The History of The Seventh Column
Bungie, over the years, has moved from genre to genre, from sci-fi to fantasy and back again. We've flirted with adventure, we've teased strategy and completely made out hard-sexy-style with the action genre. But during our flighty, capricious years, one thing has remained constant, true and faithful – our fans. Without you, we'd just be a bunch of highly skilled, talented and brilliant – but strangely unloved – game developers.
But the fact is, we do have fans and we are loved! Except in The Library, then, there's just a creeping tinge of hatred.
But one of the things we did to build the fanbase, apart from hide secret information in celebrity laundry, is create our official fanclub, The Seventh Column. Here, fans of Bungie can meet, greet, form Chapters, and generally socialize in orbit around the dark little planetoid that is Bungie.
But who invented the Seventh Column? Well, like everything at Bungie, lots of people were involved, but Max Hoberman, currently the Multiplayer Lead on Halo 2, can claim a fair amount of credit for the Column. He took time out of his leisurely international millionaire gadabout lifestyle to tell us about the origin of the fanclub to end all fanclubs (literally – in an epically apocalyptic way).
Us: What was your involvement in the inception of the 7th Column?
Max Hoberman :
I had the idea a while back in Chicago, about a year before we came out here, that we should start a Bungie fan club. I discussed it with The Man and we both thought it would be fun to reward our most loyal fans through some sort of formal organization they could belong to. Of course we were talking about this on the level of secret decoder rings and midnight frogblast the ventcore missions, but that's beside the point. The idea stuck, and when we got out to Microsoft and I started up Bungie's Community Team we decided it was time to make something happen.
Q: Could you tell the nOObz what 7th Column is for?
We always have crazy ideas about fun things to do for our fans to thank them for being so loyal. However, as we've grown so has our fanbase, and so doing something for everyone becomes a big budget operation. Membership in the 7th Column, at least in theory, allows us to focus only on the people that ask for some luvin'. (It's free, anyone can join, after all.) One way of doing this is by providing them with free, automated, database driven fan sites, and thus 7th Column Chapters came about. There are other things too, however, like the Bungie Store discounts we had for chapters a while back. I wish there were more. I'd like to bring back some of the fun things we used to do and even start on a few wacky ideas we never quite got around to.
Of course, even though membership in the 7th Column is completely voluntary and completely free, we do ask something in return--we want our 7th Column members to help us take over the world.
Q: People think of Bungie as just Halo, but 7th Column is the most old-school aspect of the community, where do you see it going in the future?
In the future I would love to see the 7th Column become much more organized. With organization comes the ability to pull off bigger and better things--bigger FanFests, bigger fan films, whatever. We've considered imposing high level organization on the 7th Column in the past, but always held off. As much as we'd love to be at the forefront of this project, we believe it will only be successful if it is organized from within, by its own members.
Q: What is it about the Bungie community that makes fans so diehard?
Two things come to mind--games and personality. Games is a no brainer. Bungie fans are loyal first and foremost because we don't disappoint. We take the time to carefully craft our games as best we're able. An unbelievable amount of thought goes into every decision, always aimed at how to make the best possible product before everything else. Once the planning is complete an equally impressive amount of work goes into the actual implementation. The results are stunning.
Personality is a little trickier to put a finger on. At heart we're all a bunch of gamers, making games that we're just as excited about as everyone else out there. We identify with our fans and value their opinions way more than you would ever think, and I believe this shows in our interaction with them and in the final product. The most diehard Bungie fans are the ones that have come to this same conclusion.
Q: You’ve seen a lot of hardcore fans. What, in your experience, is the most hardcore thing that a chapter or fan has EVER done?
Jeez, that's a tough one. Miguel shaving the Seventh Column logo into his head? Numerous fans coming from across the country and the world for a little homegrown FanFest? Fans building suits of MC armor and creating their own movies based on our games? I'm humbled by these things and don't even know where to begin.
And speaking of Miguel
…what would a fanclub be, without its fans? Indeed, Central to the Seventh Column experience is the elitist, plutocratic and poorly organized FanFest. Now although there have been gatherings for years, the first officially sanctioned, Bungie-organized event coincided with the announcement of Halo, way back in 1999. Since then, it's had its ups, its downs, its lowlights and tons of highlights.
And of course, one of the leading lights, and arguably originators of FanFest, is one Mr. Miguel Chavez, we ruined his entire week by asking him to explain his involvement in the Seventh Column, and the Bungie FanFest.
Us: How do you expect Halo 2 to broaden the fanbase, or build upon the foundations of The Seventh Column?
With the huge sell-through Halo experienced, it's a given, in my opinion, that Halo 2 will easily surpass those numbers when it ships. It seems that you folks have been toiling away at getting Bungie.net ready for this sudden influx of new members to the Bungie community and with the firm commitment to XBL as an integral part of the MP experience, I have no doubt that all those thousands of new users will benefit tremendously from all that the new Bungie.net will have to offer. If you build it, they will come!
Q: Tell us a little about Miguel! What do you do, where do you live etc!
I'm 35 years-old and live in New York City with my wife and two kids, age two and eight. I'm a computer consultant that troubleshoots systems and networks for the entire range of users out there: home users all the way through large corporations. I'm blessed with a wife that is understanding of my fascination with Bungie games and also blessed with a son that enjoys playing Halo co-op with his old man.
Q: FanFest started as a primarily Myth-based gathering - how can such a large group of people love migrate so happily between strategy and shooter genres? What is it about Bungie that ties those experiences together?
I think the jury is still out on how large a group of folks actually moved from Myth to Halo. Lest we forget, between the release of the last Myth game from Bungie and the release of Halo for the Xbox, Bungie had sold the rights of the Myth series to Take Two and hopped in bed with Microsoft. Consequently I and several others found ourselves alone and wondering why folks thought Bungie was some kind of political force that had sold out. It just didn't make any sense. You play a game to have fun, and Bungie delivered that in spades.
Let me be clear though that I do see a fair share of former Myth'ers playing Halo MP or posting in Halo forums from time to time. Those that stuck around do so because they love what Bungie excels at:
creating a dynamic visceral experience in their games. Whether it's battling the Pfhor while being taunted by Durandal, dodging packs of Ghols while trying to blow up a dam, or shoving a shotgun into the face of the Flood while that jackass 343GS is mocking you, the games Bungie produces kick 110% ass!
Q: How did you convince Bungie to get involved with the fans in the first place?
It took a bit of convincing, and had a lot to do with a theory I held back then that Bungie did not see themselves as big a deal as their fans did. I mean it was certainly a testament to their 'down-to-earthness' that they never ignored their fans at the exhibit booths when showing off their games... many folks had a chance to play some Marathon against Jason or Doug, could you say the same thing about the folks at id? But this same attitude made it hard for them to commit to putting a budget aside for a Bungie-only fan experience.
I think they honestly thought no one would show up! But I felt in my gut that the timing was right. Myth was a megahit for them at the time, and the way the game wrapped up the whole multiplayer experience, with a lobby and large chat in-game was really fostering a large community to grow.
You weren't just known by your handle but by your personality and playing-style online. People were establishing long-distance relationships with other fellow players, and clans were popping up left and right.
Like I said, I had to convince them to participate, and by basically labeling it as a fan-organized event, I was hoping to alleviate any resistance they might offer and just simply tell them when and where to show up with either themselves and/or some cool schwag as prizes and parting gifts. You can check out the first FanFest website I put up
. The page lists 53 sign-ups, but really only a handful of folks made it. And true to their word, about half way through the event, a bunch of Bungie staff walks in, a little apprehensive.
Both sides eye each other for a second, making sure it's not some kind of nefarious trap. At the end, I don't think they stayed very long, Doug dropped off some cool merchandise and Max took a group picture. I'm pretty sure they were tired from a long day at the convention floor (originally the FanFests were planned to coincide with Macworld Expo, since it was easier to guarantee a large pool of potential attendees) and didn't have much planned in terms of what to say or announce there. No biggie, because it got the ball rolling!
So my most heartfelt thanks to Doug Zartman for giving me the official Bungie support one desperately needs when creating a Bungie FanFest.
Q: What is it about Bungie that you and the fans love?
Pretty much everything I've said so far is proof of what I find so cool about Bungie. Even now with your mega-million hit Halo, you guys are still humble. There's no massive marketing blitz that over-promises the eye-candy and feature-set. You still respect and care for your fanbase.
You take your gaming seriously and truly strive to cut all the bull-blam!- out of what's out there in today's games and winnow it down to a lean mean gaming experience that will grab you by the sack and not let go!
Ouch! Need I even mention the attention to story and plot? Well I guess I just did.
Q: When and how did FanFest go from Ghetto to Fabulous?
I think after 2 years or so Bungie realized just how important a tool it was to connect with their fans. I think they also saw that it offered them escape from some of the more humdrum aspects of a traditional media event. By the time we hit the first (and last so
New York FanFest
where the famous Halo trailer was shown on a large projection screen, the FanFest was a true party. What a surprise it must've been for the poor guy that I had rented his card-gaming space for the event, to see about 200 people standing on his tables and chairs to get a good look at the awesome trailer and then the Whazzup parody and GeForce ad. I think you can still find those videos listed over at HBO's media page. They're hilarious!
Q: What do you want to get out of FanFest this year?
More of the same. A chance to talk to the folks in the thick of it at Bungie, see what's up, try to get them to spill the beans, etc. Of course the ultimate is to play a little Halo 2 and maybe even a hint of what else might be coming from you guys. If it's one thing you learn about Bungie... they like to keep themselves busy!
Q: What’s the coolest all-time FanFest moment?
I would have to say FanFest VI had one of the best moments. Held in Santa Monica about 8 months after Halo had shipped, it was the first time I compiled a collection of videos to be shown throughout the festivities. With the generosity of Randall Glass I was able to premiere his follow up to Warthog Jump, Warthog Revisited. What made it so special is that Randy is a true long time Bungie fan, and he used some Myth characters in the video. The Bungie guys were all sitting in the back and had never seen it before. Suffice to say, they were all laughing their asses off watching a dwarf chuck a molotov cocktail at an obnoxious Halo engineer. Seeing them all laugh and ask for a copy of the video made my day. Once again, thanks for letting me premiere that video Randy!
FanFest – a Potted History
FanFest I: January 7, 1999
- Mac World Expo - San Francisco, CA
* Halo announced
FanFest II: January 5, 2000
- Mac World Expo - San Francisco, CA
* "Lots of Myth playing but all eyes were on Halo information."
FanFest III: July 21, 2000
- Mac World Expo - New York, NY
* "The first New York Fest. Took place in a Magic the Gathering store."
* This was the one and only appearance in the U.S. of Hamish Sinclair, the grandaddy of all Bungie Fans
* One and only release of the Marathon Story Page t-shirt
* Take 2 Interactive appearance
FanFest IV: January 12, 2001
- Mac World Expo - San Francisco, CA
* Meet Myth 3 developers
* Play Marathon in the LAN area
- May 16, 2001
- E3 - Santa Monica, CA
* Swankier locale, better equipment, more giveaways
* First glimpse of Silent Cartographer and Blood Gulch
FanFest V - 2001
- Mac World Exp - New York, NY
FanFest VI: October, 2001
- Halo Launch Party - Chicago, IL
FanFest VII: May 24, 2002
- E3 - Santa Monica, CA
* The first official Bungie-sponsored 7th Column Event
FanFest VIII: May 15, 2003
- Los Angeles, CA
* Times have changed a bit but it still boils down to Bungie fans uniting to hang out with the developers and one another. This year, the big draw (besides meeting Bungie and eating some bad pizza) was surely the chance to play Halo PC and see the world's first demo of Halo 2.
* FanFest IX: May 13, 2004
– Los Angeles, CA
Who knows what will happen at FanFest this year? But please, let it be air conditioning…