When 343 Industries’ Halo Infinite hits Xbox and PC later this year, it will do so with free-to-play multiplayer. If you’ve played pretty much any multiplayer game in the past decade, you know that means two things. There will be micro-transactions and seasons.
I’m not here to discuss the pros and cons of micro-transactions in games. Although you might be glad to hear that Halo Infinite will not contain loot boxes. In other words, you’ll know exactly what you’ll spend your money on. By the way, it’ll probably be purely cosmetics, because 343’s Design Lead, Christopher Blohm, stated that there will be no “randomness or items that influence the sandbox and gameplay.”
That leaves us with seasons. I’m here to highlight the pros and cons of seasons, those (usually) self-contained slices of content, and sometimes narrative, that have become commonplace in modern games.
Specifically, I’m here to argue that 343 Industries makes the best kind of seasons.
A lot happens to a game between its launch and the end of its lifecycle. For the purpose of this article, and for simplicity’s sake, I’ll boil it down to two very general, but equally major events.
First, the developer supports the game. This comes in many forms. It could be patches, updates, new content such as maps, and much more. Second, players eventually begin to lose interest in the game. Whether because of burn-out, boredom, a sequel, or another interesting title, most games struggle to keep a constant player base. Keep in mind that these situations are not mutually exclusive and often overlap.
However, seasons exist to address those events. How so? It’s really quite simple.
For starters, they act as product roadmaps. As such, they allow the development and publishing teams to easily and accurately plan content updates. Of course, this was done way before seasons existed as a concept. For example, Bungie had a roadmap for Halo 3 and Infinity Ward had a roadmap for Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Seasons allow developers and publishers to market that roadmap, which is a perfect segue into my next point.
Seasons help attract new players and draw old ones back in. They are a powerful marketing tool, not to be underestimated. Let’s use Destiny 2 as an example of how a new season can bring in new players. It’s a game known for its extensive lore and mechanics and that might turn off prospective players. I mean, who wants to join a game with such an ambitious story in the middle of a season? But when Bungie announces and markets the beginning of a new chapter, many people will see that moment as a perfect jumping on point.
As for how seasons draw old players back in, let me use myself as an example. I played a lot of Modern Warfare during quarantine. Perhaps not as much as many other players, but I certainly put my fair share of time into the game. As each season went on, I inevitably grew weary of the game and dropped it. And then, just as inevitably, a new season would be announced. Spurred by appearance of the new weapons, new operators, new maps, and new skins, I would immediately boot the game up and sink many more hours into it.
When I think of seasons, there’s one huge disadvantage that immediately comes to my mind. It’s actually the key reason I sat down to write this article.
Seasons are ephemeral. They exist for however many days, weeks, or months the publisher decides, then they disappear. And when they end, most content either disappears or gets locked behind paywalls or challenges. Players who are late to a season or who don’t have as much time to dedicate to the game miss out.
FOMO, the fear of missing out, is probably among the worst feelings in the world. In a way, it makes playing a game feel like a job. You should play something because you want to play it, not because you have to put in a few hours every evening.
Beyond that, the more jaded and pessimistic individuals will argue that seasons are a development crutch and financial bonus. Simply put, that they are a way for developers to save time by shipping a not-quite-complete product and adding to it afterwards, then to charge a premium for season passes. Those individuals are sometimes correct, there’s no denying it.
Why 343 Industries Makes The Best Kind Of Seasons
With the pros and cons of seasons out of the way, we can focus on why 343 Industries currently makes the best kind seasons.
With Halo: The Master Chief Collection, 343 does something that I haven’t seen done elsewhere: you can unlock every reward from every past season at your own pace.
In other words, if you’ve never played The Master Chief Collection, you can hop on right now and unlock everything from 2019 up to the current season. Better yet, you can do so in any order. Want to chip away at a few rewards from Season 2, then work on those from Season 5? No problem, go right ahead.
In the end, 343 Industries might not make seasons that culminate into reality-shattering apocalypses or with the return of old foes, but they do something different. Something which I would argue is better in many ways. The fruits of their labor remain forever in the game for players to enjoy as their own pace, regardless of when they join the party.
We don’t know what multiplayer will look and feel like in Halo Infinite. However, we can confidently assume that 343 will implement micro-transactions and seasons. I only hope that they take what they learned with The Master Chief Collection‘s style of seasons and bring that experience to Halo Infinite.