This is the story of how a game developer alienated one of the most prominent fan bases in gaming history. Halo 4 is one of the most successful games in console history. Almost 8 million people have purchased the game and as of February of 2013, it ranks as 4th for Xbox live activity. For any regular game, these numbers would be outstanding. But this is Halo. The community expects more from 343 than any other new developer. Halo 3 was a cultural and media event like no other. This is Halo 4; it should be even better.
Evidence of the short term failure of Halo 4 is easy to find. HaloCharts.com tracks the daily peak population among all the Halo 4 playlists. The trend is both clear and disturbing for fans of Halo. Each week, fewer and fewer players return to Halo 4. The population dropped off a cliff early when Activision released Call of Duty: Black Ops II and never recovered. Low populations beget low populations, and as fewer players enter matchmaking there will be fewer players to support playlist and fewer players to connect with in order to minimize lag. Based on my past experiences, there is no second cliff nor a resurgance. The death of an on-line community is a slow inevitability.
Representatives of 343 have been less than apologetic admitting some mistakes but ultimately concluding that “. . . for a first efferot, it wasn’t half bad.” 343 runs a forum for the Halo community – an outreach program pioneered by 343’s predecessor – and the community is vociferous in its complaints. The number one controversy is weapons balance, particularly the awesome power of two weapons, the Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR) and the Bolt Shot. The number two complaint is the quality of the maps. 343 filled all of the maps with bases to support the new Dominion game type and plenty of boulders to provide cover. The Dominion game type is one of the least popular on Halo 4. Comparing the Dominion playlist population to most popular playlist, Big Team Infinity Slayer, shows how bad of a bet this was for 343. All the bases 343 made for the Dominion are but clutter in Big Team games. Even more telling, the most popular map by far is a remake of a 2007 map made for Halo 3 and of course does not support Dominion. Worse, the map making tools that has come with Halo since 2007 have been neutered by 343. There are no easy fixes for the community’s complaints.
343 has made the situation worse by alienating the community. The first paid map pack released for Halo 4 came a month after release, meaning the maps could have been released with the game and none of the maps reflect concerns by the community. Worse, due to an error on the part of 343, the paid map pack was released for free. 343 responded by concocting a fake “14 day buy and play” promotion and deactivating downloaded content on players consoles. Then in February, 343 required a second map pack purchase to play a popular game type the community had been asking for since Halo 4’s release. The long sought game type is a free-for-all deathmatch that harkens back to the original first person shooters from the early 1990s. Halo 4 is the first game in the Halo series to require additional paid content to play free-for-all deathmatch..
The community is dumbfounded by 343’s behavior. Halo 4 is objectively a great game; the Metacritic score is 87% positive. The multiplayer population hit 400,000 players during the first weak of Halo 4’s release. Despite a good number of Die hard fans who refuse to stop playing, this is a war of attrition. 343 has done nothing to acknowledge player concerns or slow the steady drop in mulitplayer population. They are the proverbial Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burns. In this analogy, the fiddle is paid map packs and Rome is one of the most successful media franchises of all time.