343 Industries has fallen into the age old trap of live games, juggling the catch-22 of updating a game and having to fix it at the same time.
Halo Infinite is a live game, and that means it can and will evolve over time. This offers many advantages like lucrative online monetization and being able to shift the game's meta, add new content, and adjust content on-the-fly. The disadvantages are also prevalent--live games are exceptionally hard to make because they take so much effort across a variety of spectrums. Developers have to inhabit three different timelines for a live game to be successful--the past, the present, and the future.
They have to look at the past and see what worked, keep the present intact and maintain servers, and continue planning for the future with new content. To put it simply: Developers have to keep a rickety ship afloat in a hurricane storm as they add and build new things that make it heavier and potentially more unstable.
That's the case with Halo Infinite. The game has so many moving parts that are all trying to do the same thing--push engagement. There's F2P multiplayer, the entire reason Halo Infinite exists, pushing cosmetic microtransactions. There's campaign that tries to tell a story and create engagement with online co-op--but that won't even be available until at least 3 months after launch. As such, the game's foundation will be missing many core features at launch, including campaign co-op and forge mode, the latter of which is tremendously important for long-term engagement via custom games.
Halo Infinite is bound by the Engagement Cycle. The game isn't even out yet and 343i has had trouble with the Content side of things.
These features are coming later and 343i will have to simultaneously develop core components as it develops new additive content, which is often a recipe for disaster, delays, or even cancellations. It's a lot of work to make a linear game, let alone a game that's constantly shifting. With live games, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
In a recent development update, 343i devs talked about the "beauty of live games" and Joe Staten confirmed the studio would be leaning on the evolving structure of being able to launch the framework and add to it later on.
"That's the beauty of being a live service," Ske7ch said in the update, referring to the split-screen multiplayer on PC that won't make it into launch.
"Some of the things we won't be able to do for launch, but you're right, that's part of being a live service. The good news is that we have a year-long, post-launch content feature roadmap already worked out. We're already working on those things now. So yeah, some things won't land in a launch timeframe but some things will just roll out over time. That's part of this Halo Infinite journey that we're kicking off together with fans," Staten said.
"Halo Infinite is a live game, so it isn't really ever done, you know what I mean? It's going to progress and evolve from season to season. We talk about launch being the beginning of that journey, but to have a beginning you have to pick a moment and actually begin.
"Ultimately we decided that we've been working on this game for a really long time, our fans have been waiting on this game for a really long time...with solo campaign and our first season of multiplayer in really good shape for holiday, we didn't want to delay any more. Let's get started and we'll continue to evolve from there every season."
This compounding of content only makes things harder on the team, especially as they work out new bugs and have to constantly iterate on multiple different paths of the experience. Essentially this means 343i developers will be creating new content for a platform that's not even complete yet.
Case in point: Just look at Anthem or Fallout 76. Those games went through tremendous learning periods because they tried to do something too ambitious. The developers simply tried to do too much and bit off more than they could chew. This might be the case with Halo Infinite. 343i is trying to do a lot of very hard things with Infinite, including:
- Simultaneously develop a new game alongside a new games engine
- Scale the game across five Xbox consoles, including two generations, as well as multiple PC configurations
- Deliver promised content (already lapsed due to technical issues)
- Make free-to-play multiplayer as well as a premium campaign
- Outline a live game roadmap for multiplayer without knowing what works best
Knowing this, we shouldn't be surprised if Halo Infinite's tentative content roadmap slides a bit (or a lot). This kind of project is very difficult in the best of times and things are made even more tough due to coronavirus measures, which forces devs to work from home.
Right now 343i is in what Joe Staten calls "shutdown mode" which is focused on squashing bugs and polishing content for launch. There really won't be any room for new content in this phase--instead the content has been established and 343i is trying to make everything look, play, and feel as best as possible.
Halo Infinite will release sometime in Holiday 2021 for Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S consoles, and PC. It will launch with singleplayer campaign and season 1 of free-to-play multiplayer.
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