The company that made the Master Chief a household name in the videogame world is introducing players to a new universe.
Bungie's "Destiny" hits stores Tuesday. And while analysts have high sales expectations for the game—and players have even higher hopes for the quality of play—it is Activision that has the most riding on the title.
For the publisher, this could be the beginning of yet another billion-dollar franchise.
Analysts are bullish on "Destiny." Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities said he expects the game to sell 12 million copies overall—with Activision shipping 6 million to its retail partner this month alone. Baird Equity Research's Colin Sebastian says "Destiny" leads a product lineup that "is the strongest in Activision's history."
When it launched the "Halo" franchise in 2001, Bungie was a wholly owned subsidiary of Microsoft. In 2007, though, the two companies split amicably—and a frenzied bidding war began on the developer's next project. Activision won the battle in 2010, announcing a 10-year partnership.
The "Halo" games have generated more than $1.5 billion in revenues, according to The NPD Group. And Activision, the publisher behind the megahit "Call of Duty" and "Skylanders" franchises, expects this new series to do even better.
"Destiny has been a labor of love and a remarkable creative journey for everyone at Activision and Bungie," Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg saiid in a statement. "We feel that we have the opportunity to launch something huge—not just into the gaming landscape, but the pop cultural landscape."
While "Halo" was the game that put the Xbox on the map, "Destiny" is a game that's putting more of its efforts behind Sony's PlayStation 4. While the title will be available on both Microsoft and Sony's game systems, PS4 owners who purchase a copy will receive exclusive weapons, ships, gear and multiplayer maps. Sony is also offering a discounted copy of Destiny to people buying a new PlayStation 4, via a retail bundle.
"Destiny" may look a little familiar to "Halo" fans. Warriors in heavy plated armor will fight an alien race to save foreign worlds. But the similarities end there. It's a title that blends both single player and massively multiplayer online gameplay. Players will interact with others through an automatic matching system—but won't be overwhelmed by the thousands of other people playing.
Players assume the role of a "Guardian," a super soldier defending humanity from a variety of hostile aliens. The game is open-ended, meaning players will never "win" and reach an end-point, though there are plenty of victories to be had.
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Activision and Bungie are pulling out all the stops for "Destiny." The soundtrack was written in part by Paul McCartney. And Bungie has thoroughly tested the game in the most public way possible, opening up its alpha and beta development builds—early, incomplete versions—to the general public.
The fan reaction was overwhelmingly positive, And analysts note that while no game is critically bulletproof, "Destiny" is about as close as you can come—and that makes them confident of the high sales estimates.
"Destiny ... is all but assured of a solid Metacritic [a site that summarizes game critics reviews] rating. We expect between 88–92 and solid unit sales," Pachter said. "We believe that Bungie's history of high Metacritic scores, the positive reception from the open beta, and the huge marketing budget for the game will limit downside."
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While "Destiny" seems poised to be a lucrative franchise for Activision, it may not help the bottom line quite as much as the company's other hit series.
Terms of the deal that were revealed in the midst of the publisher's legal wrangling with a pair of former developers are quite favorable toward Bungie. Industry insiders call the agreement "unprecedented."
In the contract, (which may have been amended since this 2012 court filing), Bungie is entitled to royalties ranging from 20 percent to 35 percent of the game's operating income—the amount left over after Activision recoups its costs.
Bungie retained full ownership of the game's intellectual property. (Activision wholly owns "Call of Duty" and "World of Warcraft.") Additionally, the publisher is responsible for several million dollars in bonuses over the course of the years covered by the deal.
"Destiny is the game we've always wanted to make," Bungie President Harold Ryan said. "For us, the next generation of games is all about allowing players to collide and interact with each other as they take on epic, action-packed adventures all their own."
—By Chris Morris, special to CNBC