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The real reason Halo's MMO was never released

For some gamers, the Halo Infinite gameplay preview was the high point of the July Xbox Games Showcase. But with all this excitement about a new Halo title on the way, It's hard not to think back and wonder about a project that never fully materialized. This Halo spinoff might have even become a bigger deal than Infinite, as it offered a massive multiplayer online version of the Halo universe.

So what happened? Why would Microsoft pull the plug on such a promising pursuit — especially one it had invested so much in before unceremoniously giving it the ax? The company never even officially announced the Halo MMO's existence. But, that doesn't mean no one knows why Microsoft ended the $90 million "World of Warcraft killer" known by its codename, Titan. Here's why you have never seen a Halo MMO.

Bungie and Ensemble Studios joined forces to create the Halo MMO

Ensemble Studios, once the developer of Halo Wars and the Age of Empires franchise, closed its doors in 2009, eight years after being acquired by Microsoft. It seems that in 2006-2007, the company was in charge of creating a Halo MMO alongside Halo's original developer, Bungie, Inc. In 2008, Gamasutra revealed the existence of the game thanks to some concept art and screenshots which still exist on Flickr.

Gamasutra pointed to rumors in a 2006 edition of Game Informer about a joint Bungie-Ensemble Halo project, as well as reports that Ensemble appeared to be hiring for an MMO. It also highlighted a blog post from an Ensemble staffer who said that the company had stopped "six months of very interesting work" on two prototypes of a "major project that we cancelled."

After the announcement of Ensemble's closure in late 2008, a Shacknews interview with director of technology Dave Pottinger revealed more. "The Halo IP was a great IP to launch an MMO with," Pottinger said. "Microsoft ... hasn't had the best track record with those." 

According to Pottinger, Ensemble worked on the Halo MMO for a long time with a team of almost 40 people. "And then there was some reorganization at Microsoft, and the new bosses thought it wasn't the best idea anymore. It had actually been green-lit, and then it got cancelled after that," he revealed.

Why did Microsoft kill the Halo MMO after green-lighting it?

Cost likely factored into Microsoft's decision to cancel Titan. Additionally, it sounds like the game was taking too long to produce. However, the biggest factor may have been the success of the Nintendo Wii. Microsoft executives reportedly saw the success of the competing system and decided the days of hardcore gaming were numbered.

In an interview with Ensemble Studios founder Dusty Monk quoted by GameWatcher in 2010, Monk claimed Microsoft decided it needed to appeal to a broader and more casual audience like the Wii. "So part of this changing of the guard at Microsoft came along with the changing of the attitude to this very expensive, very long and very protracted $90 million USD project we were working on, which was Titan." Monk said. "I absolutely believe that we could have built an MMO, if Microsoft had maintained their commitment, that if it hadn't been a WoW killer it certainly would've competed"

If only. At least Halo Infinite will arrive soon, complete with multiplayer, to assuage the disappointment of fans.