Halo‘s a name that’s pretty much been around for as long as Microsoft have been in the home console gaming space. The very first entry, titled Halo: Combat Evolved, set the holy trinity of guns, grenades, and melee like a totem pole smack dab in the middle of gaming’s zeitgeist. Halo 2 cemented the future of online console gaming as it arrived on Xbox Live. Halo 3 pulled that onto the Xbox 360, along with the arrival of Master Chief’s helmet-covered face to the world of HD. Halo 4 waved in a new caretaker in the form of 343 Industries and Halo Online, well that’s happening.
But only if you’re in Russia.
Throughout Halo‘s lifespan of almost 14 years, there have been more than a handful of leaps into unknown spaces. During Bungie’s tenure they branched out into different narratives that took a step away from the series’ figurehead. There was even the arrival of a streamlined RTS on Xbox 360 that wasn’t half bad. The latest leap for Halo isn’t coming from a change of genre though. Oh no, it’s going to be a whole different ballgame. 343 Industries and Saber Interactive are teaming up with Russian publisher Innova Systems to put Halo Online into the hands of players.
Halo Online, which is about as imaginative a name as Kate Upton’s latest advertising bunny Game of War, is currently lumbering around Russian systems in closed beta. It doesn’t sound all bad really. The game is going to be a free to play PC only shooter, that sort of seems to be working recently. Planetside 2‘s still a thing and Crytek have seen some success in that part of the world with their shooter Warface. The use of microtransactions in Halo Online doesn’t necessarily bode well but with the prices players would be expected to pay still up in the air, any comment on this would be a little dim-witted.
Speaking of dim-witted, what seems to be utterly mesmerizing is how there are at this time no plans for the game to come to Europe or even North America. One of the biggest franchises out there in the wilds right now, and perhaps the most accessible version of the game will be locked into one country. At a glance, that’s like bringing out an Apple Watch and only making it work for left-handed users. Yeah it’s great for those who can use it, but those who cannot are filled with a sense that they’ve been jilted over something that isn’t realistically under their control.
Free to play shooters are springing up quite frequently out there in the wilds. Hell free to play games like Clash of Clans and Hearthstone often bring in more money than their retail brethren simply because more people can get a taste of the action. This is often due to what the marketing world calls “whales”. These are people who will spend many times what most people would to progress in the game, often thanks in part to a wealthy background or other circumstances. They pay over the average for their content while still enjoying the experience.
There’s a whole host of theory and economic analysis that could be done on this subject but it all boils down to a small collection of factors that make for big money. Not everyone can afford to pay $60 to play a game. Most people however can afford $5 to have a little fun. We as a species are often hesitant to part with larger denominations of wealth. Smaller things however we’re happy to buy on a whim. It’s why gum is sold at the counter rather than out in an aisle. Ten smaller payments of $5 still adds up to $50 over time, we just don’t often notice that money leaving our pockets because it’s what many would characterize as pocket change.
This monetization system could be one of the driving reasons behind Halo Online being a free to play title. That’s not to say it’s the reason the game is only coming out in Russia though. For that, we’re going to have to dig a little deeper. Maybe put on a tinfoil hat too. Better to be safe than sorry.