Of all the Microsoft teams caught in the blast radius of mass layoffs announced yesterday, it’s possible Halo Infinite maker 343 Industries was among the worst hit. The studio has faced a wave of departures following Halo Infinite’s multiplayer struggles, and the new cuts have sparked strong criticism of those who managed it into this mess in the first place.
“The layoffs at 343 shouldn’t have happened and Halo Infinite should be in a better state,” former Halo Infinite multiplayer designer, Patrick Wren, tweeted Wednesday night. “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.”
It’s no secret at this point that Halo Infinite faced a tumultuous development cycle, from a constantly rotating cast of directors to long delays after a gameplay reveal was pilloried online for its rough-looking graphics. Former studio leads have also previously hinted at periods of crunch on the project, while a Bloomberg report detailed developers’ struggles with the game’s engine and problems with Microsoft’s reliance on contract workers who constantly filtered out of the studio rather than full-time staff. “The contract stuff is a whole other can of worms that pisses me off,” Wren tweeted last night. “So many amazing people and talent that just disappeared.”
It’s extremely rare for game developers to speak candidly about the issues they’ve witnessed on past projects, let alone share their opinions openly about how a team or studio was managed. Wren, who left 343 Industries just before Halo Infinite’s launch in 2021, went on to praise his former colleagues and their efforts to deliver on the full promise of the game’s multiplayer.
“The people I worked every day with were passionate about Halo and wanted to make something great for the fans,” he tweeted. “hey helped push for a better Halo and got laid off for it. Devs still there are working hard on that dream. Look at Forge. Be kind to them during this awful time.”
The harsh criticism came after Microsoft announced 10,000 jobs would be cut across the tech giant’s operations, including gaming, despite reporting “record results” last year, including $83 billion in operating income. As reports from Kotaku and others poured in that Xbox studios ranging from The Coalition to Bethesda were caught up in the layoffs, it became clear as the day progressed that 343 Industries was facing especially brutal cuts as many developers on Halo Infinite, including some very senior ones, shared the news on on social media that they’d been impacted.
Even prior to yesterday’s layoffs, 343 Industries has been facing wave after wave of high level departures as Halo Infinite struggled to ship new seasonal updates and features on time. The most notable was studio head Bonnie Ross’ departure last September. More recently, multiplayer director and longtime Halo veteran Tom French revealed he was leaving in December. And yesterday, amid the chaos, Bloomberg reported that director and longtime Halo writer, Joseph Staten, was headed to the Xbox publishing side of the business as the studio made the “difficult decision to restructure.”
Even more unfortunate, this latest setback for the studio comes on the heels of a rare bright spot in Halo Infinite’s post-launch live service campaign: the Forge creator mode. Following the cancellation of split-screen coop, many fans saw it as an opportunity to save the game by allowing players to make their maps and modes. And so they have, with creations inspired by everything from The Elder Scrolls IV: Skyrim to Pokémon. It’s the most positive some Halo Infinite players have felt since launch but just like that the game’s future is once again uncertain.
Back when Halo Infinite was first revealed in 2020, 343 Industries studio head Chris Lee called it the “start of the next 10 years of Halo.” A few months later he left to join Amazon.