Recently, a listing on the Smyths Toys website suggested that Halo Infinite's multiplayer experience might be free-to-play. Following this, 343 Industries confirmed it, surprising many. This new direction is a bold one — and one that will potentially come with both benefits and drawbacks.
Here's how we think the Halo franchise will benefit from a free Halo Infinite multiplayer, as well as some of the concerns we have about such a system.
The Good: No barrier to entry, high player count
The most exciting thing about Halo Infinite's multiplayer being free is that the barrier to entry will be non-existent. This will enable anyone interested in the game to give it a shot without worrying about cost. This is great considering that Halo Infinite is coming to PC, a platform where players have never had a chance to try a modern Halo gameplay experience and will likely want to dip their toes in to test the water.
On top of this, Halo Infinite's esports scene will most likely flourish since players of all skill levels can get involved easier. If the Forge mode (a branch of the multiplayer experience) is free as well, Halo's map-making community will grow, too.
It's also important to note that Halo Infinite multiplayer being free will no doubt swell the active player count to a number well beyond what it would be if it cost money. If the game turns out to be good, then so many people talking about and playing the game will help bring it, and Halo in general, some much-needed popularity. Halo's multiplayer has struggled to grab the gaming community's attention for more than a few months from Halo 4 on, but a free-to-play model can help Halo Infinite climb that hill.
The Bad (potentially): Microtransactions, issues with cheaters
Whenever discussing the cons of free-to-play games, microtransactions always come up first and for good reason. Free games are often plagued with things like intrusive paid loot box systems that hinder the overall experience, reducing the experience to something akin to gambling. Worst of all, some games have been reduced to pay-to-win models.
Thankfully, we know this specific form of microtransaction won't be in the game based on comments made by 343 Industries Studio Head Chris Lee. However, that doesn't mean that other forms of microtransactions won't be in the game. Ideally, 343 Industries should create a system with two goals in mind: no pay-to-win advantages in any game mode whatsoever, and the preservation of the ability for players to unlock cosmetics through reasonable amounts of gameplay. A system where players can choose to pay for cosmetics they want is fine, but restricting the player's ability to earn them by playing or allowing players to get an in-game edge over others would be problematic.
Secondly, Halo Infinite being a free-to-play game on PC naturally raises concerns about cheating. If cheaters don't have to worry about spending money on a new copy of Halo Infinite's multiplayer after being banned, it will be signficantly easier for them to resume their antics. Destiny 2, which went free-to-play in late 2019, stands as a perfect example of how cheaters can run rampant when there isn't a monetary incentive to discourage cheaters from hacking. Players constantly complain about hackers ruining the gameplay experience in competitive Crucible modes like Survival and Trials of Osiris, and despite Bungie's best efforts, the issue still persists far into 2020.
It should be noted, however, that this problem can be rectified with extensive anti-cheat systems. For instance, Valve's hit tactical shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive went free-to-play in 2018, and the developers have managed to stay on top of cheating ever since.
Conclusion: Exciting, but only if supported properly
Ultimately, Halo Infinite having free multiplayer is exciting. However, if it doesn't have the proper systems to support it, things could quickly fall apart. Halo Infinite would benefit greatly from sky-high player counts and the lack of an entry barrier, but intrusive microtransaction systems could ruin the progression experience for fans and cheaters may damage the integrity of the game on PC. While the free-to-play model will potentially bring great success to Halo, we don't want it to happen unless 343 Industries takes the necessary steps to make it work.
Halo Infinite is expected to launch on Xbox Series X, Xbox One, and Windows 10 PCs during the Holiday 2020 season. For more on the game, don't miss our article on five gameplay details you might have missed from the official gameplay reveal.
July 31, 2020: We've updated this article following 343 Industries' confirmation that Halo Infinite will have free-to-play multiplayer.
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