Microsoft announced “Halo 4” at their press conference June 6 at E3, nearly nine months after “Halo: Reach” launched on the 360. The minute-and-a-half trailer left more questions than answers themselves. Among those questions one in particular begs to be asked: is Microsoft trying to salvage their first real mascot from the figurative grave?
Since “Halo: Combat Evolved” debuted in 2001 Master Chief has been the major face of Microsoft’s gaming endeavor: The Xbox. Heck, besides the third party titles that launch across all platforms, Halo games were really the only titles heavily advertised by Microsoft. It isn’t even a far cry from the truth to say that Master Chief has become the face of the Xbox console just as much as Mario and Link have for Nintendo and Sonic has for Sega. According to sales figures over the past 10 years Halo titles have sold 42.39 million copies and most of the titles have placed no lower than the top 15 (“Halo Wars” being the exception, placing 57th) on the all-time Xbox and Xbox360 sales charts. Furthermore, of those titles, a majority of them placed in the top five.
When presented with these numbers, it really wouldn’t be surprising if Halo 4 and the subsequent two games in the trilogy really is an attempt to give Microsoft three more titles (roughly 5 more years) with their figurehead supersoldier. Without treading too much on the “when is it too much?” argument presented by Lindsey in her article “Final Fantasy: When is it Time to Call it Quits?” in regards to the Halo franchise, I’ll ask it another way: are Halo fans willing to jump headfirst into a new chapter in the Halo series in which Bungie has no involvement? For those of you who weren’t aware, Bungie–who developed every Halo game up to Reach–is not involved with Halo 4, rather Microsoft’s in-house development studio and Microsoft Studio’s subsidiary: 343 Industries (though they practically worked alongside Bungie since 2009).
Will this impact the quality of the game? It’s honestly impossible to say considering all we’ve seen of Halo 4 is a cut-scene trailer. So it really just comes down to the many questions flying around the inside of our heads like debris in a exploding space ship (see what I did there?). For instance: will this extra exposure be a blessing to the gaming world, or will lead to the Halo series tanking faster than Mr. Caffeine’s jokes at Ubisoft’s press show at E3?
Of course, with all the uncertainty surrounding Halo 4 there is a more underlying question: do Microsoft and the Xbox really need a mascot to continue doing well? Not necessarily, after all, Sony does respectably well in the market and they don’t have set mascots that have persisted throughout the gaming generations like Konami, Ubisoft or Nintendo have.
On the other hand it is the success Mario and Pokemon games have had (selling 6 and 2 copies respectively on the top 15 all-time sales chart according to VGChartz.com) that present a strong argument for the “have mascot will sell big” argument. Of course, the latter argument makes the most sense, because Microsoft really wants more money and Halo is always a surefire way to rake that in from the longtime Halo fans looking for a few last huzzahs into the depths of space (or multiplayer) to save mankind (or faceroll people).
At any rate–regardless of whether or not Microsoft is trying to salvage Master Chief as a mascot–let’s just hope that Microsoft doesn’t do what Nintendo did to Mario in the mid to late 90s and start putting Master Chief in educational games and selling off the permissions to lackluster titles. Master Chief can kick some extra-terrestrial posterior, but I can’t really imagine him teaching kindergarten kids how to type or go back in time to rescue Cortana and teaching players history along the way.