What Can 343 Industries Do To Make Things Right With Fans?

Halo Master Chief CollectionLast week, as I mentioned in the weekly news recap, 343 Industries studio head Bonnie Ross released her own statement on the state of Halo: The Master Chief Collection. While the statement didn’t really offer up much in the way of specifics, the focal point seemed to be this idea that 343i will “make it right” to Halo fans after this debacle. They’ve said something similar to this in a couple of the most recent statements, and it’s got me and my group of friends thinking about just what they can do. Since we haven’t heard anything from 343i this week yet, and I’ve been enjoying playing Halo when I can manage to find games, I thought I’d talk a little bit about what I think 343i could do to “make it right.”

Halo 5 Guardians

The first thing to look at is whether 343i is talking about making it right with MCC or if they are speaking in broader terms moving forward with Halo 5: Guardians. I think the beta coming out around Christmas might be even more important than ever before – not only from the backend side of things, but from a public perspective standpoint as well. I think no matter what their plan is, they have to look at the beta’s original plan and adjust it. I would extend it a week or two, mainly because the issues in MCC may have dropped the numbers too much – they need to have a strong Christmas showing in order to really populate the beta. Extending it would both help 343i hopefully have a more stable launch, although I think calling it a beta is a little odd since there’s no way it’s coming out before the fall. If they extend the beta, there’s also the potential to add more content into the beta.

Halo 2

The other likely option that 343i could go with is adding content to MCC. Since that title is the cause of all these issues, I think this is a more likely option. As for what they can do to “make it right” I think they really have two or three good choices. First – they add in Halo: Reach to the collection’s multiplayer side of things. While Reach isn’t really a Master Chief game, the multiplayer has a bunch of good maps, as well as good Forge content. I think it would fit in well, since Halo 4 took a lot from Reach‘s multiplayer. The second option I think is adding in Firefight/Spartan Ops as another co-op option. I don’t know quite what this would entail, but I think that it would be pretty fun to do – especially if they add in Firefight for Halo 2: Anniversary. Finally, they could take other Halo 2 maps and update them to the Anniversary engine. There are plenty of worthy maps – Midship, Turf, Headlong and Beaver Creek all jump to mind right away. I think this is probably the most likely of their options, the framework is already in the game, it would just be a matter of building the maps – no different than a normal map pack.

The most important aspect of all this though is that if they do go with adding something to Master Chief Collection, I think it has to be free content. Maybe they can go about charging for it for people that didn’t buy the game at launch, but those of us that have been dealing with all the issues in the game since day one, I don’t know that 343i could take the public relations hit for charging more. I would think that it’s in Microsoft’s best interest to make this as close to what the fans are asking for as possible too, since Halo is traditionally their breadwinner. It’s been a series that moves consoles in the past – and the idea that Master Chief Collection is going to be one as well is really in jeopardy right now. We’re right in the Christmas shopping season now, and to have Microsoft’s biggest and best franchise in dire straights right now is the worst thing that Microsoft could have going. Sony has tied their horse to Destiny – which has had its own issues, albeit far less serious on a gameplay front – and with “The Dark Below” coming next week, that looks to be the better option. We’ll see exactly what 343 Industries does going forward, but regardless of their next move, they are far from out of the woods yet.

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Destiny, Call of Duty and Halo’s Online Status – November 20, 2014

Destiny The Dark BelowThis has been an interesting week for the new “big three” of online shooters. All three – Destiny, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and Halo: The Master Chief Collection – either have already gotten, or will get today, a pretty substantial patch. Destiny’s dropped early on in the week – this is the first in a series of planned patches to prepare for the first Expansion, “The Dark Below” on December 9. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare got an update yesterday that addressed a number of multiplayer specific issues, which is at least the second patch that is based around connection issues online in as many weeks. Finally, the Halo: The Master Chief Collection is getting a pretty loaded patch at some point this afternoon. The patch notes – which I was just harping on the other day – were released this morning in advance of the actual install of the patch. Based on what they released, this patch should really make playing it online an actual option now.

Advanced Warfare Cover

With all the patches, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a look at each game’s current status online. Let’s start with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – it’s only been out for three weeks, but has already gotten a number of patches. Typically with Call of Duty games, the patches address weapon balance issues as well as spawn location fixes, to go along with map exploits. But because of a rather rocky launch, these first few weeks have been filled with patches to improve the connectivity of the game. Admittedly, since Halo released, I have been playing more of that, but I did dive back in to some Call of Duty yesterday – and I can say that the game definitely plays much smoother than it did even last week. I think now the game is finally to a stable enough point where Sledgehammer Games can start looking at those other issues – the weapons I think definitely need a bit of a re-balance, as do the spawns. I had a game last night on Greenband where I spawned directly below an enemy – twice – in a Hardcore TDM game. I had similar spawns on Instinct as well. You can’t have that for long, or the online game suffers as a whole. I have faith in Sledgehammer, based around how well they’ve handled these first three weeks, that they’ll get things under control.

Destiny

As for Destiny, the patches at this point tend to have less to do with connection issues, and more to do with in-game tweaks and additions. Bungie can have patches focused around this now, thanks to the game’s launching two full months ago. They’ve used their time with the game well – the connections are stable, a lot of the exploits have been addressed, and for the most part, the game is about as complete as they can get it. This most recent patch accomplished a few things – primarily, it laid the framework for the upcoming DLC, “The Dark Below.” New geometry was placed, both in story missions to prevent leaving the world, as well as in Crucible maps to fix some exploits. Other additions were small, but I think they add a lot – there’s now a preview for shaders, as well as emblems, the customization vendor now sells more shaders, and players can hold up to 10 total bounties now, which is a little touch, but really helps. The other big Destiny item for this week is the return of the Iron Banner. Much was made of the fact that the Iron Banner wasn’t quite what they had said it would be – Bungie took that to heart, and went back to the drawing board. They’ve come back with a set-up that actually takes stats into account to a larger extent; five ranks of reputation to go through, and gear that is actually worth building up to get; as well as a new buff that makes it easier for players to get rep later in the week. It’s a step in the right direction for these timed events; I’m more curious to see how they approach the story based ones though.

Halo Master Chief Collection

Finally, we get to Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Oh boy, where to begin – the fact that matchmaking has basically been unplayable since launch? Or that even in private lobbies, playing Custom Games (which are always fun in Halo, even 13 years later) is a major chore? I could start with the UI issues involving the Roster not showing my friends as playing the game, even when I know for a fact they are. There are plenty of issues to deal with – so many that it worries me about how they may even impact Halo 5: Guardians. Luckily, 343 Industries acted pretty quickly, putting a server side patch up last week that they say helped; and at the same time coming up with a pretty substantial patch for this week. Today, that bigger patch drops – and man, those patch notes are pretty encouraging. From the looks of things, this patch is pretty much totally focused around getting matchmaking to work, keeping parties together during and after games, and making the UI functional for joining friends. There are a couple of other little things in the patch like fixing the player cards and emblems from resetting after games, as well as some achievement tweaks, but in general, this is a patch that is based around getting the game working online as fast as possible. If it works, we could start seeing more playlist hoppers open, along with the competitive series starting. If not, than I really think 343 is in trouble – the Holiday buying season is here, and if their game isn’t working, people will pass it up for other games this Holiday.

Lessons We Can Learn From The Master Chief Collection’s Launch

Halo Master Chief CollectionToday marks one week since the launch of Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and I don’t know that they could have envisioned a rockier launch week. While the content of the game is there, and there’s plenty of stuff to be excited about, the fact that online matchmaking is essentially unplayable right now is inexcusable. It’s a major part of the Halo experience, and it’s been rendered useless by the server issues. I appreciate that 343 is dealing with it, but I could go with more transparency on their end. As of today, all we know is that the new patch that was supposed to drop tomorrow has been pushed back to “later this week.” That’s about the extent of what we know – the latest post in the support thread just says that patch will include “a variety of fixes across the title, including Matchmaking performance issues, general UI and game stability improvements, as well as fixes for game-specific issues in Halo: CE, Halo 2, and Halo 2: Anniversary, and more.” The full patch notes will be posted in advance of it actually launching, but I would still have liked to see a few more specifics as to what issues for Matchmaking are being fixed.

Compare that with the launch of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – which also didn’t have a smooth launch. Sledgehammer and Activision within that launch week took a proactive approach to dealing with it, and had an initial patch out within a week, complete with patch notes. It’s still not quite up to snuff, but it’s getting closer. Now, I don’t know exactly how much of a direct comparison we can make, since the Master Chief Collection does have four different games in it, at least as it extends to the nuts and bolts of the servers; but where we can look at the two situations is how the studios have handled their issues. Both have been up front acknowledging their issues, which they really needed to. I think Sledgehammer may have been more prepared for issues though – it’s important to remember that this is really only 343 Industries’ second go around with Halo. I think the hype for this game was way higher than it was for Halo 4, just because of the nostalgia factor – as well as the value of four games for $60.

Halo 2 Lockout

I don’t think it’s particularly outside the realm of possibility to think that they underestimated just how many people would be playing at launch – which seems to be a pretty standard problem these days. Looking back – Battlefield 4 had a similar launch, Destiny wasn’t perfectly stable at launch and now we get to Master Chief Collection and Advanced Warfare. Two of those games even had pre-launch betas. Granted Destiny‘s launch was by far the smoothest of them, but still – I’m continually surprised when Call of Duty doesn’t have a beta. Halo had one for Halo 3, Reach and I believe Halo 4, but nothing for the Collection – I’m not totally sure exactly how they could have had a beta for the Collection, but there must be some way to test the servers pre-launch.

Ultimately, I don’t know exactly what impact this rough launch will have on the Halo series moving forward. It’s still a great game – the nice thing is that the campaigns of the four games are all really strong, so there’s still plenty to do; the Halo community is so strong that it hasn’t been hard to find people to load up lobbies for Custom Games to pass the time. My biggest concern is that because of the issues, people are leaving the game behind – there are tons of awesome games out right now after all. As such, I worry that Halo 5: Guardians might suffer – the beta that comes with the Master Chief Collection needs to be really strong now to help cover the problems. I honestly want to see 343 own up to it and maybe offer some more of the Anniversary maps updates as free DLC down the road – there are plenty of awesome Halo 2 maps that deserve updated takes. At the end of the day, the Master Chief Collection will have to deal with this rocky launch, and I think it serves as notice to developers to always err on the side of more servers needed – but then, this isn’t a new issue. I think a game to look to is Evolve as for how to approach a launch – they’ve already had two Alphas, they have a planned Beta after the Holidays in advance of a February launch. If it has a smooth launch, I think that those pre-launch events can easily be seen as the reason for it.