Halo has gone Free-to-Play, and with that change comes a micro-transaction system. This article is not about hating on micro-transactions. Instead, this is about how 343 Industries attempted to bridge a 20-year franchise with no historical micro-transaction system into a nearly-complete Free-to-Play model, excluding campaign content.
While Halo Infinite is undoubtedly a fun game, this gamer feels as though the developers may have shot themselves in the foot with some of the changes.
For the few who may not be aware, free-to-play games shift the financial responsibility from all players to some players. This model assumes risk in that the company assumes there will be enough players who make purchases to support the game and its developers. If a free-to-play game loses its player base, it has no way of generating income from player purchases and is therefore unable to support itself. The problem occurs if there are players, but the store simply isn't inviting enough to drive players to purchase things - in either case, if a free-to-play game loses its source of income, it has no means to support itself.
I'm not an industry expert by any stretch of the imagination. With that said, I've played way more F2P games than I care to admit and have made some observations over the years. It seems to me that the goals of good free-to-play games are loosely based on the following tenants:
- Players cannot purchase competitive advantages (the "golden rule")
- Content must cater to free and paying players alike
- Paid content can occasionally be unlocked for "free"
- Free, skill-based unlocks
There are definitely more concepts that could be added to this list, but most would simply be more-specific variations of the rules above. There are many free-to-play games out that don't fully-adhere to this list and some of them demonstrate moderate success. But, undoubtedly, none of them violate rule #1.
Some games in the past have allowed players to purchase advantages and it always results in community anger - such purchases make a game "pay to win" and no sane person wants that. These games served as the examples for their successors on "what not to do". In general, most free-to-play games these days follow at least that rule.
Historically, Halo games were not free-to-play games. They followed the more-traditional model of charging a base retail price and included all aspects of the game within that purchase. For Halo, this means that player customization options have always been available to any player at no extra charge.
This fact presented a challenge for 343 Industries' plan to convert Halo into a free-to-play model: what should the store offerings look like for a game franchise where players expect there to be rich, free customization?
As many of us know, 343 Industries did release a solution, but one that was not well-received by most franchise veterans that I've spoken with.
Halo is a unique game franchise in that its model has remained relatively unchanged since its inception. If you've played Halo since the Combat Evolved days, you will likely be comfortable and familiar with the experience in Halo Infinite as well - the model "just works".
With that said, that fact also sets the Halo franchise in a category of its own. Each release mostly added content to the previous title's offerings. There were always some exceptions, but in general, each new title of Halo added new armor styles, game modes, maps, campaigns, and more.
And then, Halo Infinite was released.
In my opinion, the last thing any game franchise should do is take existing, "free" content and put it behind a paywall; this is exactly what 343 Industries did with Halo Infinite. The argument could be made that the change needed to happen in order to facilitate the free-to-play model. And, to some extent, that's true.
However, if you look at industry competition, such as Call of Duty, you'd see that it is indeed possible to shift to a free-to-play model without gutting core, "free" concepts. In the case of Call of Duty is their skill-based weapon skins. I'm not as well-versed with Call of Duty as I am with Halo, but I do know enough to know that their weapon skin unlock system has only improved over the years; this is true even now that they have shifted to a free-to-play model. Keeping this system in place ensured that free players still have a sense of ownership over their progress in-game (among the other solutions they put in place for free players). I've seen plenty of paid skins in-game to know that their store appears to be doing just fine, regardless of having "freebies" in place. Players appreciate being appreciated, and even if the player doesn't use freebies, I'd be willing to bet paying players are just a little more likely to pay if they feel the game appreciates them.
Halo Infinite completely removed the old customization system; while it's certain some things would have to change in order to support the shift to the free-to-play model, it feels like they may have gone a step (or several) too far.
This is where I would have focused my efforts while designing a micro-transaction system. However, I would not have put "old" armor behind a paywall, nor would I have removed the ability to mix-and-match.
As someone who has dabbled in 3D modeling, I know enough to know that that shit is hard. So I understand wanting to put a price tag on hard work. However, the old armor models did not need to be re-created from scratch, so it really didn't make sense to restrict this armor so heavily in Infinite.
What 343 Industries should have done, in my opinion, is to release all "old" armor as the base "armor palette" that players can mix-and-match from. From there, they could fund a small team of 3D modelers whose sole job is creating new armor models for new armor sets that can be put behind a paywall since it's new. The more new armor types that get released, the more dynamic players can make their armor (but only if mix-and-match is allowed).
Aside from making the players feel "ripped off", re-hashing old content as unlocks makes the player feel as though said unlocks are "stale" before you ever get them. Speaking from experience, I don't care about the majority of the battle pass unlocks, and that sentiment appears to be shared among many in the community.
Would you like to freely change the color of your armor? Me too. But 343 Industries gutted that, too. In fact, this is my biggest complaint with the customization overhaul so far.
They have removed the old primary/secondary/tertiary color system in favor of an "Armor Coating" system. Under the new system, players have to buy color combinations that are locked to specific armor cores. This means players are effectively forced to pay for the same colors several times if they want to have it available on multiple armor cores. But hey, at least the color wheels are named differently, despite having the same color palette - so that's something.
This change is, by far, the dumbest decision made by 343 Industries. I'm sure not everyone there was on board with this decisions given the sheer terribleness of it. Had they kept the old color system in place, it would have made it just a little easier for them to adhere to the "millions of customization options" they promised on launch. For a while, the options seemed limited to swollen samurai or Pepsi.
I realize that this decision was made because they need to have some way to generate revenue from the game. However, I feel they should have kept the old color system in place and instead allowed players to purchase new paint types. This would be similar to how Rocket League does their paints where there are a variety of different paint effects.
It would have made much more sense to allow players to purchase new paint types to use within the old coloring system. The potential for sales there is undoubtedly more limited since you probably can't make as many paint types as you can make different color combinations, but here's my counter: nobody wants to pay money for simple color combinations, especially not multiple times over. It's just not a satisfying purchase.
Most free-to-play shooter games have figured out that you can churn out new weapon skins as one of the easiest means to generate "new content". There is no need to create a new model in most cases, so it's really just a matter of having a graphical designer take a crack at making a new design. While it's certainly not "effort-free", it's undoubtedly far easier than having to create entirely new models. Some games will modify weapon meshes for higher-tier unlocks; if done correctly, these weapon skins are some of the most highly-sought after (meaning, players will buy them and compensate the devs for their effort).
Halo Infinite does have some weapon skins available, but at the time this article was written, the offerings feel a bit sparse. Additionally, there aren't any "free" weapon skins for players to unlock. The only skins that don't require a direct purchase are the skins you can unlock in campaign (but that requires you to buy campaign).
With that said, some of the weapon skins that 343 has released so far look pretty damn cool. I just wish there were more of them, and that they meant something other than "I paid $9.99 for this". For example, if I see someone in Call of Duty with a diamond skin, I can safely assume 2 things - 1) they are very experienced with that weapon class and 2) they play way more than I do. There is nothing like that in Halo Infinite - unlocks mean nothing but money at the moment, and I really hope that changes.
Aside from what's already been said of weapon skins, vehicle skins are probably a bit less reliable of a source of income for Halo Infinite. Don't get me wrong, I am all for having additional customization content. The issue is that not all game modes feature vehicles, so there's less incentive for players to purchase those skins. There simply isn't enough opportunity to show off your customization.
Fortunately for the community, the Halo Infinite developers appear, to some extent, to be listening to player feedback. They've already stated they intend to reduce store prices as well as give players a way to unlock game currency for free.
However, the responses they have given appear to indicate that they are locked into the current micro-transaction system. The only changes they have made to date are largely simple price changes and some package re-works. While these actions do show they have some intention to respond to community feedback, I still personally feel they have a long way to go before things truly improve. Until then, I can't see myself making any purchases in the current store implementation. It's just too restrictive for me.