There has been one truth more fundamental to the Halo franchise than any other. One property that defines it. And that’s that Halo Sells Xboxes. But what happens when Halo stops selling Xboxes? It’s a question Microsoft has to answer, because it’s about to become the case.
Let’s start with the most basic problem here, which is simply this:
The Xbox One Doesn’t Need Halo
This sounds deranged, to fanboys, but it’s a simple matter of business sense. So far, the Xbox One has moved five million units. It’s on track to crack ten million by the end of the year, a near-certainty now that there’s a $400 version of the console. By the time Halo 5: Guardians rolls around, if the pace holds steady, the Xbox One will have twenty million units sold. If things go poorly, it’ll have sold fifteen million units. The last console to do those numbers in that span of time had Pac-Man as a killer app.
It seems unlikely that Master Chief is going to move that needle by any substantial measure. Halo 4 wasn’t a failure, and moved nine million copies. But ask anybody who can read NPD numbers: It didn’t sell any Xbox 360s. By the time the first next-gen Halo game shows up, the vast majority of its audience will have shelled out for a One; truthfully a fair number of its audience has bought a One already.
You’re Going To Be Pretty Damn Sick Of Halo By Fall 2015
These games always have a ridiculous marketing push. The endorsement deals. The snack food ads. The stupid thinkpieces about the endorsement deals and the snack food ads. But Halo 5 is going to put them all to shame, because that’s when the TV series, Microsoft’s big attempt to make Halo mainstream with names like Steven Spielberg, hits Showtime.
That will likely mark the point where all but the hardcore have had enough. It’s hard to make a TV series work in the first place, and to be honest, it doesn’t really have a lot to work with. The series has never needed more than a thin excuse to shoot at the aliens (or your friends) and make them fall down, so it’s never really developed anything that makes it unique.
The “ancillary merchandise” is sturdy, one supposes, and Forward Unto Dawn is an OK future war movie. But what’s the hook for people who haven’t played, or don’t care about, the game? It seems likely the series will struggle with that. Worse, this is Microsoft’s bid to turn the Xbox One into the new Netflix. That’s a lot of weight to rest on a rather slender reed.
What’s It All Cost?
Finally, there’s the return on investment. Halo 4‘s budget has never been disclosed, although Phil Spencer admitted that when all was said and done, it was Microsoft’s most expensive game to date. It’s unlikely that a prestige game being built from the ground up as a showcase for the Xbox One is going to come in any cheaper.
The game, the TV series, and the advertising for the two of them is going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. That the game will make money isn’t in doubt, albeit the series might have a bit of a push to break even depending on how it’s received. But if the series implodes, or the game doesn’t sell an enormous number of copies, it’s going to be a disaster.
And the series is showing its age. Halo, when the fifth game comes out, will be pushing fifteen years old as a franchise. Gaming franchises rarely age well, and Halo has a problem in that it’s kept aiming squarely at fourteen-year-olds over that decade and a half. Most of the original Halo players are not still drinking neon-green soda and munching zesty corn chips, at least not without some chemical assistance. The series is in the odd position of trying to cash in on nostalgia while still being cutting edge, and that’s asking a lot.
A Series In The Past
When Halo just had to sell a lot of copies and occasionally be a flagship title, it was one thing. But Microsoft is putting far too much demand on a series that may not be able to take the strain. So, enjoy Halo 5: Guardians: It might be the last time we see the Chief.