Games as a service
Xbox's flagship franchise isn't something that Microsoft's going to stray from anytime soon. Why would it? If there was any doubt about Halo's lasting appeal, it was dashed with the E3 reveal of Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Life was suddenly jolted into fans of the franchise as many that weren't on-board with the Xbox One resigned themselves to getting the console primarily to pick up the four-in-one package.
As The Master Chief Collection provides an experience that ties together the included titles, Microsoft wants to offer a means to tie together everything Halo that fans could possibly want. At the company's gamescom 2014 press briefing, The Halo Channel was introduced, and during a speed run meeting with 343 Industries, we got a better glimpse at what it'll be like.
Videogames aren't just about playing games anymore. They're about being an inclusive experience through all methods of media consumption. They're a service. That's unabashedly apparent with The Halo Channel. It's an easy prospect for skeptics to guffaw at, but anyone that wants to be immersed in everything Halo would be hard-pressed to find a better place to do it.
Microsoft's branding the channel as an "interactive digital network." All of those claims are true. 343 Industries is putting an emphasis on two-way communication -- not only can it deliver its message to you, but you can deliver your message to it and all of your social contacts. After all, conversation helps things grow; it's how a stagnant experience turns into a talking point.
Maybe the key to The Halo Channel is the balance of passive and active activities for users. The active ones are obvious, but still somewhat nuanced. Want to simply play Halo? Hop into a game from the network's hub. Watching a match and fancy some multiplayer of your own? The exact game type that you were viewing can be instantly set up, turning you from a spectator to a player in seconds.
However, it's the passive aspect of The Halo Channel that will really justify its existence. The channel will boast a video on-demand service along with a continuous rotation of programs. Microsoft's keen on producing a lot of unique video content that strengthens the Halo lore, so there's sure to be no shortage of shows to watch.
With the videogame industry putting more and more emphasis on eSports all the time, 343's direction with The Halo Channel might be a good indicator of its approach to the subject with regard to Halo. 343 producer Kiki Wolfkill explained that the studio's "doubling down" on Halo as a spectator sport. Twitch will be integrated to the channel so players can watch matches at any time, and as mentioned previously jump into similar matches at a moment's notice. When asked what 343's future plans for Halo as a competitive eSport are, the team sort of dodged the question, but remarked that Halo 2 would be well-suited for that kind of thing.
Whatever happens with all aspects of the franchise in the future, The Halo Channel is 343 and Microsoft's way of ensuring that fans stay invested and interested in the present. It'll be fairly easily accessible, as it's coming to Xbox One and Windows 8 devices soon, with plans to release on Windows phones sometime down the line. It might be an ambitious project for a singular brand, but if there's one in Xbox's arsenal worthy of the honor, it's Halo. And, if it's as simple, streamlined, and packed with content as it looked to be during the presentation, Halo fans won't need to go anywhere else to get their fix.