Microsoft’s continued meddling will hurt Halo: Infinite

In the last few days we’ve had a fair bit of Halo: Infinite news. Considering in the fifteen months since it was revealed there’s been almost no details, anything counts.

All the way back in April Xbox insider Brad Sams claimed that Master Chief’s next adventure would feature a Battle Royale mode. Frank O’Connor of 343 Industries denied this strongly, but his wording is very peculiar and doesn’t rule out some sort of large multiplayer experience. Based on the huge popularity of the Halo brand and the massive financial power of Fortnite, Apex Legends and the many other Battle Royale options, it would not surprise me at all if Microsoft were pushing 343 to show us what they can do with the genre. The Forge mode will allow players at the least to create it themselves.

Just two days ago we heard that Tim Longo, creative director of Halo 5 and Halo Infinite has left 343 Industries after six years there. It’s a strange time to walk away, the game is slated to release this year and, creatively, a lot of the final features should be locked in and quality control/refinement should be the development priority. Microsoft provided this statement:

“We have recently had two changes to the Halo Infinite development team. Our Executive Producer, Mary Olson will now take charge of the Campaign team on Halo Infinite as the Lead Producer, utilizing her many years of experience at 343 to help craft a great campaign for fans,” Microsoft said.

“Additionally, Tim Longo has recently departed our team and we are truly thankful for his many contributions to our games, our studio and the Halo universe. We wish Tim nothing but the best in his future endeavors. The overall creative vision and production of the game remains led by Chris Lee, Studio Head of Halo Infinite.”

Interesting. They referred to the situation as a ‘leadership shake-up’ but with the poor reception of Halo 5 and the disastrous Master Chief Collection launch then 343 Industries might be experiencing a bit of trouble. The MCC situation seemed to have turned a corner following the launch on the excellent Xbox Game Pass Service. Then the Reach issues seemed to cause a fuss. The team at 343 just don’t seem to be able to catch a break.

Then comes the biggest issue of all. Microsoft’s newest job advert for 343 includes this rather ominous line:

“Design and deliver a AAA player investment experience that focuses on our fans and their desire to express their passion for our franchise (including but not limited to microtransactions)”

The position is for a ‘Live Design Lead’, obviously a very senior position who’ll have a strong input on the online service aspect of Halo Infinite. Reading that excerpt makes it clear that there is an expectation that Halo finds a way to get as much money from the fan’s pockets as possible. Now, gaming is a business and of course the bottom line is the priority. But look at Microsoft’s biggest competitors, Sony and Nintendo. Not only do their largest exclusives and IP avoid including microtransactions, but they mostly include meaningful DLC options instead. Spider-Man had a season pass, so did Breath of the Wild and Splatoon 2. Days Gone and Super Mario Odyssey got free content updates. Splatoon 2 was the perfect opportunity for monetisation and Nintendo took the option not to try and bleed the franchise superfans try. It’s odd that considering Xbox fans have kept the brand relevant in a generation where they’ve toiled at every step the company does not want to thank them.

The worry doesn’t only apply to Halo either, look at Forza. This is a brand Microsoft attempted to annualize and continue to release with not only season passes but constant car packs and microtransactions despite outcry from fans. Gears of War 4 was heavily slated for its aggressive microtransactions and Gears 5 will also include them, although there’ll be no loot boxes. Even the way the Gears franchise has been treated, with the weird PC exclusive Gears tactics game (why is it not coming to Xbox?) and the even weirder mobile thing. Offering fans a variety of products such as controllers and custom consoles isn’t fan service. Offering them continuous value for their investment is. The Xbox brand is on the brink of crossing the line into gouging.

To summarize: Halo Infinite launches next year on Xbox One, PC and next gen Xbox too. Based on the news stories and the almost total lack of reveals around the development then I am genuinely worried about the release and the effect it could have on a fanbase who’s faith and trust have already been seriously dented. If Xbox continue to treat fans, especially hardcore fans, only as walking wallets then eventually they’ll realize that money will go further elsewhere, just look at the recent Apex Legends controversy.

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