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In case you don’t remember, let me refresh your memory. Marty O’Donnell has been Bungie’s composer since the company’s founding. Those monk chants and epic musical movements from Halo have come from his brain and his direction. O’Donnell’s music was as Halo as Master Chief or the battle rifle. Then in early 2014, only months before Destiny’s release, O’Donnell was fired from Bungie and not long afterward we learned the parting wasn’t a happy one. O’Donnell made it clear he wasn’t happy with how he was let go and intended to get payment for the work he’d done on Destiny. Over a year after he was fired an arbitrator has reached a decision and O’Donnell is the clear winner. In addition the final ruling revealed some very interesting details about O’Donnell’s work, Bungie’s relationship with Activision, and the harsh realities of the video game business.
Flashback to 2010 and Bungie and Activision have made a deal to make a five part game, that we now know as Destiny. As with other Bungie games O’Donnell was tasked with creating the score, but not in a typical fashion. He wouldn’t be making the music for one game, but instead score “every application” that would be a part of Destiny. O’Donnell did just that and the result of his work was entitled Music of the Spheres.
Flash forward to 2013 as Bungie is preparing to show Destiny off at E3 for the first time. The planned trailer was to have Music of the Spheres playing during it but Activision decided otherwise. The publisher stepped in, taking over creative control, and put in their own music. O’Donnell wasn’t happy and tried to rouse support from his coworkers, and even tweeted that the music in the trailer wasn’t his. O’Donnell claims he was keeping true to Bungie’s “creative process”, but his continued actions weeks and months after E3 were seen as negative and harmful. After a poor performance review, which O’Donnell tried to appeal, and delays in audio production he was eventually terminated.
Flash forward one more time to today’s settlement. O’Donnell walks away with a few options to recover his stock that he controls, since he was a part of Bungie’s founding. In a different ruling O’Donnell was also awarded $95,000 in unpaid wages. Music of the Sphere’s is now considered public domain and O’Donnell was asked to return any Bungie property, mainly any CD copies of Music of the Sphere’s he might have, in hopes that Bungie could then separately sell it.
There’s more to this story in the Venture Beat article that details the entire deterioration of O’Donnell and Bungie’s relationship. As a former intense fan of Halo, it’s sad to see a personality like Marty’s break off with Bungie in such a strange way. But the real dagger is the potential harmful relationship that Activision and Bungie seem to have. It’s naïve to think a publisher doesn’t have some form of control and input on what their developers create and put out there. Hopefully this peek into Bungie’s relationship with Activision isn’t the whole truth.