No, Halo Infinite Is Not Trying To Force You To Buy Challenge Swaps

Before the Halo subreddit got put on lockdown this past weekend thanks to a surge in toxicity and vitriol towards the developers, community director Brian Jarrard, aka Ske7ch, posted a lengthy reply to a post that was critical of the playlist options. Jarrard provided some great insight into the playlist development process while also addressing concerns about monetization, Challenge Swaps, and the free-to-play model. The post was taken rather poorly by Redditors—hence the lockdown—even though Jarrard acknowledged everything people are upset about and explained that the team is in the process of fixing them.

Even now that the lockdown has ended, the top posts on the subreddit are still dissecting and debating Jarrard’s words, intent on finding lies and inconsistencies that just aren’t there. As Jarrard has already admitted, 343 Industries has a lot of problems to solve, but the way some people are vilifying the studio over poor design decisions feels like a bit much. Underlying this vitriol seems to be a general misunderstanding of monetization and game development, which have led people to some pretty wild conspiracies, so now is a good time to take a step back and reevaluate what exactly we’re fighting for.

Related: Oddball Doesn’t Suck, It’s Just Poorly Incentivized

The big controversy surrounding Halo Infinite last weekend has been about the playlist options and the perception that game mode options are informed by 343’s need to monetize Halo via Challenge Swaps. Since launch, the only playlist options have been Quick Play, Big Team Battle, Ranked, and the event playlist Fiesta. On Friday, Halo community manager John Junyszek tweeted that Fiesta, Tactical Slayer, and Free-For-All playlists are in development, and players should expect them before the end of the year. The new playlist options have been received by the community as a step in the right direction, but like many of the changes made to Halo so far, don’t quite fix the problem.

In past Halo games, there has always been a wide selection of playlists to choose from, such as a Slayer-only playlist for people who want to avoid objective-based game modes. Many expected the same variety in Halo Infinite and were disappointed to find only a few options. Not only is the lack of options frustrating players, but it's extremely difficult to complete mode-specific challenges when you don’t have any control over what mode you’re playing. As Jarrard himself wrote in the post, “I did not really enjoy having to grind through 20+ games of Quick Play to hopefully get Oddball so I could hopefully win 3 times to complete a challenge.” These are the problems 343 needs to fix, and this is the community director acknowledging those problems.

For some reason, that isn’t good enough for some. Angry players on Reddit and Twitter have decided that the decision to limit playlists was motivated by the need to sell challenge swaps. The thinking is that by making mode-specific challenges a frustrating chore, 343 can drive players to shop where they can purchase Challenge Swaps and replace annoying challenges with easier ones. The reason Infinite doesn’t have a Slayer-only playlist, they’ve reasoned, is because 343 needs to to be trapped in a variety playlist where we’ll be more likely to buy Challenge Swaps to overcome difficult challenges.

The problem with this theory is that it contradicts everything we know about the psychology of monetization in games. People like to spend money on microtransactions when they’re having fun. If you play a game regularly and enjoy it, it's easy to justify spending $10-20 on cosmetics and consumables. People don’t spend money when they’re having a bad experience—they just stop playing the game. The game industry learned this lesson years ago. It’s why “Pride and Accomplishment” is a meme and Battlefront 2 made sweeping changes to progression and monetization just one week after launch. It’s why you can make smooth, well-paced progress through Assassin’s Creed Valhalla without having to buy a permanent XP boost like you did in Odyssey. Everyone knows you can’t design a problem and sell players the solution, including 343. The challenges are poorly designed in their current form, as Jarrard acknowledged, but that doesn’t mean they’re predatory. Notice how he said he didn’t enjoy grinding 20 games, not that he didn’t enjoy having to buy Challenge Swaps.

But don’t just take my word for it, Jarrard made this perfectly clear in his Reddit post. “As far as the notion of this all being a ploy to force challenge swap—it just isn’t,” he wrote. “I don’t expect everyone to believe that, but while we may not agree with the playlist selections and approach, I’m just going to say again [that] ‘making players have no control and have to use swaps’ has never once been a thing I’ve heard. Ever.”

It doesn’t get any clearer than that, but people still seemed to be convinced that Challenge Swaps and microtransactions are the reason behind the playlist decisions, and that Jarrard is a liar. But why? He said the challenges are not good and they’re going to be fixed, and he also explained that the team is working on a Slayer playlist, so what else do you want from them? We’ve offered feedback, that feedback has been received, and promises have been made, so what more is there to get from this? The game has been live for three weeks, and I think the studio is allowed some time to make changes.

The continued discourse at this point feels like nothing more than entitlement to me. Do you want to know the name of the developer that created the Oddball challenges so they can apologize to you personally? The how and why behind 343’s decisions are really none of our business. The reality is that every playlist they add fractures the player base and risks creating unhealthy queues with long wait times. This is a big problem for every online game, and 343 has to be careful about how it implements playlists—especially a Slayer-only playlist—because it will have a huge impact on the viability of the other game modes. Jarrard explained all of this in the post, but for some reason people still aren’t satisfied by the explanation.

There’s an armchair developer in all of us that thinks we know better, but that mentality has taken hold of the Halo community in a destructive way. If these same problems persist six months from now, then it will be appropriate to criticize 343 for being dishonest and mismanaging the game, but I just don’t see that happening. The studio has already made two massive changes to the XP system, and the comms team has promised that more changes are in the works. The team seems to be taking feedback and evaluating their data quickly while communicating frequently and setting expectations for the future. We’re never going to be privy to the entire process or consulted on every decision that gets made, nor should we be. Our job is to point out the things we don’t like, and it's their job to (hopefully) fix those things. Getting caught up in the perceived intentionality behind the things we don’t like isn’t constructive, particularly when they haven’t even had the chance to fix the problem. The transparency that Halo’s community team is offering us is rare, unfortunately, so let’s not squander it by treating the devs like villains.

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