According to Polygon, a Bungie developer’s prank from nearly eight years ago cost former parent company, Microsoft, nearly $500,000 in damage control. What began as a simple mooning job quickly turned into a PR fiasco, as Microsoft had to contend with the ESRB and a delay of one of its signature titles resulting from the prank.
It all started with a simple, if graphic, prank by one of Bungie’s former lead engineers, Charlie Gough during the development of Halo 2. During a visit to the studio by Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft at the time, Gough apparently mooned the executive and someone, somewhere captured the “hilarious” moment on camera.
The incident would have remained an inside joke if the employees at Bungie could have contained themselves. However, the temptation to capitalize on such a quirky event was too much for some to resist.
Where Did It Go Wrong?
During the development of Halo 2, Bungie employed a tool in its engine called “Guerilla” to complete world designs. Within this tool, developers had the potential of encountering an error with a particularly raunchy title. Known as the “.ASS” error, this incident would occur when a developer activated a flaw in the engine’s transformation module.
At some point during development, a trickster at Bungie attached the photo of Gough’s behind onto this error message; thus, anyone who received the error would also receive an accompanying raunchy image to hammer the point home.
Unfortunately for Bungie and Microsoft, other parties noticed the photo was still appended to the error message in the Windows Vista version of Halo 2. Chaos ensued.
What Were the Consequences?
Upon learning of the raunchy image embedded into Microsoft’s latest AAA hit, the ESRB stated that it would fine Microsoft if the company did not accept a new rating, reflecting the “graphic nudity” depicted in the game. Microsoft responded by delaying the release of Halo 2, recalling shipped Vista versions of the game and administering the new ESRB rating, which included the word “nudity.”
According to Polygon’s anonymous source, “No one at Bungie got fired but I heard a few guys at Microsoft proper did. I’m not 100 percent certain how much this all cost, but the rumor was upwards of half a million…After that things got really serious at Bungie. Very serious.”
Bungie would ultimately cut ties with Microsoft later that same year, remaining associated only through their work on Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach.
Ultimately, what began as a harmless prank snowballed into a social and financial nightmare for Microsoft that cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars and hindered its reputation at the time. One can only imagine how such a prank would go over in today’s Pandora’s box known as the internet.
For more on this unique story, check out Polygon’s original report here.