Sony’s Acquisition of Bungie Is Indicative of a New Strategy

SIE’s latest purchase marks the end of the console wars and the beginning of a nuanced new front

Sony Interactive Entertainment ‘responded’ (see: executed a plan that’s been incubated for at least half a year) to Microsoft’s January purchase of Activision Blizzard by acquiring Bungie, the developers of Destiny 2, on Monday for a reported $3.6billion.

Despite Sony being notoriously cash-rich, they only hold a market cap of $112billion — a drop in competitor Microsoft’s oceanic $2.31trillion total (what even are these numbers? Jesus) so the deal seems, superficially at least, like a titanic outlay. With both Bungie and SIE stressing that Destiny 2 will remain multi-platform and (some careful language notwithstanding) exclusive-free, the questions on the internet’s lips seems to be: why? What exactly are Sony buying, if not right to parade the greatest first-person-shooter-makers of all time as Playstation mascots?

Part of the problem is that we’re still thinking in terms of the ‘console wars’ — a concept that is quickly becoming outdated. I opened with a comparison of Microsoft and Sony’s capital because it’s important to stress just how different these companies are. At its heart, Sony is a hardware company (who do lots of other things too, I know). Microsoft, on the other hand, built their dominance with software. We all know the story: Bill Gates made Microsoft Windows using a toothpick and an old banana skin in his garage, and became the rags-to-riches icon that modern-day Elon Musk fans first adored before they put their life savings into dogecoin. Windows and Office came first; Xbox and hardware followed.

The point of understanding this difference is thus: the ‘console war’ has become illusory, because Microsoft’s strategy is moving away from “how can we get people to buy our green box?” to “how can we make Xbox as synonymous to gaming as Windows is to personal computers?” The roots of that strategy are already deeply ingrained: Gamepass isn’t just a great deal for Xbox owners, it’s a great deal for anyone with an internet connection. The point isn’t that cloud gaming is going to be huge — it probably is — but that Xbox is quickly becoming a stunningly accessible, flexible and broad platform for gamers of all kinds.

All told, given how aggressively Microsoft are pursuing this, the future of gaming probably won’t require you to own a certain box. The fight is now one of ecosystems, of digital spaces with low barriers to entry that demand player’s loyalty across years, not hours. That’s why Sony bought Bungie.

Playstation Studios are known for one thing: narrative driven, single-player adventures that push the technical limits of the hardware they’re native to. Last generation that drove the PS4 to astonishing sales, and if it weren’t for production shortages early PS5 numbers would be just as strong.

But Sony can’t bank on the idea that they’ll always make better blockbuster games than Microsoft because that’s a problem the larger company could solve with money and time. It has, however, taught Sony that quality matters; if you build it, gamers will come. What exactly does that look like in a future that doesn’t care whether the box under your tv is blue or green?

Well, rumours have been circling for a long time that Sony are gearing up to release their ‘answer’ to GamePass, supposedly a revamped PlayStation Plus offering with new tiers codenamed Project Spartacus. But there is no way this new service will ever go toe-to-toe with GamePass, neither in third or first-party day-one offerings — Sony just can’t make the sacrifices necessary to match Microsoft’s value proposition. Instead, Spartacus looks like a consolidation of PS+ and PS Now — two services that have always seemed at odds — and a means of upselling current subscribers. If Playstation is to build an ‘ecosystem’ to challenge Xbox, this is certainly not the way.

The answer SIE have landed on, I think, is unexpected. Today, February 2nd, Sony’s latest earnings call confirmed they hope to ship 10 ‘live service’ games by March 2026.

The writing has been on the wall for a while. We know Naughty Dog are working on The Last of Us: Factions II, the sequel to the multiplayer offering attached to the original The Last of Us. Suckerpunch Productions tested the waters with Ghost of Tsushima: Legends, which was originally attached to the base game but today can be purchased separately. Guerilla Games have a background in multiplayer shooters; Media Molecule’s work relies on online community at a foundation level. Sony have the talent to build online worlds, but until this week have lacked the expertise and experience to execute them in sustainable models that can last a decade or more and, crucially, evolve alongside the demands of angsty gamers.

For all of Destiny 2’s faults, the game is a miracle. Four years in, it’s undeniably delivered on its promise of being a single evolving world. Destiny has long been considered a hobby game — in other words, it’s an ecosystem, the most successful of its kind ever made.

And Bungie didn’t get there by accident. The road to this week’s news that upcoming expansion The Witch Queen is the most pre-ordered in the game’s history has been long and arduous and filled with mistakes. Bungie are a better, vastly more experienced developer now than they were ten years ago. If the goal is to create lasting, online worlds, there is simply nobody better to build them. And that, I think, is the point.

Gaming is going to change dramatically during the lifecycle of this generation. The frontier has shifted.

Bungie aren’t going to make exclusive games for the PlayStation, but they are going to build enduring online communities that hold the PlayStation logo. They’re certainly going to act in an advisory capacity as SIE push their other studios into the live service space, if their staff aren’t involved with development directly.

I think Sony foresee a future in which the games customers choose to play are more important than where they’re playing them. Consoles are not profit machines, but digital transactions certainly are. And I’m not talking about some metaverse, NFT-ridden bullshit, though that will surely be tested — I’m talking about more games like Destiny, where lifetime players will spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars each, and where the idea of brand loyalty is obscured by the concept of home.

If even half of PlayStation’s ambitious 10-game target achieve a fraction of Destiny’s longevity or popularity, then Sony will have a considerable foothold in both ends of the gaming spectrum. People will still come to the PS5 for God of War and The Last of Us, but many will give Sony the box price of a console in purchases on their ‘hobby games’ — even if they play those games on Xbox, PC, their phone, or that new little handheld thingy with a crank.

And that’s without mentioning the brand new PlayStation Productions, who are already moving ahead with screen adaptations of HBO’s The Last of Us as well as Uncharted and Ghost of Tsushima. Bungie recently announced their intention to join the multimedia space, and PS Productions seems like a natural choice of partner.

So: that’s what Sony are buying. Bungie are a mega talented, flexible and experienced group of developers who know how to build games that last for decades. There’s simply nobody else doing what they do, and in a future that’s largely hardware-agnostic and lead by services and subscriptions, theirs is an expertise worth billions.

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