In an interview dating back to late last year, Bonnie Ross, the woman in charge of stewarding and developing the blockbuster HALO franchise, stated that her goal in managing the franchise was to increase the diversity of characters appearing in the games produced by Microsoft subsidiary 343 Industries. She further reinforced her position on women in the gaming industry by stressing the importance of hiring more female game developers and giving them role models to aspire to within the industry.
Ms. Ross’s influence has already been heavily felt within the HALO canon: she is the executive responsible for tearing up the original script for HALO 4, which featured women as villainous characters, and forcing a complete rewrite to include stronger female protagonists. In so doing, Bonnie Ross exemplifies everything that avid gamers, of all genders and all backgrounds, truly loathe about the current state of the industry.
You Had ONE Job!
Let us first be very clear about what the HALO franchise is. It is more than merely a collection of games. It is an industry phenomenon. The franchise that began with the evergreen Bungie classic, HALO: Combat Evolved has since grown into 7 (and counting) console-based FPS games, two side-scrolling 2.5D shooters, countless media spin-offs and tie-ins, and over $3.5 billion in sales from the games alone for Microsoft Game Studios.
The original game is the “killer app” that transformed the first Xbox from an also-ran console into a true industry contender capable of taking on the mighty Playstation in the console wars. The sheer amount of spin-off and related material inspired by the games is enough to make one’s head spin.
The franchise’s fans are legion, drawn as we are to the mind-bendingly innovative combination of far-future science fiction, epic-scale battles, simple yet engrossing first-person shooter combat, and gripping storytelling. Many other game franchises have been able to successfully combine some of these elements, but not one of the HALO franchise’s rivals for commercial success has ever managed to fuse the same volatile combination of ingredients in the kind of potent mix that every HALO game ever sold has managed to date. Some have been better than others, to be sure, but overall, the level of quality in the series has been exceptional.
The HALO series has something for practically everyone. Gamers who only care about multiplayer deathmatch and King-of-the-Hill scenarios love these games because they let them go about creating mayhem however they want, whenever they want, with whomever they want. Gamers like me who love intense, plot-driven, emotionally gripping FPS campaign play have always found the HALO saga to be a source of wonder and entertainment. Gamers who like a bit of a retro feel to their games can get a kick out of newer offerings in the franchise like HALO: Spartan Assault and HALO: Spartan Strike. Hell, they’re even looking to get into tabletop gaming.
All of these things point to a single inescapable conclusion:
The job of the manager of 343 Industries is to ensure that the saga continues to be a commercial and cultural success.
That is all. Full goddamn stop.
And how does one go about actually ensuring that the HALO franchise continues to be a blockbuster success?
Well, I’ve never been to business school, but I would imagine that one rather good way might be, say, paying attention to the people who pay good money for its products.
Meet the Halo Nation
Would it not be nice, then, if someone actually asked the people who play the games what they think?
After all, if you’re the manager of the subsidiary in charge of actually stewarding some of the most lucrative IP that your behemoth of a software company has, wouldn’t you want to make sure that you’re asking the right questions and adjusting your product to meet customer demands? I mean, they DO teach all of this stuff in business school, right?
Oh, hey, look here, Ms. Ross, someone did your damn job for you and bothered to ask the questions on Reddit.
It amuses me no end that apparently one of the world’s biggest software companies, with a $347.5 billion market cap, $22 billion in profits, and something like $85 billion in cash sitting on the balance sheet couldn’t be arsed to do something that someone with a little bit of web-savvy could kludge together in an hour. Many thanks to Reddit user ConorRogerson for assembling this data and making it available for use.
Unfortunately for the madam, the results of that survey are not exactly going to be music to her ears.
Here are a few of the charts in that Reddit user survey—and given that it had well over 1,700 respondents, it is not only statistically significant, it can be taken as a decent representative sample of all players across all HALO games, including both the Bungie era and the current 343i era.
Essentially, the survey results tell us exactly what most avid HALO players would expect: the overwhelming majority of HALO players are male, between 18 and 40, and by and large couldn’t give a flying proverbial about social justice nonsense.
It gets worse, though. Here is a selection of quotes taken verbatim from that survey, from players talking about what attracted them to the HALO series in the first place:
- “Deep story, interesting characters, engaging gameplay”
- “Multiplayer and graphics hands down.”
- “Xbox live game and I love the community. The graphics are also amazing, especially on Halo 4.”
- “Multiplayer, nostalgia, Halo universe lore.”
- “Chief and Cortana’s relationship (never make a girl a promise…). That really came out in Halo 4, but it was obviously there in the other games as well. So to sum up, I came for the multiplayer, but stayed for the story. Obviously, I can’t wait till Halo 5 hits stores.”
- “Best story-line in any FPS, all other aspects are great too.”
- “Sci-fi story, Nostalgia, bonding with friends.”
There are eleven pages of feedback on this subject from the survey. I searched for “female character” and “social justice” in those responses. Out of more than 7,230 words, how many matches do you think I found?
In fact, the only thing that I could find that came anywhere close to validating Ms. Ross’s comments about “girls in gaming” was a search for “Cortana”. She comes up seven times.
My fellow gamers are telling Microsoft exactly what we want to see in the next HALO game, loud and clear. We want a great multiplayer experience. We want a great campaign—I loved HALO 4, but even a slavering fanboy like me is not going to argue that the campaign storyline was as good as HALO 3, which I personally consider to be the greatest game, of any genre, ever made. We want to look and feel like a legendary supersoldier. We want to be the Master Chief. We want to save Mankind from the threats that imperil it, clad in emerald-green armour as a stoic, rifle-wielding badass among badasses.
We want, in short, to play a HALO game.
Enough with the Warrior Woman
As I’ve stated quite bluntly before, there is absolutely no excuse for introducing yet more estrogen into the HALO universe. The storyline has quite enough of it already, and it’s becoming an increasingly difficult task to keep the canon in line with the ever more absurd requirements being placed on it by sticking more female SPARTAN supercommandos and female intelligence officers into the mix.
The good news is that there is reason for optimism. My Reaxxion colleague Robert Conway played and reviewed the HALO 5 multiplayer Beta and had a number of positive things to say about it. The creative team at 343 Industries, led as it is by Frankie O’Connor, a veteran from the Bungie days, is highly competent and knows that ultimately, what we care about as fans is the gameplay, and nothing else. The design team behind the game has some of the biggest and best names in the history of the industry behind it—these people have worked on blockbusters like Metal Gear Solid, Battlezone II, and Tomb Raider. These people are not idiots. Unlike, well, their boss—one Ms. Bonnie Ross.
By the way, they are also overwhelmingly male. It would appear that, when it comes to video games, competence in game development is directly correlated with having a Y-chromosome.
However, there is also good reason to be worried. The release of the retrospective Master Chief Collection is going to go down in gaming history as a contender for the biggest and most embarrassing series of cock-ups ever committed. More than four months after the release of the MCC, the multiplayer experience is still problematic in spite of an endless number of patches released by 343i. This debacle happened on Ms. Ross’s watch, and while there is good reason to think that the studio overall has learned from its (colossal) mistakes and has had to choke down enormous amounts of humble pie in the process, I put little faith specifically in Ms. Ross’s ability to learn from these failures.
I am a sworn-in-blood HALO fan. I have been ever since I first figured out how to beat the original HALO: CE. I love the franchise in a way that I can’t even begin to describe. And I don’t want to see the games that I love rendered into unplayable piles of garbage simply because the female manager in charge of the game studio wants to ignore the adults at the table and dumb down the greatest games ever made with a bunch of Strong Independent Wimminz.
If Bonnie Ross is stupid enough to wreck the greatest franchise in gaming history with her idiotic social justice agenda, then she deserves nothing less than to be fired, and blacklisted from the gaming industry, for life.