Ex-Halo developers slam ‘incompetent leadership’ after layoffs

Ex-Halo developers slam ‘incompetent leadership’ after layoffs

Management at Halo Infinite developer 343 Industries has come under fire from former staffers after the studio was reportedly “hit hard” by Wednesday’s large-scale layoffs at Microsoft.

In another worrying sign for the future of the studio and the Halo series, Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier reported that Halo veteran Joseph Staten was leaving 343 after less than three years to rejoin the publishing team at Xbox.

Patrick Wren, a former senior multiplayer designer on Halo Infinite now working on Star Wars Jedi: Survivor at Respawn, did not mince his words. “The layoffs at 343 shouldn’t have happened and Halo Infinite should be in a better state. The reason for both of those things is incompetent leadership up top during Halo Infinite development causing massive stress on those working hard to make Halo the best it can be,” he tweeted.

“The people I worked every day with were passionate about Halo and wanted to make something great for the fans. They helped push for a better Halo and got laid off for it,” Wren added. “Devs still there are working hard on that dream. Look at Forge. Be kind to them during this awful time.”

Wren later said, “I do want to make sure that I call out how amazing the Multiplayer Leadership team was during development,” seemingly laying the blame at the door of senior management, Microsoft, and the leaders responsible for Halo Infinite’s campaign.

Schreier said that he’d heard versions of Wren’s complaints “from many other Halo developers.”

Another theme in the complaints about the management of 343 Industries was a heavy reliance on short-term contractors, a policy which some said came from the mothership at Microsoft. “Don’t forget the heavy reliance on contractors/vendors and that messed up system (though I know that’s more MS),” said former Halo Infinite developer Nicholas Bird. “The contract stuff is a whole other can of worms that pisses me off. So many amazing people and talent that just disappeared,” agreed Wren.

“As a Halo fan I’m really tired of Microsoft business practices & policies slowly killing the thing I love,” said Tyler Owens, a former Halo 5 developer now working on Apex Legends at Respawn. “Between the contracting policies they abuse for tax incentives & layoffs in the face of gigantic profits/executive bonuses… they set Halo up for failure.”

Halo Infinite faced a troubled, delayed development, a shaky launch with some features missing, and an uncertain post-launch period that have all severely dented 343 Industries’ reputation. Xbox Games Studios boss Matt Booty recently admitted to the game “stumbling at the finish line” and said that its live service plan “fell short.”

Staten, who worked on all the original Halo games at Bungie, was brought on during the later stages of Halo Infinite as the project lead for its campaign, reportedly to help get the game “back on track.” Although the news of his departure is unfortunately timed, it may be that he never intended to stay at 343 Industries long-term — 343’s original confirmation that Staten would be joining the team said he would “be returning home to Halo for a bit.” (This statement is no longer hosted on the Halo Waypoint website.)

However, Staten’s exit follows a series of recent departures of senior staff that predated the layoffs. Multiplayer creative director Tom French left in December 2022, studio founder and head Bonnie Ross left in September, and design head Jerry Hook left in May.

Following the perceived failure of Infinite and its troubled development, it’s disheartening but not surprising to find 343 Industries at the forefront of the layoffs among Microsoft’s game development studios. There is, presumably, now a crisis of identity at the studio that was formed to take the Halo baton from Bungie after it split with Microsoft, but that never quite succeeded in emerging from that studio’s shadow.

Since 343 Industries was formed in 2007, Microsoft’s strategy has shifted to buying studios with an established culture, like Playground Games, Bethesda Softworks, or Double Fine, rather than building its own as caretakers for brands that had been created elsewhere (Gears of War developer The Coalition being another example). The big question now is how, after a painful restructuring and loss of talent, 343 Industries — and Halo itself — can fit back into this picture.