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Veteran Member - Level 13
On one of my rare modern visits to GIO, I stumbled upon an article about Halo 4. One which stated that Halo 4 is suffering a decline in retained players over Halo Reach at the same point in its lifecycle. Now, I love this game, just as I did Reach before it. Almost anytime you'll see me on Live it is one of my main games of choice. However, the article got me thinking. Why would players on Halo 4 be dropping off so spectacularly? Is there any pattern or is there a multitude of personal reasons why Halo 4 is no longer meeting up with the comparable records from its predecessors time? And why, oh why, are so many people lamenting the days of old on Halo 2 when that was four games ago? Let us examine and find out some of the reasons people are shying away from the series now and moving on to greener pastures.
1. Change (In The House Of Flies???)
Let's get the obvious point out of the way first. Halo 4 is a different beast altogether than the previous entries in the series. Featuring custom loadouts, different specialties, and a whole plethora of different vehicles and weapons, it seems to have homogenized a lot of the best that shooters have to offer. Purists however will argue that it diminishes the Halo experience and turns it into a more generic offering than the older games in the series. While I hate this stance, I nevertheless have to agree with it. While I never played the multiplayer for Halo 1 or 2, I DID play 3 quite a bit, and went for Reach pretty much nonstop, and I have to say it does feel markedly different. My favorite elements are still there that distinguishes the series for me, namely the vehicles and the unique guns, and I still love the new loadouts, but there you go. The experience remains quite a bit different from ye olden Bungie days.
Even setting aside the changes between the entries in the series, Halo 4 itself has metamorphosed quite a bit since its launch. Tweaks to the gameplay, edits to the maps, and almost weekly changes to the game modes have been done consistently since launch. Here's something I can identify with. Let me give two examples here. First is Oddball, the game mode where you have to hold on to the ball for as long as possible at first. It was originally contained on its own playlist, and I went to it quite a bit for a good chaotic match. Unfortunately, 343 nixed the stand-alone mode and moved it to a mixed playlist that also contained a couple other modes. Since then I honestly can't recall playing more than one or two matches of it, and it's really disappointing when you've lost the variety.
One more example I can give regarding this is Big Team Slayer. Originally it was nothing but five maps, and clean straightforward exterminating action. Quite recently however they've introduced multiple changes. First was a map called Settler, and I hated it from the beginning. The big draw for me for Big Team Slayer was the large amount of vehicles and the tactics involved to take them down. In this map there's a grand total of two vehicles, and both of them are the second most simplistic of Halo's stock. Instead it's a sniper haven (note there's a regular playlist for Team Snipers). I persevered however. But within the last few weeks, the entire game mode got a major revamp. There's now a Slayer Pro mode with fixed loadouts, one of the regular Slayer maps has been moved over to it (another sniper map with few vehicles), and the vehicles got shuffled around in what is in my opinion the worst possible scenario. My favorite game mode since I purchased the game in December, and after the most recent updates I've barely touched it.
So essentially, even within just this one game they're changing too much. I know it's to stop it from being stale, and I can appreciate that, I really can. What baffles me however is how they're going about it. It almost makes me feel like either they don't play their game over there, or else they have odd tastes on what to implement. The game is still not bad by any means, but people tend to shy away from change, and that's definitely a bad thing for a company that's trying to retain its user base.
2. Shooter Fatigue
In something that should be a surprise to no one, there are...quite a few...shooters out there on the market. Halo Reach was released in 2010, three years ago. In the space between the release of that and Halo 4, we witnessed the release of such heavy hitters as Gears Of War 3, Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (and Black Ops 2 right around the same time as Halo 4), Battlefield 3, Mass Effect 3, and if you're a Playstation 3 owner in addition to 360, Uncharted 3. All of the series have something in common, and that is fairly large online multiplayer communities, which still continue on to this day. Even aside from those, there are still people hanging on to older iterations of these series, be it Bad Company 2, Modern Warfare 2 & Black Ops, Halo 3 and Reach, etc...long story short gamers are spread out over a much larger amount of shooters than in 2010-early 2011. And the cracks are starting to show in the armor. In my group of friends you can still see quite a few people playing Halo 4, but you're more likely to log on and see someone on Minecraft, or perhaps Portal 2. There can only be so many bullets you aim at enemies before you get disinterested and move on to a puzzle game or a sandbox one. And from the looks of how things are going, I have strong doubts that shooters are going to stop saturating the market anytime soon. It will only exacerbate the disillusionment gamers have with the genre as a whole, and Halo's numbers will only continue to drop. Unfortunately, there's no workaround for this, only the inevitability of the players continuing to dwindle. Long story short, it's a different market, a different player base than 2010, and it shows.
3. The Coming Of Age
Finally, there's a point I believe has been overlooked. Age. Halo 1 was released in 2001. A majority of the players were probably in their early to mid teens when they fell in love with the series. Twelve years later, and Halo 4 releases. By now most of the faithfuls who have stuck by the series since its inception are now young adults. Adults who have responsibilities, who have jobs or college obligations or simply other ways to occupy their time. I have friends who used to play Reach with me quite a bit who are now focused on paying bills instead of shooting digital images. Time is a fickle thing, and while there is not much to say in this regard, nevertheless it's important to remember that not everyone has the time to invest in online multiplayer as they used to.
So in summary there are a great many factors at play here in regards to the rather underwhelming player base of Halo 4. Do I think it will fail? No. In fact it still seems like there's a fairly robust online community. The only thing to take with you is the fact that the market isn't the same as it was three years ago, nor even last November. Be it change, fatigue, or responsibilities people just don't play the series as much as they used to. I'll still be on Halo 4 for the foreseeable future, but inexorably I, just like everyone else, will move on. Time marches on, and whether we're ready for it or not, all series must eventually either burn brightly in a blaze of glory and then disappear, or slowly flicker and burn out.