That said, it’s been a very publicly rough few weeks for Microsoft, and I can imagine some frayed nerves company-wide. First, Halo Infinite’s campaign debut at the Xbox Games Showcase was vocally criticized for not looking up to scratch to the point that developer 343 Industries acknowledged the negative reaction in an update on Halo Waypoint. Then, days later, an Irish toy retailer leaked the news that Infinite’s multiplayer component would be free to play, robbing the team of their moment to tell its full next-gen multiplayer story. Last week, meanwhile, Apple roadblocked Microsoft’s Project xCloud game streaming plans on iOS devices. After that, Xbox Series X controllers somehow found their way into regular consumers’ hands, revealing Microsoft’s long-rumored other, less-powerful next-gen console, the Xbox Series S in the process, without the fanfare Microsoft would surely have wanted.And then today we got the Halo Infinite delay.
As a longtime Halo fan, though, I actively applaud this delay, first and foremost for the physical and mental health and well-being of the hundreds of developers at 343 Industries and other support studios. From a business standpoint, Microsoft can’t afford a bad – or even just disappointing – Halo game. Not after five years, not on their next-generation console, and not after Halo 5 already wounded the franchise’s once-sterling reputation with a much-derided campaign. Remember too that Infinite will no longer go toe-to-toe with fellow juggernaut first-person shooter Call of Duty this Fall. That’s a good thing for a Halo franchise that’s looking for some space to reintroduce and reestablish itself.
And of course, for the actual game itself, 343 will now have the time to implement raytracing, arguably next-gen’s most visually obvious new feature, into the shipping version of the game. The art and tech teams will get more time to work on things they’d already wanted to improve as well as address things the public negatively reacted to following the Xbox Games Showcase. Numerous other aspects of the game we haven’t even seen yet will get added polish time. Shigeru Miyamoto’s famous adage is thrown around a lot, but it’s as true as ever: A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad. And at this point, the pressure is off as far as a launch date is concerned. What, really, is the difference between launching in March of 2021 versus May versus even, dare I say it, November 15, 2021 – the 20th anniversary of Halo?To that point, Microsoft need only look at Cyberpunk 2077 for inspiration and optimism. This Fall’s biggest title on any platform has suffered multiple publicly announced delays, and yet as CD Projekt Red’s long-gestating first-person RPG finally enters its home stretch, no one cares or is talking about the delays anymore because the game looks and plays wonderfully.
That’s not to say Microsoft is completely blameless in all of this. When you’ve spent over two years pumping up Master Chief’s comeback as the centerpiece of your new console generation’s launch and ultimately fail to deliver that, you’re going to be left with egg on your face. Is this delay an indictment of the project management skills of 343’s leadership? Maybe, and the final product will ultimately determine that, but making a AAA video game is difficult enough as it is, let alone when it’s done on a platform that’s not out yet and in the middle of a pandemic no one could’ve seen coming where everyone is forced to work remotely for the foreseeable future.
In the end, while it may be painful from a marketing and public-relations perspective, the leadership team at Xbox – and no doubt the Microsoft executives above them – are making the right decisions here for their developers and the long-term health of the Halo IP. The Series X is bigger than any one game – even Halo – and both the console and the game will be OK. We’re going to get a better Halo game out of this than we would’ve this Fall. We Halo fans have already waited five years. What’s a few more months?