Halo Infinite delay hobbles the Xbox Series X launch

Delays are a fact of life in the video game industry — and they usually make for much better finished products. But the postponement of Halo Infinite couldn’t have come at a worse time for Microsoft.

As the company gears up for another battle with Sony amid a year that has been a financial windfall for game makers, it’s had to temporarily holster its most powerful weapon — and in doing so has muted one of the loudest arguments for buying an Xbox Series X.

Let’s be clear: The decision to delay the game was the right one, no matter how disappointing it might be to fans. The pandemic (and other challenges it didn’t detail) slowed things down. And developer 343 reportedly took the well-being of its team into account. And after the disappointing fan reception of Halo 5, Microsoft needs Infinite to be near perfect. Its hands, ultimately, were tied.

But from a competitive standpoint, it’s going to result in a lot of scrambling.

Planting the seeds for a delay

While Tuesday’s news was shocking to fans, Microsoft may have started dropping hints about this as early as May. Speaking as a guest on CNBC, Xbox chief Phil Spencer said he was confident about the Series X hitting its target, but was less certain about games.

“Teams are doing a really good job of keeping our hardware on track. I’d say the bigger unknown is probably the game production — just being honest,” he said. “On the hardware side, we feel good about our plan. Obviously, [there’s] some impact to schedules, but overall, we’re where we thought we would be. On the game production side, we’re learning every day. I still feel good about it, but I need to make sure the safety and security of the teams is the most important thing and not unduly push when things just are not ready.”

Even in July’s Games Showcase, Halo Infinite didn’t get the sizzling reveal many people were expecting. It offered a relatively short display of real-time gameplay that harkened back to the first game in the series but didn’t showcase many new features.

Series X will appeal to the wallet

On the heels of the Halo Infinite delay announcement, Microsoft posted a separate blog post, touting that the game would have “over 100 optimized for Xbox Series X titles” when the system launches in November. And it played up the system’s backward compatibility. But none of the new games for the Series X are from a Microsoft studio (a surprising revelation, given the company’s spending spree on studios of the past couple years).

So how will it lure buyers? The answer could lie, once again, in last month’s Games Showcase.

The real star of that online event was Game Pass, a Netflix-like all-you-can-play model, which will also include access to the company’s xCloud cloud gaming program for Ultimate members. For $15 per month, Xbox owners will gain access to all of the company’s first-party games as they come out along with a large collection of catalog titles as well as the ability to play anywhere on Android phones and tablets.

Price is a big differentiator for consumers at a console launch. If Microsoft either bundles a few months of GamePass with the Series X or makes a convincing value argument, it could make the best of a regrettable situation.

The PlayStation 5 factor

That said, there’s no denying a Halo delay is a huge advantage for Sony. The PlayStation 5 showed off a collection of solid games at its showcase event and, as the leader this generation, already had a bit of a head start with buyers.

Console generations aren’t sprints, though. They’re marathons. While there’s a lot of excitement around the initial holiday launch, it’s usually at least a year before anyone has any clarity on which system has a stronger market position. And while it might drive eager fans batty, one of the smartest things Microsoft could do is hold Halo Infinite back for a full year. This would let the company get its inevitable hardware supply issues straightened out and ride the second-holiday wave when Sony’s certain to have a few heavy hitters of its own hitting the market.

That would also let the company work out any potential kinks in xCloud to further make the value case in its marketing for holiday 2021 when it won’t just be the hardest of the hardcore looking to buy the system.

Halo Infinite missing its planned launch date might be a blow, but it doesn’t have to be a fatal one to the Series X.

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