Marty O’Donnell has revealed more about the split between Bungie and Activision, hinting that the partnership was not amicable.
In 2019, Bungie split from Activision as their publisher, regaining the full publishing rights of Destiny. There were few details on the reason for the split, with Bungie stating “we are ready to publish on our own, while Activision will increase their focus on owned IP projects.” Now, in an interview with YouTuber “HiddenXperia,” O’Donnell has revealed more.
When asked “What were your thoughts when you heard Bungie were leaving Activision?“, O’Donnell paused for a moment, before explaining how the relationship with Activision was seemingly strained.
“Part of me was ‘well it’s about time,’ the other part of me was ‘gee I hope they get bought’ so then I’ll get bought out on my stock- by the way which didn’t happen, I’m still holding a nice chunk of stock from Bungie, waiting them to either get bought or go public. Or go bankrupt.
[…] Because I was in leadership and I was on the board of directors when we went with Activision, if there’s any blame for going to Activision: I’m part of it. There were seven other, or seven of us total I think […] that made that deal with Activision. We knew it was a risk right from the get go, and then it turned out to be exactly as bad as we thought it was gonna be.
Now I’m the only one who’s gonna say that except anybody who no longer works for Bungie, and then everybody who no longer works for Bungie is gonna say ‘yeah it was bad from the start.’
If you still work for Bungie, you’re gonna be political and you’re gonna say all sorts of things about ‘Oh we had a good partnership and blah blah blah we were able to build a wonderful thing. The time came for us to go our separate ways because we each had different goals, and we were happy, and love each other, and…’ That’s B.S, there’s so many scripted answers out there that I hear. Yeah that’s just not right, this just didn’t happen.
Basically it’s like ‘Well, it’s about time.’ That was not a marriage made in heaven at all. I remember this to this day; the reason why we went with Activision was not just the money, but it was because as part of the contract they didn’t own the IP.
Now remember, Microsoft owns the Halo IP, and we wanted to make sure whoever we were going to work with next would not own the IP, we would own the IP. That was non-negotiable for me personally.”
O’Donnell continued, explaining only Activision among the “big players” would agree to those terms; even Microsoft. O’Donnell also claims that Bungie almost went back to Microsoft.
The separation of Microsoft and Bungie in 2007 allegedly came down to Bungie regaining their independence in exchange for Halo 3. This was why O’Donnell and others allegedly pushed for the IPs they create to be wholly owned by them.
Continuing, O’Donnell claims Activision stated they would not interfere with any IP created by Bungie; a statement O’Donnell retold dripping with incredulous sarcasm. Activision have often been accused of “executive meddling” on Destiny, and other titles they published.
O’Donnell further claims that Activision not only had no legal right to interfere with the IP, and would further be blocked if all Bungie leadership denied them. “And that’s not what happened” O’Donnell explains.
Finally, O’Donnell concludes with an anecdote about meeting for dinner with the “heads” of Activision before signing the contract, including Bobby Kotick and a Chief Financial Officer.
“I’m sitting next to this Austrian guy, and he said ‘Hey Marty, I hear that […] you have this saying: be nice to the goose.’ And I’m like ‘Yeah, be nice to the goose because-‘ ‘Well tell me what that means?’ And I told him them it’s important to be nice to the goose because this is where the golden egg comes from.
So the goose is the team that made it and sometimes it’s hard to identify, but if you’re nice to them you’ll get more golden eggs, But if you’re not nice to them you won’t get golden eggs.
And he goes ‘Yeah I like that story… Golden eggs, the goose- but sometimes there’s nothing like a good foie gras.'”
O’Donnell states that he continues to get a chill down his neck even retelling the story. “The red flag went off. […] What I should have done was stood up, flip the table, and told all the other Bungie guys ‘We have to get away from here, now!’ But that only happens in my dreams.”
This occurred around the time Activision fired Infinity Ward co-founders Vince Zampella and Jason West in 2010, and the ensuing lawsuits from Infinity Ward; including denial of bonuses and royalties, “secret interrogations” of staff without a lawyer present, and other “hostile tactics.”
It should be noted that O’Donnell was fired from Bungie in 2014. O’Donnell claimed this was without due cause, and later sued Bungie over unpaid vacation time, time off, and more. The lawsuit was ultimately settled; Bungie paying over $95,000 USD (around $38,000 for what he was owed, another $38,000 in damages, and other lawyer’s fees and interest).
O’Donnell briefly alludes to how he was “overruled” at Bungie and then “let go.” He may be implying that his dismissal was over his refusal to let Activision alter Bungie IP.