Are we witnessing the death of the Halo franchise?
343 Industries is doing a lot of soul-searching after Halo Infinite's uneasy launch. What needs to happen to ensure the future of this Xbox icon?
Countless Halo fans all over the world eagerly waited for the launch of Halo Infinite back in November 2021. Series veterans, like myself, were convinced that the game would finally return to the franchise’s roots and offer the quintessential Halo experience – something even developer 343 Industries was hinting towards in pre-release media drops. The game launched with solid reviews and most critics were positive about the game. But soon after the game’s release, things went downhill and player engagement almost flatlined. So what went wrong?
Infinite launched with a free-to-play multiplayer experience that should have encouraged many to pick up the game for the first time. And it did, for a while: over 256,000 concurrent players hopped on to experience Halo Infinite for the first time in November 2021 on Steam. But, in less than four months, most of the playerbase disappeared.
Many Halo fans feel that 343 Industries’ failure to maintain the momentum of the launch period is what led to the decline of the game over time. We were stuck with Season 1 for half a year, and the Lone Wolves update did not add enough to keep players engaged when it finally dropped. With just two new maps and a few game modes doing little to grow the game over the vital first few months, it felt like there just wasn’t enough content. The lack of Forge Mode, Hardcore Mode, and Combat Record at launch was also a disappointment.
Matt Booty, the Head of Xbox Game Studios at Microsoft, appeared on the Friends Per Second podcast and admitted that the game failed to sustain the hype and love it got at launch. He said: “There has got to be a plan for content sustain; there has got to be a plan for regular continuing engagement. And we just fell short of the plan on that.”
And it wasn't just just casual fans or those who were picking the game up out of curiosity on Xbox Game Pass who felt like they got the short end of the stick with Halo Infinite. In October 2022, 343 Industries announced that it would not be adding the crowdfunding raised for Halo Infinite's first world championship to the $1 Million prize pool – shortly before the actual event began. Pro players from OpTic Gaming, FaZe Clan, Sentinels, and other organizations were, understandably, upset at the decision.
The crowdfunding was set to be allocated to growing Halo esports in 2023 and beyond, but the last moment decision and lack of communication bothered fans and competitors alike. Halo legend Eric “Snip3down” Wrona of FaZe Clan said “Only a week before worlds and they decide to take away crowdfunding, wish I wasn’t lied to when deciding to make the switch. Never would have left Apex.”
Snip3down would go on to quit Halo esports and return to Apex Legends soon after. Cloud9’s roster of Adam “Bound” Gray, Kevin “Eco” Smith, Zane “Penguin” Hearon, Braedon “StelluR” Boettcher, and coach Emanuel “Hoaxer” Lovejoy also quit the esports scene. Cloud9 dominated Halo esports in 2022 and it secured a regionals win at Halo Championship Series 2022: NA and came second at the world championship.
Despite the challenges, 343 Industries noted that it was committed to bringing the game back to life, and would continue supporting teams that are dedicated to Halo esports. From here, it looks like an uphill battle, but fans shouldn't give up hope just yet.
As someone who has been playing Halo titles for over a decade, it is truly saddening to see the beloved, iconic franchise struggle. Bungie – the development studio that brought Halo to life back in 2001 before moving away from Microsoft to develop Destiny – has been mimicking the position 343 has found itself in, with some notable ups and downs in its Destiny lifespan to date. But Bungie seems to respond better to the lows to deliver some incredible highs.
Destiny 2’s launch was one of the lowest points of the franchise. Curse of Osiris and Warmind were lackluster, and people did not take too kindly to the Red War campaign, either. But Bungie managed to bounce right back through the Forsaken campaign (which had an incredible raid and a memorable campaign) and even into The Witch Queen (which has some of the best FPS story content we've seen in years). Everything has been building up to the electrifying launch of Lightfall.
If you need another example of games that rise like phoenixes to enjoy a second chance, you need look no further thanFinal Fantasy 14. Square Enix's MMORPG failed at launch, but the developer took those shortcomings as a challenge and rebooted the game with the Realm Reborn update. The update was headed by Naoki Yoshika (now attached to Final Fantasy 16) who guided the game to new heights. FF14 recently hit over 24 million players. Talk about a comeback, right?
Games like Apex Legends and Warzone are also able to keep us engaged through regular updates. Sometimes, limited-time modes and events are all it takes to keep everyone hooked and happy – as long as the gameplay is fun. Halo Infinite might be able to pull players back in if it can push out consistent updates and keep players engaged like these other games (though the writing is on the wall for Warzone 2 at the moment – service shooter is not an easy genre to succeed in.)
The Winter update and the introduction of Forge Mode did lead to a spike in the playerbase for Halo Infinite, it proves that players are willing to give the game a try. If there's a reason to return. The ball is in 343’s court to deliver.
Before we get too hopeful for a revival in the immidiate short term, here are some things every Halo deveotee needs to be aware of. There is internal restructuring at 343 Industries, with reports of studio head Bonnie Ross leaving the company. Creative Director, Joe Staten, also left 343 Industries in January, which has left players wondering what lies ahead for the franchise.
The internal changes at 343 could be a good thing for the franchise and we may see a positive impact on Halo Infinite. It worked for Square Enix and FF14, after all. But we also have to consider the possibility that old-school arena shooters might not be what players want anymore. In the era of battle royales and tactical shooters, 343 needs to step up and deliver something exciting that is both quintessentially Halo – while also offering something that makes us go “wow.”
343 Industries' studio head, Pierre Hintz, issued a statement at the start of 2023, confirming the developer's commitment to the Halo franchise and stating that "343 Industries will continue to develop Halo now and in the future".
"Halo and Master Chief are here to stay," Hintz said. "343 Industries will continue to develop Halo now and in the future, including epic stories, multiplayer, and more of what makes Halo great."
That seems to be what people want, so let's hope it's not too late for Halo, and Xbox's most iconic franchise.