It’s rare to see a video game developer publicly acknowledge crunch, let alone cite its avoidance as a reason for delays. On Friday, developer 343 Industries revealed the long-anticipated roadmap for Halo Infinite, replete with a number of pushed-back features alongside a frank acknowledgement that such decisions were made in the interest of prioritising “team health.” Some Halo players flipped out anyway.
Halo Infinite has been on a bit of a roller coaster since its release last November for Xbox and PC. For the first time in the series, its multiplayer mode is free-to-play, with a seasonal model not unlike similar models featured in similar free-to-play games. It was the biggest Halo launch in series history, but a few months in, amid a dearth of new maps and modes — one event repeated six times throughout the season — players started bouncing off the game. Earlier this month, a batch of info about forthcoming maps and modes revitalized interest for a bit ahead of season two, scheduled to launch next week. Then the roadmap came out.
It is almost comical that a JPG with some text and a handful of bullshots could spark an entire weekend of ~discourse~. But you have to understand, the most devoted players have long looked toward this thing as a promise that committing hard to Halo Infinite would pay off down the line. Plus, even the roadmap itself didn’t roll out on its planned timeline. In November, 343 Industries creative lead Joseph Staten said Halo Infinite’s “year one” roadmap would come out sometime in January. Your calendars might indicate that it’s at least a few days past then.
Examined in a vacuum, purely merits of “content,” devoid of the explicitly stated limitations and human cost of what it takes to create said content, sure, the roadmap is a little disappointing. Some core features have been pushed back beyond their intended release windows. Others have been given more tenuous “TBD” timelines. (The entire roadmap itself is labelled with a “subject to change” disclaimer.) In a blog post published at 7:00 p.m. ET on a Friday evening, Staten pointed to a pretty rock-solid explanation:
…a ‘priority zero’ of team health and getting ourselves into a sustainable development rhythm so that we can deliver great experiences to all of you while maintaining a healthy work/life balance. We know we need to deliver more content and more features more quickly. Staying true to priority zero means that sometimes we need to slow down in order to stay healthy and move faster later. But we’re also aggressively looking at ways to accelerate.
It’s no secret that the video game industry is afflicted with the scourge of “crunch,” or extended periods of overtime, either mandatory or insidious, typically a major factor in cases of burnout and attrition. That 343 Industries is going out of its way to put its developers first — in the middle of a still-raging pandemic, no less — isn’t the sort of thing you see every day. As for what this actually means for Halo Infinite:
- Online co-op, initially planned to roll out with the release of season two, is scheduled for some time in August.
- Splitscreen co-op is now decoupled from online co-op. It’s planned for, uh-oh, “timing TBD.”
- The option to replay campaign missions, which is something you cannot currently do, is planned for some time in August.
- The popular Forge creation mode will receive a beta in September, and also be in beta for season three. (Leaked footage indicates it’ll be the most robust iteration of Forge yet.)
- And the big one: Season two will last six months, twice as long as its intended timeline. Season three rolls out in early November.
That last one is the biggest sticking point for players, who regularly cite Halo’s progression system as a reason for bouncing off the game. Halo Infinite’s battle pass is 100 levels. If you play regularly and focus on completing challenges for XP, you can easily max it out in a month or two. What then, they ask? Play for the sheer fun of it? Pffft.
Over the weekend, a Reddit post about the roadmap racked up thousands of comments, many of which are negative. Some are even borderline vitriolic, calling it “depressingly pathetic” and saying it’s “a miserable time to be a Halo fan.” A common sentiment snarkily points out that, if you set aside the suite of cosmetic options, new features planned for Halo Infinite’s first year amount to…three new modes and two new maps.
Players are comparing this to previous Halo games developed by 343. Within its first year, 2012’s Halo 4 saw 343 adding 11 new maps added to the game’s rotation, spread out over four paid post-release DLCs. For 2015’s Halo 5, meanwhile, 343 added fewer official maps over the game’s first year (just nine) but supplanted those with additional levels for the PvE Warzone mode and with maps created in Forge. Those games, however, weren’t made during a pandemic. Halo Infinite is also the first game in the series that hasn’t repurposed popular maps from prior games (for now at least).
“Most fans don’t realise the damaged ring represents the unfinished product that is Halo Infinite,” one player joked. Others, more seriously, went so far as to raise the question of whether or not Microsoft should hand the Halo franchise to a developer other than 343 Industries.
Even players who are generally positive on the game haven’t exactly leapt to its defence. Folks over on the LowSodiumHalo subreddit — a digital space for fans to gather “without all the salt” typically associated with the more mainstream Halo communities — say they’re “disappointed” and “oof,” though acknowledge that having general dates for certain features, like the Forge beta, is at least a salve.
To a certain degree, I get it. Halo fans are hungry. I’ve personally been at the edge of my seat for splitscreen co-op since launch. Six months was a tad long for the first season, so while I’m eager for what’s coming in the second — the new modes sound absolutely bonkers — I’m not entirely sure it’s enough to keep the playerbase healthy for six more months. But if 343 Industries is serious about putting its team first, if that rationale isn’t just public lip service to gloss over some behind-the-scenes crunch for minimal end results, then it’s absolutely worth the wait. Not a question in my mind.
Representatives for 343 Industries did not immediately respond to a request for comment. If you work at the studio, or are otherwise knowledgeable with the state of its operations, and would like to chat — on or off the record — my inbox is open: email@example.com.