Halo has always had a long tail thanks to its popular multiplayer modes that keep players engaged for years after release, but Halo 4 hopes to increase player engagement through a new feature called Spartan Ops. As a series of narrative episodes launched weekly, Spartan Ops continues the story of the Halo 4 campaign; however, rather than just a viewable experience, each episode of Spartan Ops comes with five short, playable story missions. At a time when publishers and developers are searching for strategies to combat the used game market, multiplayer modes alone are not enough. New strategies include required online passes, date-specific in-game achievements, extended downloadable content schedules, and the transition to digital sales. Yet nobody has attempted quite what Microsoft and 343 Industries are with Spartan Ops.
Like a Halo TV series you can play, Spartan Ops offers a content distribution strategy similar to TV series, a strategy so far only used successfully in the gaming industry by developer Telltale Games. The essential hook of the mode is that after viewing the new episode, players will be able to play the rest of the narrative with friends. The first season of Spartan Ops will have 50 missions released over a 10-week period. Hence, the new mode acts as an extended marketing campaign with the goal of drawing new players into the Halo 4 experience throughout the holiday season and into the New Year. Although the first season is free, 343 Industries indicates a second paid season is a possibility.
Combined with the pre-launch, live-action UNSC web series and the launch of Karen Traviss’ book Halo: The Thursday War, Spartan Ops cements a transmedia marketing strategy but also extends this strategy into next year and beyond. Yet how unique is Halo 4’s marketing blitz in today’s climate? How are today’s game developers leveraging new distribution models to promote their games before and after launch? How are modern franchises, like Halo, utilizing new digital technologies to tell trans-narrative stories that link novels, animated and live-action televisual texts, and digital games?