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Destiny developer Bungie goes ‘digital-first’ as other studios return to offices

‘Most current and future roles will be fully remote,’ Bungie says

a team of six Guardians running through straw-colored grass in Destiny 2: Beyond Light Image: Bungie
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Destiny 2 developer Bungie announced Tuesday that it will move toward a “digital-first” studio culture, meaning many employees won’t have to physically work at the studio’s Bellevue, Washington headquarters. In a year where some companies — like Activision Blizzard and Riot Games — are mandating a return-to-office without mask or vaccine requirements, Bungie is transitioning many positions to this “fully remote” structure in seven approved states.

Sony Interactive Entertainment purchased Bungie for $3.6 billion in January. Sony has not said whether any other studios will operate with a similar structure. Polygon has reached out to Sony for clarification.

“Bungie is going digital-first,” Bungie tweeted Tuesday. “Most current and future roles will be fully remote eligible in these states with more coming soon!”

Washington, California, Oregon, Illinois, Florida, North Carolina, and Texas are the seven states currently approved for remote work with Bungie. Destiny 2 game director Joe Blackburn tweeted that the approved states are limited due to state regulations around taxes: “It takes time to setup a business this large to operate legally in so many different territories.”

A Bungie spokesperson told Polygon the company intends to “open new locations,” and said that this announcement is “only the start of our transition to a digital approach to hybrid work.” Bungie will make “additional announcements” when they’re available.

Bungie has dozens of open positions listed on its careers page, many of which are approved for hybrid or remote work options in those seven states. Only a few positions require people to work onsite in Bungie’s Bellevue office.

A switch to a “digital-first” office culture is in stark contrast to other gaming companies, like Activision Blizzard and Riot Games, both of which are requiring a number of employees to return to physical offices. At California-based Activision Blizzard, more than 100 workers walked out of work in early April to protest the company’s dropped COVID-19 vaccine mandate and its return-to-office policy. The company has since adjusted its guidelines to allow individual studios to make their own decisions. The overall policy for the company, however, is that vaccination against the coronavirus is not required.

Riot Games, based in Los Angeles, similarly asked workers to return to its offices in April. Some employees expressed anger and confusion over the dropped mask and vaccine requirements, while others have embraced a return to the physical office. The company is allowing workers two optional work-from-home days (Monday and Friday) while Tuesday through Thursday are required. Masks are “strongly” encouraged, but optional, at Riot and the company is doing contract tracing via an app and RFID chips, employees told Polygon. One employee described the first week as “quietly chaotic.”

In a statement to Vice, a Riot Games spokesperson said Riot followed the lead of California’s local regulations.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, video game companies around the globe switched largely to fully remote work. This transition certainly led to delayed games as studios adjusted to the change, but it’s also allowed workers more flexibility and a better work-life balance. Working from home keeps workers safer during the ongoing pandemic, but it’s also allowed people to move away from expensive game development hubs like San Francisco or Seattle. It can be less expensive to work from home — potential decreasing daycare and commuting costs.

“Parents of younger children will be forced to bring their child into a daycare, which is expensive and could further increase the chances of infection,” one Activision Blizzard worker told Polygon. “Gas prices are increasing and most of the affordable housing is miles away from the offices.”

The industry is increasingly competitive, and studios will need to accommodate to attract diverse, top talent. A “digital-first” studio culture is one way to do so, and Bungie will find no shortage of developers in those approved seven states, many of which are already home to other video game companies, like Epic Games in North Carolina.

Update: This story has been updated to include an emailed statement from a Bungie spokesperson.

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