Yesterday, Microsoft announced it would be the latest tech company executing mass layoffs, and some of the 10,000 employees it let go were a part of its video game division.
According to reports from Bloomberg, both Bethesda and 343 Industries were struck with layoffs, but 343 was hit especially hard, with many departing employees among those who were working on future campaign content for Halo. After these layoffs, it was announced that Joe Staten, the Halo veteran who returned to get Infinite across the finish line at launch, would return to Xbox Publishing where he was previously.
The move sparked ire among ex-Halo multiplayer designer Patrick Wren who chastised Microsoft and 343 leadership for the layoffs, saying that what had gone wrong over there was management’s fault.
Though at least one manager, former 343 head Bonnie Ross, has already left as of September 2022, citing a family medical issue, though there were theories at the time there also may have been other factors at play.
Microsoft gutting its Halo campaign team leads to an immediate series of questions about the situation. What exactly was that team working on? Nothing had ever been announced about continuing the Infinite campaign or single player content in general. The only major campaign update since launch was the addition of online co-op ages after release. And if that team is gone, what is the future of Halo? What happens to Halo from here?
Things have frankly seemed pretty dire for the state of Halo since Infinite launched. The campaign was decently well-received, and while multiplayer was initially fun, it became abundantly clear that 343 did not really know how to effectively manage a live service title. Battle pass progression was horrible. Seasons were sprawling and constantly delayed. Improvements have been made, and Halo Infinite had a recent success with the launch of Forge mode, a deeply impressive offering, but the state of Halo remains in limbo.
Originally, it was said that Halo Infinite was meant to be a platform for a generation’s worth of Halo launches. Now, it feels like it’s on life support, as the game is barely hanging on in the top 20 of Xbox’s most played offerings at any given time. Its Steam population is positively anemic.
The most likely way forward here is continued seasons with new cosmetics and the occasional map and mode, and more Forge upgrades. But in terms of Halo progressing with Master Chief’s story? The idea that perhaps we wouldn’t have to wait years and years for the next chapter of his story with more content would be added to Infinite in time no longer seems to be the case, and it’s anyone’s guess when Chief himself will show up again, and in what capacity.
I think the larger question has to be asked here, whether Microsoft will continue to invest in Halo in a meaningful capacity, and if so, will their next big run at making the series relevant again have 343 leading that project?
Given how Infinite has gone, and the layoffs that the company just suffered, it just seems extremely unlikely that Microsoft would trust 343 with another grand reset of the Halo universe in a few years, or whenever it might get here. And with all Microsoft’s new acquisition ambitions, Xbox may have to start to move away from Master Chief being the face of the brand, as Microsoft’s heaviest-hitting franchises are about to start being things like Call of Duty and Diablo, if the Activision deal goes through, and Starfield and Elder Scrolls on the Bethesda side.
It has been over a decade since 343 released Halo 4 in 2012, and I cannot imagine Microsoft is satisfied with how things have gone on the whole, especially with this most recent Infinite chapter which was supposed to be both a bold new era for both Halo and Xbox itself. We still have a Certain Affinity Halo game coming, where signs point to some sort of battle royale variant, but it would be…somewhat tragic if Halo was reduced to not-great live service multiplayer seasons and a BR. And yet, trying to find who would take Master Chief and mainline Halo games into the future if it’s not 343? That’s a question without an answer, as of right now.