Source: See below.
What we heard: This week, a huge amount of attention was directed to a blog post titled "Bungie Leaving Microsoft!! You heard it here first folks." The post could seem legitimate to the casual observer glancing at it for a few seconds, given that it is on the Web site for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a newspaper that often breaks stories on Microsoft's latest efforts.
Upon closer examination, though, it appears rumors of Bungie's impending independence have been greatly exaggerated. For one, the blog post was not written by anyone on the Post-Intelligencer's staff, as evidenced by the note at the top of the page that reads: "P-I Reader Blogs are not written or edited by the P-I. The authors are solely responsible for content."
The author of the post is one Jacob Metcalf, whose earlier Bungie-related posts include the enlightening "Even orange cats love Halo 3" and "LOL HALO 3!" He is the editor of the 8bitjoystick.com, a self-styled "e-zine for nerds" that has published such weighty articles as "Siracha [sic] Hot Chili Sauce: The Condiment of the Future" and "Separate Lists on Netflix is The Key to Romantic Cinematic Bliss" since its inception in 2002. Virtually all of 8bitjoystick.com's most recent posts also appear as reader blog posts on the Post-Intelligencer's Web site.
Metcalf's latest scoop is sourced as being from an e-mail "from a friend of mine" who claims the Bungie/Microsoft separation will be announced soon. The impetus behind the looming divorce is explained thusly: "Apparently MS just wants Bungie to make Halo for the rest of their natural days, and Bungie doesn't like how MS is constantly trying to 'handle' everything they do; the way they market their games, the way they interact with their fans (basically the fact that they do appreciate their fans), and how stingie [sic] they are with the profits (comparable to the rest of the industry). So as of today they are their own independent entity."
Though Metcalf repeatedly defends the integrity of his source as being beyond reproach, he overlooks one major flaw in the story. Namely, that Bungie has been owned lock, stock, and barrel by Microsoft since 2000. Although employees of a first-party developer are free to leave and start up their own shop, said developer is part of its parent company, and can't simply leave said parent of its own accord even if said parent manages it into oblivion. A perfect example is FASA Studio, which Microsoft bought in 1999. The following eight years saw the shop release a series of decreasingly popular games--including Crimson Skies and Shadowrun--until Microsoft shut it down last month. However, many of FASA's top developers left to found their own independent shop, Day 1 Studios, which developed Microsoft's MechAssault games and LucasArts' forthcoming Fracture.
The official story: Bungie referred all inquiries to Microsoft, which had its reps issue the following statement: "There's been no such announcement. We continue to celebrate the tremendous success of the global phenomenon that is Halo 3." [UPDATE] Metcalf has now responded to GameSpot, and asserted his source is very close to Bungie--about as close as one could be without actually working there.
Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus that Bungie's entire operation is uprooting itself from the Microsoft campus of its own volition and taking the Halo brand with them. Not bogus that, now that the Halo trilogy is done, many of the developer's staffers are likely pondering following in the footsteps of Bungie founder Alex Seropian, who left to create indie shop Wideload Games (Stubbs the Zombie) in 2004.
[UPDATE] As the entire world now knows, this rumor was in fact, 100 percent true. Thusly, RC doffs its hat to Mr. Metcalf for his scoop before sitting down for a nice dinner of cold crow.