The Halo 4 team's 'red hot poker' of community expectation
In a DICE 2013 talk in Las Vegas on Thursday, 343's Frank O'Connor and Kiki Wolfkill discussed the two massive challenges for the internal Microsoft studio, which had to both boot itself from scratch and create the next game in the storied Halo franchise - a formidable task.
Bungie veteran O'Connor, who moved across to Microsoft to work on the new team, explained that 343 needed both "to build a studio," and "to take over a beloved franchise that people had already developed a lot of… expectations for" - a particularly tricky task.
This was particularly rough because of the surprising nature of the handover for the Halo community once massed around Bungie fans & the Halo 4 transition. O'Connor quipped: "We had to take the baton.. but it was red hot when it was handed to us."
Dealing with an incredibly passionate community "with no volume control" is a massive challenge at the best of times, but given expectations for the franchise, how did 343 work with those?
O'Connor noted of Halo 4 that they had to evolve the game "in ways that mapped to our studios's talent and drive," but the team had to deal with "the resistance to change [from the fanbase], but a demand for evolution from the same part of the audience."
This tricky balancing act is one the team seem to have navigated fairly well in the end, but with a 10 year plan for the Halo franchise at 343, they've only just started. O'Connor concluded the talk by noting: "Communication [with the community] is most successful when it's a two-way process." By necessity, storytelling in books and games in the universe is the most one-way process - "people either like it or they don't".
But there are alternatives, particularly if you can survey and talk to the community on features earlier in development, O'Connor notes. Thus, 343 is building itself around a model where "you can put information out, get a reaction, and take that reaction to make good products," as much as they possibly can.