Are video games becoming more like television?
With their richly detailed cut scenes and dazzling special effects, video games are already looking like big-budget action movies. Now, Microsoft Corp. is pulling in TV aspects to its upcoming "Halo 4" game.
When the game debuts in November, Microsoft will start releasing a steady stream of new episodes each week, much like a TV series. The additional content, which players who bought the main game will get for free, will progress along an elaborate storyline based on the next chapter of the "Halo" universe, a science fiction combat franchise whose lead character is named Master Chief.
"It's like a TV series that you play," said said Frank O'Connor, Microsoft's franchise development director.
Over the past 11 years, the "Halo" franchise has generated billions of dollars in revenue and was a key driver of the success of Microsoft's original Xbox video game console. Since then, Microsoft has released books based on the "Halo" world, graphic novels, toys and other licensed products. Fans of the franchise, who number in the millions, call themselves Halo Nation.
Microsoft is now banking on these millions of fans to participate in the next installment of the franchise, and hoping to feed them a steady diet of weekly content, strung along by a compelling story arc, much like a TV series.
"It's a moving storyboard," said Josh Holmes, creative director at 343 Industries, the Kirkland, Wash., studio that is developing the game.
The episodic approach is designed to give Microsoft an edge in the brutally competitive market for the shooter games. In the last few years, companies have upped the ante by piling on more features, bigger explosives and flashier cut scenes -- all of which add tens of millions of dollars to the development budget.
"Halo 4" is expected to duke it out this holiday with a formidable lineup of top shooter titles, including "Call of Duty: Black Ops," "Splinter Cell Blacklist" and "Medal of Honor Warfighter."