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A Decade On, Halo Charts Its Course
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A Decade On, Halo Charts Its Course

May 2, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

This is sort of the place where the line between marketing and creative gets really fuzzy, and I'm interested in that. I'm not talking about the novels; I'm not talking about the games either. I'm talking about the community engagement, and getting people involved, and I'm interested in how that interface works at a Microsoft level.

FO: The funny thing is, I know exactly what you mean, in that, are you turning into a franchise machine in a sort of GI Joe fashion? And the true answer is "no." Our marketing people at Microsoft actually only market our games. Our marketing people don't work on books, or the novels, or the comics. Every single one of those products, what you might call "ancillary products", was designed to answer a specific need. Fans wanted this; fans wanted to know this story.

When we started, they were really small projects, right? And marketing could care less. They were like, "Sure, whatever you want to do," you know? But now it's a big business -- but it got to be a big business without being a part of the product cycle, and rather being almost a literally a community effort.

Where it's like, "I want a Master Chief action figure," and we went and made that happen. And, "I want to know more about this angle of the universe" or "this back story in the universe," and we just went and made it happen. Everything has answered a question.

We're literally looking at making a grunt plushie this year, and not because -- well it'll probably sell a lot and make a lot of money -- but because it's the single most-demanded item that we haven't fulfilled in the franchise history. "I want a grunt plushie!" But the weird thing is, it's the hardest core fans that want that.

So yeah, I'm not worried about that. Certainly not yet, because, bluntly speaking, 343 Industries, and the franchise, and the licensing team within our studio, handles all that stuff -- so we own it, and we own the messaging, and we own the branding, and we own the clarity of that product, and it's something we take very, very seriously.

And we've had some misses in the past -- like we had some T-shirts people hate, and that kind of thing happens. But we learn from it -- but again, we're always trying to satisfy a demand. And it's just trying to make sure that you reach a state where 100 percent of that demand is met successfully. So yeah, I don't worry about saturation, or overexposure, because all of these things are what our fans want, one way or another.

There's guys there who hate the books. "Why are you making books? Why don't you make more DLC?" You get all that. You get that in any big universe, or any big franchise, but we know why we're doing that, and we're going to stay true to that.

It's interesting to hear you say that it all meets a need. That's the big question, because obviously you see the trend towards bigger franchises becoming not just a sixty dollar SKU; there's all kinds of stuff surrounding it. You see people making deliberate efforts to make it happen in a not-organic way. You have to know the benefit in it happening organically, but it seems like your roadmap is still to try and do it as organically as possible.

FO: I've been at transmedia conferences -- because we're considered transmedia experts -- and people say, "How do you take an item and turn in a big glorious far-reaching franchise with tendrils on the New York Times bestseller list and blah blah blah blah blah?" And they're like "You guys have nailed it! How do you do it?" And the answer is, "Have an awesome thing," right? And I hate saying that, but that's the truth.

We could have had a crappy thing, and not had this franchise. Or we could have had an awesome thing and not done this organic growth that we have done, and not had it. There wasn't a master plan from the get-go. And in fact, what I just described -- which is meeting community wants and needs, and taking weird little risks here and there -- is not really a plan. But it's not exactly reactive either. We think through everything.

We try our absolute hardest to make everything work well, but there's no secret recipe. I think Avatar is a good example to me, because Avatar was a massive success, and it was a beautiful-looking movie. And for some reason, the toys, and the ancillary spinoff stuff, it just didn't take root, and you can't say why. Avatar was bigger than us, eventually, but it just didn't become a franchise. It was a one-off, and I don't know what the answer to that is.

The other thing to be concerned with is that people feel very passionately about Halo, and you have to keep the stink of crassness away from it.

FO: Yeah.

It could be fragile, because we all know how people who put their passion in something can real feel betrayed really easily.

FO: Yeah. We have hardcore fans who -- the weirdest thing is, they're, in some ways, their own worst enemies. Where the logical endgame for that level of fan rabidness, is that we never had faster-than-light travel, because of the limits of C that Einstein laid down. And it's reductive; there's a kind of reductive rabid fan that just wants answers to questions where there are no really good answers.

We have our science fiction answers, but sometimes they want a science answer. And you're like, "This is a beautiful, wonderful imaginary universe, and don't ruin it by trying to make it a clinical, dead space."

But those guys are few and far between, and even those guys can be reasoned with. You have this conversation with them and they're like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah I get it. I just want a new layer of depth. I want more and more and more." And it's because they're committed to it, because they believe it, right? And so, that's good. We should take that as a compliment.

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