Well, as a Halo fan, it’s been a week. And to some degree, it’s been a long couple of years.
I don’t think I need to ramble off my resume as a long-term Halo fan, as anyone who follows me or enjoys our content here at Seasoned Gaming has a general idea of just how much the IP means to me. And for over 20 years, there has been a wealth of highs and lows. But one thing always remained true: I adore these games. They have been a foundational part of my life. So when information began to be shared with me recently, it was rather eye-opening.
Yesterday, I corroborated a thread shared by my friends BathrobeSpartan on Twitter. I had already spoken to them prior to it being posted along with a couple other sources who had shared similar information. As always with this sort of thing, I question a lot. And I’m very cautious about what I say. In this case, I was confident in sharing the information. So let’s break down the details of what we know, and I’ll then provide my speculative commentary as to some of the “whys.”
Les licenciements au sein de 343 Industries s'inscrivent malheureusement en conséquence d'une mauvaise gestion du studio et de ses effectifs par les personnes en charge.
Si cela aurait pu être évité, l'impact sur la stratégie reste minime: du contenu axé multijoueur.
🧵 Thread pic.twitter.com/eB1AyaNk1O
— Bathrobe Spartan 🎧 Podcast Halo (@BathrobeSpartan) January 19, 2023
It goes without saying that the launch of Halo Infinite was generally less than stellar. While I’ve spoken of my love of the campaign and multiplayer at length, there have been a lot of misses as well. The game was delayed a year, 343i was clearly not fully prepared to support a new live-service model, features were missing at launch, etc. I could go on.
Then a few months ago, we received the news that Bonnie Ross was departing 343i, and three new leaders were taking her place, with Pierre Hintze taking over as studio head. At the time, this felt like a leadership shake-up that was needed but generally complete. What we know now is that it was only the beginning of the restructuring.
What seems to be happening with Halo is a complete rethink of how the IP is managed under the Xbox Game Studios umbrella. From what we know, the original plan for Infinite was to develop some form of smaller, narrative expansions that would continue the story and lead to a bigger expansion of the campaign. Ideas were also floated on how to interject narrative events within Halo Infinite over the long-term.
While they weren’t in active development, DLC in this form was initially planned. In the end, due to the reasons that so often affect game development, leadership didn’t feel the plans were feasible in an efficient and financially beneficial manner. Thus, the plans were scrapped in about mid-2022, and the focus shifted to the “next” campaign.
Given the above factors, and the fact that multiplayer required additional, immediate support and was the long-term financial strategy, a rethink was necessary.
On the surface, the answer seems to be that 343i will continue to be the curators of the Halo IP and all of the management that goes along with it. Let’s not forget, after-all, that Halo is much more than just Halo Infinite. There is Halo Gear, the Halo Championship Series (which kicks off Year Two in February), the Halo TV show, and a lot more. 343i will continue to manage all of the aspects of the Halo IP under their new leadership.
However, the vision for Halo games will broaden, and that means using additional development talent. CEO of Gaming for Microsoft and Head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, has previously spoken about the importance of Halo to Xbox even comparing the IP to the likes of Star Wars. It’s clear that Halo’s value as an IP is recognized internally within the broader organization.
In that vein, you can’t accomplish that with a single development studio. And, to that degree, game development will begin to utilize other studios and assets. We already know that Certain Affinity has been working with 343i on the “Tatanka” mode for at least two years while also aiding in additional development on Infinite itself. With the pedigree of Certain Affinity, along with the wealth of development talent that now falls under the Xbox Game Studios umbrella with 23 studios (and more should the Activision-Blizzard deal finalize), there’s no shortage of excellent developers to work on Halo.
It should also encourage new ideas for games in the Halo universe to potentially take shape while 343i oversees development and ensures it aligns with canon, lore, and the IP’s overall direction. With the report of Joseph Staten going back to Xbox Publishing, who better to be a spokesperson and liaison for Halo?
Personally, I’m exceedingly disappointed in the challenges that affected Halo Infinite and wish they were identified by executive leadership far earlier. By all accounts, I’m also sad to see good developers negatively impacted by poor leadership decisions and/or direction. Several ex-343i developers have now spoken out about their experiences while working on Infinite, and the stories are very frustrating to read. It should go without saying that I wish anyone impacted by the layoffs all the best and hope they find better positions in the industry.
The layoffs at 343 shouldn't have happened and Halo Infinite should be in a better state. The reason for both of those things is incompetent leadership up top during Halo Infinite development causing massive stress on those working hard to make Halo the best it can be.
— Patrick Wren (@Witdarkstar) January 19, 2023
That said, I am excited at the prospect of what this could mean for Halo in the future. While it will no doubt take time to see any of these projects come to fruition, which I recognize is the last thing people want to hear right now, I’m attempting to see the forest through the trees. Call it a fault if you will, but I generally have a positive outlook for things of this nature.
Now you’ll have to allow me to speculate with my tinfoil hat on briefly. Another aspect I’ve been considering in this approach is purely resource related. We know that Infinite’s development was negatively impacted by a number of factors. Included in those were a Microsoft-wide hiring freeze in addition to utilizing a large number of contractors who, again due to Microsoft policy, could only work at 343i for a limited time (18 months max I’ve been told). This not only caused a continual resource constraint, but also a recurring loss of institutional knowledge. And, quite frankly, anyone who’s worked in application development will tell you that losing institutional knowledge is an absolute project killer.
I imagine that, by shifting Halo development under Xbox Game Studios instead of simply just 343i, this will greatly broaden the talent pool, as I said above, but it will also ensure that development utilizes full-time employees that have some prior knowledge and/or experience with internal systems, such as the game engines, APIs, and more. This allows Xbox leadership to prioritize Halo within the XGS portfolio while planning longer-term without the same concerns (at least not directly) of continual hiring, training, and starting over. From the outside looking in, this would be a big win as this is an area that negatively affects game development all across the industry.
I’m sure there will be a lot more to come from 343i and Xbox in the future. I would really like to hear from Hintze about his vision for Halo as an IP and how he views his and 343i’s leadership for the franchise moving forward. Given Infinite’s road-map and everything shared over the past few days, I have to imagine we’ll hear something soon.
For now, I’m going to get back to enjoying Halo Infinite, cursing the game while playing Ranked, and being excited for HCS Year Two. Thank you, as always, for supporting Seasoned Gaming and everything that we do. Cheers.
Want to hear more details on the discussion around Halo Infinite and 343i? The crew talked extensively about it on this week’s Bitcast below!