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‘Halo 3’ makers dump Microsoft

Bungie going independent after record sales

Following the huge success of “Halo 3,” the makers of that videogame are ankling their corporate parents at Microsoft.

Bungie Studios, the developer behind all three “Halo” games, shocked the industry Friday by making a deal with Microsoft to become an independent studio.

Microsoft bought Bungie in 2000 in order to make the first “Halo” game an exclusive for the Xbox. The three “Halo” games have been multimillion-unit sellers and helped raise the profile of the Xbox and its successor, the Xbox 360.

Top execs at Bungie and some outside investors will now control Bungie, while Microsoft will own a minority stake. The Xbox maker retains all rights to “Halo,” meaning it will likely make future sequels without Bungie. Another developer, Ensemble Studios, is already working on spinoff game “Halo Wars.”

Bungie will continue to collaborate with Peter Jackson on an upcoming interactive project set in the “Halo” universe.

“Ultimately, Microsoft will decide when and where they want to extend the franchise, but we’re not entirely walking away from ‘Halo,’” said Bungie spokesman Brian Jarrard.

Going forward, Bungie intends to work on other, non-”Halo” projects as well. With its minority interest, Microsoft retains a first look to publish future Bungie projects. One insider described the arrangement as similar to a studio deal with a producer.

Bungie intends to remain independent and control the intellectual property rights for any future games it develops.

It’s very rare in the videogame world for a developer to leave a major publisher after it has been acquired. However, vidgame industry buzz was that after making hundreds of millions of dollars for Microsoft from the three “Halo” games, some top talents at Bungie were itching to leave and start their own company. Microsoft execs likely concluded that owning a minority stake in a private Bungie was the best way to maintain a relationship with the “Halo” developers.

Move comes, not coincidentally, less than two weeks after “Halo 3” was released and grossed more than $300 million worldwide. Microsoft insiders said the deal was in the works for several months. Execs wanted to wait until “Halo 3” was out and a big success before announcing the change.