Former Halo Wars game designer talks about the Halo MMO we never got to see

...and it's all thanks to some corporate-level meddling

Mister Chef.

How do you think an MMO in the Halo universe would have played out? Would it just be like a really large multiplayer deathmatch? Would it work like the open-world single-player portion of Halo Infinite at scale? Or would it just be another Destiny 2? We don’t necessarily need to wonder, as game designer Sandy Petersen, who has worked on iconic titles like Doom, Quake, Age of Empires, and Halo Wars, recounted one such project and its ultimate death on the grapevine.

The scoop comes from the Bored with Nelly podcast, which had Petersen on the show to talk about his work. The conversation moved to his time with Ensemble Studios and its plans to design what was described as “a giant Halo-based MMO” where players could choose to be humans or Covenant that would play out like a traditional third-person MMORPG like WoW. According to Petersen, Microsoft initially appeared to be on board with the project, as even the company’s own analysts “using the most critical, negative calculations they can make” projected this new game idea could “probably earn over a billion dollars.”

So what happened? Microsoft had hired Don Mattrick, a former EA employee whose contracted purpose at the time was to make Microsoft Games profitable in three years, while the development of the Halo MMO would take a projected three and a half years. Because of this, Mattrick and Microsoft had plans to shutter Ensemble Studios after Halo Wars’ release — by Petersen’s own admission, Ensemble Studios was an expensive studio to keep running but had also made extremely profitable games that made the cost worth it according to him.

Furthermore, Petersen reports that this plan wasn’t even shared with the bosses at Ensemble and was discovered only when those bosses asked Microsoft about moving to a larger studio space. In addition, when this news was revealed to Ensemble’s leadership, they were given a choice:

“So they went to them and took our bosses aside and said ‘I tell you what: If you don’t tell your workers, then we’ll let you guys stay on at Microsoft.’ Every single one of our boss team resigned on the spot.”

This mass resignation threat resulted in a severance package deal between Microsoft and Ensemble Studios employees to get Halo Wars released, which it ultimately did. However, it also had the side effect of killing what might have been a promising game at the time before it even could take shape. The full podcast is below, set to a time when the conversation about the project begins.

source: YouTube, thanks to Brandon for the tip!

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“using the most critical, negative calculations they can make” projected this new game idea could “probably earn over a billion dollars.”

I HIGHLY doubt that. Activision-Blizzard didn’t even make that much with WoW in 2008, hell they barely made 3 times that with WoW, Guitar Hero, CoD:MW, and all their other games combined, on every platform combined. I can’t see Microsoft’s analysts being so incompetent they’d think that they could vastly outsell WoW on day one.

Maybe, just maybe, it would have eventually made that much…after a few years probably…but I really think this is severely overestimating the number of people who wanted a Halo MMORPG where they couldn’t shoot guns and crap.

Natalia Zoren

Wasn’t this that 2008 leaked images and videos?

Kickstarter Donor

So…Don Matrick killed more than just the Xbox One during his time at Microsoft. And the bean counters were PESSIMISTICALLY showing $1B in revenue?

Yeah, I feel pretty confident in my view that Matrick is an idiot that somehow failed upwards to the C-level and just bounces around from team to team and company to company, delivering one disaster after another.

Good on the Ensemble leadership, damn did Microsoft give them a raw deal because Matrick is an idiotic ghoul.

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I doubt that $1B was an accurate factual statement, unless they were maybe talking lifetime earnings or something lol. WoW didn’t even make that back then, and I’m pretty sure Halo has never been a more popular franchise than WoW, especially if you removed the actual FPS from the game.

I’m sure it would have done…okay…eventually, but I don’t see a world where it would have been that much of a success.