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  • Daniel James

Opinion: Halo 6 is Entering the Market with Every Advantage

In 1997, coming off the development of Myth II: Lord of Fallen, Bungie Studios began developing the fragments of ideas that, in 2001, culminated in a gaming phenomenon so powerful it dominated popular culture for the better part of a decade. From the moment its first copy shipped, Halo began a relentless journey that culminated in Halo 3.

Halo 3's launch itself was a cultural landmark, a moment intensely sandwiched between hype and victory. It so wholly dominated the industry during the week of its launch that its gross revenue eclipsed the next 10 games behind it…combined. Decades later, it's hard to recall any games that ever reached its sheer velocity. Grand Theft Auto 5 may be the only game to have ever reached such mythic domination.

There's a reason why such velocity is hard to replicate. There are more games, now, and a higher proportion of these are actually good. The year of Halo 3's own launch, a young Call of Duty franchise would begin its own meteoric journey to fame. Online multiplayer games became more prevalent, as did games with high-quality cinematics and deep storytelling. Halo's quality of storytelling and gameplay was no longer the exception, it was a common standard. Halo was no longer an unapproachable pinnacle, only a remarkable example.

The Fall

Bungie Studios, too, felt this pain. Its follow-up franchise, Destiny, continues to struggle in Halo's shadow. Despite the game's popularity, it's never achieved the sheer dominance, much less cultural relevance its predecessor did. It came down to quality, as well. Destiny's lore is good, yes, but not as good as Halo's; its multiplayer is fun, but… it's still a far cry from the days of Blood Gulch.

Halo's new guardians, too, have struggled under this immense pressure. 343 Industries' first entry, Halo 4, excelled in ways that even Bungie failed. Halo 4 had an excellent story and its soundtrack remains superb, going on to become the highest-grossing game soundtrack in history. But its campaign couldn't match the lofty goals of its predecessors.

Its multiplayer was competent, yes, but no one comes to Halo for competence, they come for excellence; and the prevalence in online multiplayer games that Halo heralded came to be its downfall. Battlefield, Call of Duty and Destiny rose, as Halo submerged.

Halo 5 subsequently had the worst launch in series history. There's no sugar-coating it. IGN gave the game a 9/10, a worthy mark for any other game, but the lowest score in the series thus far. While its multiplayer is in many ways, one of the best in the series, its story was frustratingly bad. It's actually better than most first-person shooter campaigns released this generation, Destiny 2's included; but with this generation's dearth of good shooter campaigns, that's hardly high praise.

The Return

Nevertheless, Halo 5 became a sleeper success for 343 Industries--at least relatively. Despite its low sales, and the initial backlash it rightfully received, players didn't just come back for more: they actually multiplied. By the end of 2016, Halo 5 actually had more players than it had at launch. 343 Industries soon made the surprising announcement that Halo 5 had over 16.5 million total players. While doubtless a far cry from active playerbase, it remains an impressive number that even Halo fans didn't expect given the game's poor launch.

The next Halo game will enter the field with disadvantages its predecessors never faced. It enters a crowded field of Triple-A games with a reputation that's now mired in controversy. But unlike Halo 5, it's going to launch with an active and invigorated playerbase.

It has an additional advantage. This generation has seen the decline of the console shooter as a whole. Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2, while critically acclaimed, have struggled to retain players. Call of Duty has rapidly lost favor amongst gamers, and while still a massive game, is far from juggernaut is once was. Rainbow Six Siege's runaway popularity has followed the trends of its fellow competitive shooters, CounterStrike and Overwatch, and remained mostly been a PC-focused game.

Destiny 2 and Call of Duty are Halo 6's only real competition, and both are rapidly flagging. Call of Duty is aging poorly, and its fanbase has become largely apathetic. Its own step-sibling, Destiny 2, is hemorrhaging players at an astonishing rate. Both franchises suffer from the same decay that sunk Halo 4, something that 343 has seemingly overcome with Halo 5. Halo 6, in that vein, should be sailing in safe waters.

It helps immensely that as the PlayStation 4 dominates the console market, so has Sony's own preference of games. 3rd person, story-heavy games are the PlayStation's bread and butter, and likewise, those games have dominated. As PlayStation succeeds, shooters fell behind Sony's own first-party titles. So, as Xbox declined, so did Halo's competition.

But is there still demand for a good shooter? Absolutely. If Twitch is anything to go by, PC gamers are the tastemakers of gaming. And the PC market is wild for shooters right now. PUBG, CounterStrike and Rainbow Six Siege are very popular. Many gamers who watch these games on Twitch are console gamers, indicating that their access to these games is limited, not their desire.

Rising Tide Raises All Ships

Microsoft should take note, by the way. I have no doubt that an Xbox branded "The home of multiplayer" would be extremely enticing in the next generation. Xbox doesn't just need exclusives, it needs exclusives that celebrate co-op, multiplayer and fun. In chasing its own exclusive titles, I hope the company plays to the Xbox's strengths, not Sony's.

Halo 6 is entering an empty market, only limited by 343's ability to make a great game, and Microsoft's ability to sell the next Xbox. It's my firm belief that Halo 6 will not release on the Xbox One, at least not primarily. All rumors indicate that both the next Halo and Xbox will release in 2019.

That pairing may be for the best. Halo has been derided and praised as the only reason for the Xbox's success. An obvious exaggeration to be sure, but one with a modicum of truth. Halo is the type of game that sells the type of console the Xbox has succeeded at being: the home of online multiplayer.

Conversely, 343 Industries could read the room and help Microsoft make the call they should have made years ago: bring Halo to PC. Microsoft's Phil Spencer has indicated that Halo 6 will probably come to PC, but Microsoft has stood at the edge of obvious success and made worse calls, so this is a point worth reiterating. I won't stop saying this until I can play 'Halo 6: Dawn of the Dorito Pope' in blistering 144 hz, 8K with the FOV slider turned so wide it looks like a kaleidoscope.

I'm not saying the Xbox isn't a good host for Halo, but the PC market lacks the risks that Microsoft has fallen victim to. If Halo doesn't sell, neither does the Xbox. If the Xbox doesn't sell, neither does Halo. Microsoft can bisect that risk with the PC market.

So, if Microsoft can make a console that sells, and 343 can make a good Halo game, I have no doubt that 2019 will be the year Halo dominates the market. Throw in a sufficiently glorious PC port and it might succeed anyways. It probably won't be the same domination that Halo 3 saw on launch; few games ever will again. But it has every advantage tilted in its favor.

#Halo #Bungie #343Industries