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What Halo Infinite's release can teach us about the importance of failing

December 17, 2021
microsoft, halo infinite


That’s right. We can’t even look at a video game release without thinking about how we can apply it to improving tech teams. We’re those kinds of people. But if you’re here, maybe you are, too. This isn’t just an excuse to talk about video games we really like. Keep reading to find out what Halo Infinite’s failed demo and subsequent changes can teach tech teams about leveraging failure to innovate and improve.

Halo Infinite’s demo: What’s wrong with the brute?

I remember being in my freshman year of college when Xbox dropped. I was so excited to pivot from my Nintendo days into “the next generation of gaming.” 

I was also STOKED to play Xbox’s flagship game, Halo. 

I had no idea then how obsessed I would be now with the franchise.

The game was mind-blowing. The graphics were like nothing I’d seen before. The story of Master Chief, alien zealots and an AI named Cortana was rich and in-depth. It left you craving more of the story. In fact, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t upset during Halo 4’s campaign (I’m talking about you, Cortana).

But above all, it was the way 343 married graphics and gameplay. You genuinely can’t help but yell at your screen at the NPCs (like they can hear you) for getting shot and not following you with the Warthog. 

And the multiplayer?

Well, let’s just agree to disagree before we even start down this road. Let’s just say, in my opinion, Halo 4 multiplayer is still king (my favorite map is Complex with the jetpack and a sniper rifle).

And that’s my point. The Halo franchise has some dedicated fans. We’ve been with Master Chief and Cortana since 2001. We’ve seen their evolution. We’ve been there with them as they encounter the Flood and the Covenant. We were there when The Pillar of Autumn crashed into Halo. We were there when Master Chief discovered another Halo being built. We were there when Master Chief destroyed the Didact and activated the warhead. We were there when the Covenant Elite joined the Arbiters and revealed the return of 343 Guilty Spark.  

We, the fans, were there. 

We were also there for the downs (and betrayal — looking at you, Master Chief Collection).  

So, when Halo Infinite released its nine-minute trailer in 2020, it was to a less-than-enthusiastic audience. Primarily because of the graphics, but to be specific, the lighting — where are the shadows??? For a next-gen-console release, there was no excuse for the game to be missing real-time lighting. 

Another reason was the lack of action from NPCs (never thought I’d say that). The main feeling of Halo is the fact that you are playing as Master Chief! You’re a super soldier! Your team follows your command, which means the NPCs follow you. But in the demo, they didn’t. Not like they should have, anyway. 

To fans everywhere, the game just looked and felt wrong. 

And Phil Spencer knew that too. In a recent British GQ Magazine, he stated that at the time of the demo’s release “We were there not out of deception, but more out of…hope. And I don’t think hope is a great development strategy.” 

Lost the lead.

But Halo Infinite’s demo failure is a lesson we can all learn from.


The importance of failing

When Microsoft realized that their flagship game was in trouble, Joseph Staten was brought back to 343 to help get the game back on track. It was the demo’s failure that allowed for reimagination of what the game could and should be. 

In fact, Staten himself was quoted in a recent Bloomberg article, saying, “We’ve had some rough demos over the years” and that never stopped him from going back to the drawing board. 

Staten’s first step reportedly was persuading Microsoft to delay the launch of the game — no easy feat as some people are aware. Changing the C-suite’s mind on a project late in its deployment requires hard evidence, specifically data that answers the question: What’s the ROI? 

So, Staten offered the following argument: X amount of time = Y results. The ROI was connected to the amount of time the team needed to be successful. The more time he was granted, the better results he could provide. When Staten presented what X amount of time would buy them, it translated to usable ROI.


The argument for more time was only possible because of the demo’s launch failure. It created a door of opportunity for Halo Infinite that may have otherwise been closed.

The argument for more time was only possible because of the demo’s launch failure. It created a door of opportunity for Halo Infinite that may have otherwise been closed. 

And that’s what failed launches, projects, demos, etc., teach us. With the right support and time, we have enough space to process mistakes, go back to the drawing board and innovate again. Because without failures, we aren’t forced to reimagine potential.

But in order to see the good in the bad, teams and leaders must be allowed to fail so that they’re inspired to innovate and try again — think of it as another example of AB testing.  

And sure, Halo didn’t release in Nov. 2020 as a Xbox Series X and S launch title, and many of us were disappointed. But, I think we can all agree that a half-finished game would have destroyed trust in the fans, hurt profits and, worst of all, be compared to Cyberpunk 2077. 

Luckily, that wasn’t the case. 

In fact, Halo Infinite won The Game Awards Player's Voice Award.

Gained the lead.

To learn how you can support your team’s need to fail, check out: Hands-On Learning: Innovative Teams Need A Safe Place To Fail

And to learn more about how Pluralsight can help you support your team as they innovate and improve, check out: Pluralsight Expands Hands-On Learning Opportunities With New Skills Capabilities