Halo developer 343 Industries says Master Chief and Cortana are staying under its roof, but reports of deep cuts to Halo's development staff calls into question the studio's ability to sustainably develop future Halo content.
This saga began last week, when we learned that the Halo studio was impacted by Microsoft's plans to lay off 10,000 people. Since the news broke, speculation has run rampant about Microsoft's plans for its flagship franchise, including rumors that Microsoft could pass Halo development to another studio entirely, leaving 343 Industries in more of a producer role. These rumors prompted 343 Industries to speak out over the weekend to put the rumblings to rest.
343 Industries' studio head Pierre Hintze shared a message on Halo's official Twitter account, writing, "Halo and Master Chief are here to stay. 343 Industries will continue to develop Halo now and in the future, including epic stories, multiplayer, and more of what makes Halo great."
— Halo (@Halo) January 21, 2023
But for a studio that has struggled to meet Halo Infinite release dates multiple times, can the recently downsized 343 continue to handle development of a big-budget, AAA first-person shooter franchise? It's hard to say.
IGN reached out to Xbox's representatives, but did not receive comment ahead of publication.
IGN has learned that significant cuts have been made to 343's Halo development team. One former 343 employee impacted by the layoffs estimated about a quarter of 343's staff was impacted, although that's not a firm statistic. We've also learned that around 30 people were let go from 343's art department alone, with former employees saying 343 Industries was hit "hard with positions impacted across all disciplines."
Meanwhile, at least one senior-level source with knowledge of 343's internal workings, but who is no longer with the studio, has claimed to IGN that it is being reduced to to publishing team. However, based on conversations that IGN has had with knowledgeable sources, the situation at 343 appears to be ongoing, and there is a growing — if unconfirmed — conviction that 343 will no longer be Halo's sole developer when it's settled.
Looking through LinkedIn profiles of other laid-off employees reveals hits to folks working on Halo Infinite's engine, presentation, VFX, gameplay, game design, and more essential departments. It's clear that 343 is a significantly different studio compared to just seven days ago. In addition, 343 Industries was already dealing with the growing pains of launching a live service game, with a whirlwind of highs and lows over the last year since Halo Infinite's initial release.
Despite a strong launch at the end of 2021 that included praise for both Infinite's fresh take on a Halo campaign and the franchise's first-ever free-to-play multiplayer, the cracks quickly started to show. Fans instantly pushed back against Infinite's controversial multiplayer progression system, as 343 scrambled to fix the shop and battle pass.
Halo Games in Chronological Order
But the problems didn't stop there, with the cancellation of split-screen co-op, lengthy delays to Forge Mode, and long content droughts during Halo Infinite's first Seasons. Just five months after what appeared to be the start of Halo's big comeback, the community was out of patience.
Patrick Wren, a former senior multiplayer designer now working on Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, was unsparing in his assessment of 343's leadership in a post on Twitter.
"The layoffs at 343 shouldn't have happened and Halo Infinite should be in a better state. The reason for both of those things is incompetent leadership up top during Halo Infinite development causing massive stress on those working hard to make Halo the best it can be," Wren wrote.
The layoffs at 343 shouldn't have happened and Halo Infinite should be in a better state. The reason for both of those things is incompetent leadership up top during Halo Infinite development causing massive stress on those working hard to make Halo the best it can be.
— Patrick Wren (@Witdarkstar) January 19, 2023
Along with those departures, 343 is facing another creative void at the top, with Halo Infinite director Joseph Staten leaving 343 to rejoin Xbox publishing. Staten's return to Halo was always designed to be a temporary arrangement, but his departure is still causing concerns among the Halo faithful.
Regardless of what happens with Halo in the future, it's clear that the initial 10-year plan for Halo Infinite isn't playing out exactly as Microsoft had hoped. For now, Halo Infinite Season 3: Echoes Within is still set to kick off in early March, adding new maps, modes, and weapons to the game.
Additional reporting by Kat Bailey.
Logan Plant is a freelance writer for IGN covering video game and entertainment news. He has over six years of experience in the gaming industry with bylines at IGN, Nintendo Wire, Switch Player Magazine, and Lifewire. Find him on Twitter @LoganJPlant.