Harold Ryan is pretty calm for a man about to launch what could be the biggest entertainment product of the year — a video game that is costing $500 million to develop and publish and likely will generate more than $1 billion in sales.
Ryan is president of the renowned game studio Bungie, which is in the homestretch of a seven-year effort to build a genre-bending sci-fi action game called “Destiny.”
The game will be a highlight of the E3 game conference taking place this week in Los Angeles, where “Destiny” will be playable on the show floor in advance of a public beta test in July.
When it finally goes on sale Sept. 9, “Destiny” will have a few short months to establish itself and lure millions of console gamers into its virtual universe, before they’re drawn back to established franchises such as “Call of Duty” and “Battlefield,” which are launching new editions for the holiday season.
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During an interview last week, Ryan shrugged off the competition and said he’s more worried about keeping the servers up when millions of players show up in September.
“I don’t think it’s going to be hard to compete with the blockbusters,” he said. “The hardest thing for us is going to be keeping it running for consumers, on four platforms at once around the world, all on the same day.”
The game will be available on the Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, with companion apps on mobile phones and tablets.
“Destiny” was built to run mostly online, for gamers who want a top-tier action title that’s connected and shareable, like a social network.
This realm has to be engaging enough that players opt to spend their evenings playing the game rather than watching a movie or TV show, or playing another game.
Players will have an online persona that evolves and adds new gear and capabilities as they spend more time in the game’s expansive virtual universe, similar to traditional massively multiplayer online PC games such as “World of Warcraft” and “Guild Wars.”
These personas aren’t bound to a particular platform. Players can access them from different consoles, and continue to use them as they upgrade to a new console.
This broadens the appeal of a game launching at the start of a new hardware cycle, especially for players with last-generation consoles who are planning to buy a PS4 or Xbox One within a few years.
Being mostly cloud-based minimizes the risk of game piracy in markets such as China, where console-makers are hoping to see their next big wave of growth.
It also lends itself to microtransactions — the sale of virtual items and character upgrades. That’s where games are increasingly making money, though Bungie hasn’t yet disclosed such plans for “Destiny.”
Some previous attempts to build massively multiplayer, first-person shooting games for consoles have had challenges.
One was the military themed “MAG” that Sony’s Zipper Interactive launched in 2010 for the PlayStation 3 but was never a big hit; the studio closed in 2012 and Sony shut down the game servers last year.
Ryan thinks “Destiny” will have better luck because it didn’t set out to solve a technical challenge or boost a particular platform.
“We started with a user-experience goal, and that goal is fun,” he said.
Expectations are ridiculously high for “Destiny,” both inside and outside of the former multiplex theater in downtown Bellevue where Bungie’s 540 employees built the game.
The company previously created the “Halo” franchise, which generated more than $3 billion in sales and helped establish the success of Microsoft’s Xbox platform.
Along the way Ryan, a Spokane native, rose from a temporary job as a tester to studio chief.
Then Bungie split from Microsoft in 2007 and began building “Destiny,” which will likely be a focal point of Sony’s E3 announcements coming Monday night.
The first three “Halo” games were, successively, the most successful console game of all time, with launches that eventually were larger than the biggest movies and books.
That bar has since gone much higher, with the current record holder — “Grand Theft Auto V” — generating $1 billion in sales in its first three days on sale last September.
Bobby Kotick, chief executive of Bungie’s publishing partner, Activision, told investors in February that he expects Destiny will set records as the best-selling new game franchise.
He followed the boast up with the bombshell revelation in May that Activision is investing $500 million in the project.
Wedbush game analyst Michael Pachter said last week that “Destiny” should do well but it’s not likely to unseat “Grand Theft Auto” or draw as many players as free online games such as “League of Legends.”
“I think it’s adding free-to-play elements to a packaged product,” he said. “I think it will evolve if people feel it’s a compelling experience and people are willing to spend money inside the game.”
Activision should easily make back its investment, which includes costs such as marketing and distribution over a 10-year period.
The game will cost $60 and Ryan is hoping to see 10 million players at launch.
Bungie’s network was designed to handle up to 20 million unique accounts in its first year, but it can scale higher as needed.
Last week, there was a pile of about 50 brand new IBM servers stacked up in the company’s lobby, waiting to be installed.
Ryan wouldn’t say much about Kotick’s predictions but said his team has high expectations of itself, especially after its strong run with “Halo.”
“For a lot of us, the measure of success competing with entertainment,” he said, “is being the biggest entertainment launch of all time.”
Brier Dudley’s column appears Mondays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or firstname.lastname@example.org