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'Halo' creators venture into mobile games


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(CNN) -- The "Halo" games never made the base jump to cell phones, but Bungie, the studio that conceived and nurtured the franchise, is ready to explore the world of mobile gaming.


Still fresh off its split from Microsoft, Bungie has formed a publishing house, called Aerospace, for mobile and social-networking games.


The group managing the new publishing division is small, Bungie representatives said. Most of Bungie's 200-person team in Bellevue, Washington, is hard at work on a new action game, which Activision Publishing will put out.


Despite the foray into mobile applications, Bungie has no immediate plans to release a smartphone game of its own.


Bungie introduced its first mobile app a week ago, for the iPhone and iPad. Bungie Mobile enables people to check game stats for "Halo," and eventually other games, from their phones.


"It's our first small step into the mobile world," Bungie said in a statement. "It really is just a beginning -- our first, super cute baby step."


Now for the next step, which involves collaborating with tight-knit groups of proficient mobile designers. In this symbiotic relationship, Bungie provides infrastructure, advice, finances and a devoted following.


"The role of traditional publishers has devolved to be primarily a financial instrument," Pete Parsons, the company's operating chief, said in a phone interview Wednesday. "I think we bring a lot more to the table."


Bungie intends to use the venture to inform future projects.


"We'll learn a lot about the (mobile) marketplace," Parsons said. "Our next big universe is going to be on multiple platforms and devices."


The forthcoming franchise from Bungie won't be drastically different from "Halo," the blockbuster futuristic shooter, CNN reported last month.


Microsoft Game Studios and the 343 Industries subsidiary retain rights to "Halo." They intend to bring updates at a consistent pace. "Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary," a remake of the original, is scheduled for a November 15 release, and "Halo 4," a major sequel, is due next year, Microsoft said at an industry conference this month.


No plans for, say, a Windows Phone 7 version of "Halo" were thrown around then. Microsoft has not had luck in bringing the franchise to the tiny screens of mobile phones. A 2005 project to license "Halo" to a cell-phone-game maker culminated in a lawsuit years later.


Since then, the mobile-games industry has exploded. Microsoft places major emphasis on gaming in its Windows Phone platform. Electronic Arts launched a publishing service in March similar to Bungie's, leveraging the resources from EA divisions such as Playfish and "Angry Birds" publisher Chillingo.


Aerospace is not Bungie's attempt to transform itself into a sort of "FarmVille" sharecropper, company representatives said.


The first product will come from Jordan Weisman, a longtime Bungie collaborator who directed Microsoft Game Studios and later founded the company that put on a high-profile promotional stunt for the release of "Halo 2."


Weisman's Harebrained Schemes development team plans to release a game called "Crimson" this summer for Apple's iOS and Google's Android gadgets. Bungie, through Aerospace, will help promote and test it as well as provide "a lot of 5-hour Energy" drinks, Weisman joked.


"These are teams that are fully capable of developing great experiences on their own," Parsons said. "We're not trying to be like a Zynga."


Of course, the "Words With Friends" maker isn't bad company to be associated with. Zynga Game Network is expected to file for a public offering soon, which could value the outfit at more than $15 billion -- about twice the size of Electronic Arts.



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