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[In this interview, 343 Industries franchise development director Frank O'Connor explains the path forward for Microsoft's platform-defining mega-franchise Halo, including its organic growth into a transmedia powerhouse and what the passing of the torch from Bungie really means.]
The Halo franchise can quite literally be thanked for growing the Xbox platform into what it is today. While plenty of right moves have been made by Microsoft, the earliest and most crucial one -- that one that made the system relevant to its original core supporters -- was signing Bungie's shooter franchise as an exclusive for the console.
When the original Xbox released in 2001, Halo: Combat Evolved was there to provide a justification for its existence in a way no other game in the first party lineup could manage.
Since then, Frank O'Connor, franchise development director for Microsoft's internal Halo studio, 343 Industries says, the series has organically grown into a transmedia powerhouse.
When it comes to outgrowths of the franchise -- books, toys, animation, and the Halo: Waypoint community hub -- "Everything has answered a question," says O'Connor.
"We're considered transmedia experts," he tells Gamasutra. But he says the solution is simply to have a quality franchise that organically grows in the directions its fans push it.
What I'm interested in is the the passing of the torch. Is Bungie completely not involved in Halo anymore?
Frank O'Connor: No, they're still involved in it. There's no literal cutoff date to where they're not going to be involved.
They're our friends, literally and allegorically. One of my best friends is Lars Bakken at Bungie, and I still hang out with all the Bungie guys. They're really committed to their fans, and their community, in the same way we are. And so when the baton is passed, and we take over stats, or we take over some business aspect, or whatever, that should just be invisible to the fans.
And I think it's going to be a gradual analog process, and eventually the endgame for Bungie is that they might still answer a question about Halo on their forums, but otherwise they'll just look fondly back at a great period of their history. And we, of course, get the luxury of looking forward to a great future for ourselves.
You guys have been pretty quiet about what your plans for the actual game franchise are from this point forward. I imagine you're putting a lot of very careful thought into that stuff.
FO: We're definitely putting a lot of very careful thought into future game projects. We're building a very large, very talented team, and we're doing an awful lot of planning. But other than that, really our focus, and this is literally true, is making sure that Reach is well-tended, and cultivated, and taken care of. Because these games have a long life, right? And the multiplayer equal system is a vital part of that, and so that's our main technical task for this year.
And I think that our main high-level task this year is to celebrate ten years of Halo with our fans, and we're going to be doing a lot of things to celebrate that, and there's going to be a lot of cool surprises in this year, and we just want to have a celebratory atmosphere. Even as that baton is passed, and that torch is passed, we want to make sure it's a happy year, and there's still a lot to talk about.
With Halo Waypoint, you guys have made a real effort in moving beyond just discreet game releases and turning it into not just a universe, but a community.
FO: Yeah, I mean, I'm franchise development director, so my job is pretty broad, and it's pretty horizontal. So I deal with everything from our novels all the way to our community stuff. So [Halo] has always historically had a really strong community, and some of that comes from, kind of, accidents.
If you think about Halo, it has a lot of cool accidents that ended up with really exciting eventualities. [For example,] if it hadn't been on Xbox, and it was mouselook, it wouldn't have [come up with a solution] for joystick controls, right? And that wouldn't be a big part of what Halo is. And if it hadn't been on Xbox, it wouldn't have solved for Xbox Live and then matchmaking wouldn't have been invented -- it would probably have been server lists, right? So there's a lot of cool things that. You know, they say "necessity is the mother of invention", and Halo is an awesome example of that kind of problem solving space.
But to go back to the community, the fact that it was only system link on Xbox 1, and yet the system link experience was so good, meant we all had that experience of piling an Xbox and a TV in our car and driving it to a friend's basement and setting up a LAN party. I hadn't done that before, and I haven't done it since, and Halo was the only game that got me energized enough to go and do that, and deal with that, and it was such an amazing social experience.
I mean, that's part of why the community gelled together so well; because they were generally interacting with real flesh-and-blood human beings, and getting together, and making friends, and meeting people through that experience. So it was unique, I think, in recent game history. Certainly a lot of board gamers can tell you a lot of similar stories, but in video games, it hasn't been repeated, I don't think.