Microsoft finally seems to be ready to not have business considerations interfere with their games.
The delay of Halo Infinite, which 343 Industries announced earlier this month, was a pretty momentous development. Not only was it the culmination of what, by all accounts, has been a turbulent development cycle (with that being self-evident during the game’s less than stellar showing at the Xbox Games Showcase), but it actually has some significant implications for the Xbox Series X launch, still scheduled for November this year, as well.
But that’s not really what I want to talk about here, because we’ve covered it elsewhere – and I do encourage you to go read that if you want to see what we think about that. But the thing with a game as significant as Halo Infinite is that whatever repercussions and consequences it has will be far-reaching. So not only does this delay have implications for the future of the game itself, the Halo series, and the Xbox Series X launch, but it also reveals something extremely interesting about Microsoft and Xbox Game Studios – an interesting facet that should prove to be a major factor as the upcoming next generation progresses.
You see, the long and short of it is that delaying Halo Infinite, but not the Xbox Series X, may have doomed the Series X to a poor launch. This, I hope, is not a controversial statement. The Xbox Series X is currently due to launch without any flagship launch game (the closest would be The Medium, I guess), to the extent that the key PR point in the press release confirming Microsoft’s intent to stick with a November launch wasn’t about the Series X launch lineup at all – it was that the console can play “thousands of games via backward compatibility.”
No key launch title, mixed with a likely high price, and some perplexing messaging so far, means that the Series X may get off to a slow start, a slow start that could easily have been avoided had Halo hit the date. But Microsoft chose to delay it anyway – and that, I think, is the most encouraging sign we have had from them in a very long time.
One of my key criticisms about Microsoft has always been their lack of commitment to games as a medium, which has reflected in the quality of their titles too. Microsoft has so often almost felt like it treats games as a business first, and a creative endeavor second. And while every company is obviously in the business to make money, the issue with Microsoft has often been that it has compromised the games for the sake of the business. Whether it be releasing games well before they were ready (such as Halo: The Master Chief Collection or Halo 5: Guardians), forcing in specific things into each game that they may not be suited for, because of company-wide business mandates, such as the Kinect being their key focus for a few years, the inclusion of the TV stuff in Quantum Break, the attempt to try to shift a singleplayer RPG franchise like Fable towards a live service game, the inclusion of microtransactions in Halo 5, and so on. Obviously, this has impacted the quality of their games – how could it not, when you are forced to release a game that is a compromised form of your creative vision for it due to business considerations?
Business considerations would dictate that Halo Infinite meet the Xbox Series X launch. I’ve already explained why – because without Halo, it’s very likely that the Series X will have a rough few months. A Microsoft still primarily concerned with its bottom line would have ensured Infinite launches this Holiday by hook or by crook – whether this meant releasing it in a half-baked state (which, going by the reports of the game not having raytracing at launch, or even Xbox head Phil Spencer’s own recent admission, was something that was considered) or enforcing severe crunch to hit the deadline no matter what.
But Microsoft chose to delay Infinite, which is the single worst decision they could have made from a business perspective – but also the best possible decision they could have made if their intent was to ensure Halo Infinite comes out the best possible game it can be. And I think that’s notable, because this may – may – indicate a shift in the broader mindset at Xbox now.
One of the reasons Nintendo and Sony’s first parties have thrived like they have is because of the almost complete creative freedom those developers get. While they are obviously making commercial products, the developers at least get to work on creative endeavors that they are passionate about without being hamstrung by company-wide mandates. It’s that respect for the creative freedom of their top talent that has made Nintendo (and now Sony) able to sell their hardware on the basis of their own software, a respect for creative freedom Microsoft has, so far, lacked. But this might be the first sign that things are changing, that Phil Spencer and co. are once again willing to actually walk the talk, and put their money where their mouth is.
Like I said, though, it may. And the reason I’m not willing to make a more declarative statement yet is that we need sustained follow-through from Microsoft. They have seemed to be on the cusp of doing the right thing so many times before, but basically dropped the ball after a bit, because they’re not getting immediate results. But the thing is, you don’t get immediate results from things like these, they’re long term plays. You need to nurture goodwill and trust from your players over a period of years before finally they’ll be willing to have faith in you. It took Sony the entire lifespan of the PS3 to get there – and they had every reason to stop much earlier on, given that so many of their attempts back then were misfires. But they persisted, and here we are now as a result.
That’s what Microsoft needs to do. And it remains to be seen whether or not they will. But at the very least, we can definitely say that this Halo delay is a great move – and hopefully, just the first in a long line of similar moves emphasizing the game over the business, to come.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.