Launching an Entertainment Network

Halo is a multi-billion dollar global franchise spanning video games, television and film, NYT best-selling fiction, merchandise, and more.

Image
I led an effort to understand how the studio could better support fans across touchpoints and over years of engagement, leading to a first of its kind transmedia entertainment network called Halo Waypoint.

I served as Creative/UX Director and Product Manager for a team of 40+.

Launching an Entertainment Network

Halo is a multi-billion dollar global franchise spanning video games, television and film, NYT best-selling fiction, merchandise, and more.

Image
I led an effort to understand how the studio could better support fans across touchpoints and over years of engagement, leading to a first of its kind transmedia entertainment network called Halo Waypoint.

I served as Creative/Director and Product Manager for a team of 40+.


more than a game

For millions of fans around the world Halo isn't a video game, it's a lifestyle: Halo is the glue for social groups, a career for thousands of professional e-sports players, a rich library of best-selling fiction, films, and videos, a long-running comedy series with over a billion Youtube views, and much more.

After a decade of experiences in the Halo universe fans were looking for a way to pull together dozens of content islands into a connected journey, and hundreds of diverse Halo affinity groups into a unified Halo Nation.

Ridley Scott produced the sci-fi series Halo Nightfall in 2014 for the Halo Waypoint entertainment network.

New Insights

The team went on our own journey to learn about the relationship fans had with Halo when they weren't playing the games; we knew Halo was a major force in the lives of millions of people, but we didn't understand how that force manifested outside of games and conventions.

We discovered:

  • Over 50% of fans consumed Halo content on mobile devices
  • User-generated Halo video content was viewed multiple times a week by almost every kind of Halo fan
  • Nearly every Halo fan was active in multiple Halo communities, but only a small number were active on Xbox
Most interestingly:

  • Fans who didn't play the games felt left out of the core Halo experience, and console users had to leave their preferred platform to consume most Halo media
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more than a game

For millions of fans around the world Halo isn't a video game, it's a lifestyle: Halo is the glue for social groups, a career for thousands of professional e-sports players, a rich library of best-selling fiction, films, and videos, a long-running comedy series with over a billion Youtube views, and much more.

After a decade of experiences in the Halo universe fans were looking for a way to pull together dozens of content islands into a connected journey, and hundreds of diverse Halo affinity groups into a unified Halo Nation.

Ridley Scott produced the sci-fi series Halo Nightfall in 2014 for the Halo Waypoint entertainment network.

The Prompt

Expections for online experiences to connect with each other were increasing, and the walled garden of game consoles was feeling archaic and isolating to users.

We had an opportunity to break down barriers between platforms to unite the community and give fans who didn't play the games a reason to sign-on to Xbox live: increasing access to film and video content from the console would allow fans to experience a quickly growing library of user-created Halo content with their game-playing friends.

We talked with hundreds of fans to learn what they loved most about Halo, and fans of all types echoed common themes:

  • EXPLORING a vast and surprising universe
  • SHARING with friends and other fans
  • Feeling ANCHORED in myriad narratives taking place over a single timeline

After sorting the data and verbatims we began seeing consistent themes suggesting the kind of experience fans would find most valuable.

"We knew Halo was social, but we didn't realize it had become an identity for millions of people"
Experience pillars, condensed from hundreds of user interviews and observations
Experience pillars, condensed from hundreds of user interviews and observations

My non-disclosure agreement prevents me from sharing information about personas and some use cases

The Prompt

Most Halo experiences take place in the same universe and timeline but otherwise exist as content islands. Fans were telling us they wanted stronger threads weaving their Halo adventures together, but they weren't sure what those threads might be.

We talked with hundreds of people about what they valued most in their Halo experience and analyzed usage data from nearly a decade, and fans of all types echoed some common themes about what they loved and wished for:

  • EXPLORING a vast and surprising universe
  • SHARING with friends and other fans
  • ANCHORING a personal journey crossing many touchpoints

We were also surprised to learn how many fans were engaging with Halo content outside the games every day.

After sorting and prioritizing the user data I created a set of experience pillars to help frame discussions about both experiences and business opportunities; the left represents guidance to ensure we built the correct things, the right includes some verbatims highlighting the most common desires.

"The team was surprised by how many fans engaged with Halo content on morning commutes"
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Experience pillars, condensed from hundreds of user interviews and observations

My non-disclosure agreement prevents me from sharing information about personas and some use cases

The Business Case

The business case was driven by thinking about the design prompt as a service design challenge: if we unified a diverse group of siloed experiences into a Halo "home base", we could provide a groundbreaking experience while generating revenue through:

  • Cross-sales, and boosting legacy game sales by showing players what they've missed

  • Organic and unobtrusive marketing and advertising opportunities for new games and merchandise with e-commerce support

  • Increased engagement by offering more access points into the universe

A compelling opt-in gateway to the Halo universe on every screen could help us reach every kind of Halo fan through a single channel in a wide variety of venues, with significant direct and indirect organic revenue potential.

"The business case was driven by thinking about the design prompt as a service design challenge."
Diagram showing different kinds of devices (TV, mobile phone, game console) all connecting to a home base that access all available Halo content

The Business Case

The business case was driven by thinking about the design prompt as a service design challenge: if we unified a diverse group of siloed experiences into a Halo "home base", we could provide a groundbreaking experience while generating revenue through:

  • Cross-sales, and boosting legacy game sales by showing players what they've missed

  • Organic and unobtrusive marketing and advertising opportunities for new games and merchandise with e-commerce support

  • Increased engagement by offering more access points into the universe

A compelling opt-in gateway to the Halo universe on every screen could help us reach every kind of Halo fan through a single channel in a wide variety of venues, with significant direct and indirect organic revenue potential.

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"The business case was driven by thinking about the design prompt as a service design challenge."

Legacy, good & bad

We had a head-start with data collection because the games already tracked massive amounts of user activity; nearly everything players did after launching was stored and available, but the experience was presented as a lifeless set of stat sheets designed exclusively for hardcore competitive players and only accessible through PC web browsers.

Less than 10% of Halo fans ever accessed this data.

To become the center of the Halo universe, the thing we were going to build needed to be available on any platform and relevant for all Halo fans: from players who prefer the single-player experience to those who were primarily interested in reading Halo fiction.

"Competitive gameplay may be the heart of Halo, but the heart is a small part of the body most people never see."
THE LEGACY: Hundreds of personalized stats were customized for a small number of competitive players, but no personalization was available for the vast majority of users. Image credit Gear Live.

THE LEGACY: Hundreds of personalized stats were customized for a small number of competitive players, but no personalization was available for the vast majority of users. Image credit Gear Live.

Legacy, good & bad

We had a head-start with data collection because the games already tracked massive amounts of user activity; nearly everything players did after launching was stored and available, but the experience was presented as a lifeless set of stat sheets designed exclusively for hardcore competitive players and only accessible through PC web browsers.

Less than 10% of Halo fans ever accessed this data.

To become the center of the Halo universe, the thing we were going to build needed to be available on any platform and relevant for all Halo fans: from players who prefer the single-player experience to those who were primarily interested in reading Halo fiction.

"Competitive gameplay may be the heart of Halo, but the heart is a small part of the body most people never see."
Image

THE LEGACY: Hundreds of personalized stats were customized for a small number of competitive players, but no personalization was available for the vast majority of users. Image credit Gear Live.

Guiding Ideation

Not a game, but game-like

Fans didn't want a website or application that stored and presented lifeless data, they wanted a Halo experience. We didn't need to make it playable, but we did need to make it immersive, with enough fantasy for users to feel like they stepped into a Halo story when logging in.

Video games rely on motion and sound to draw players into their worlds and Waypoint too would use those techniques to engage users, with a challenge to ensure the added motion, sound, and interactivity supported the experience and didn't feel bolted-on.

"Users wouldn't PLAY the experience, but they would PLAY WITH the experience"

We also knew our users wanted a single thing accessible from all screens, that it should be deeply personalized, and shareable.

I worked with our franchise team to build a backstory capable of supporting the pillars: users would enter the experience as recruits in Halo's ubiquitous United Nations Space Command (UNSC), and the experience itself would take place through an info terminal typically found on UNSC space vessels. We chose "Waypoint" as the name for the experience as it would serve as a way for players to always situate themselves within their long-term Halo journey.

Native on every screen

One of the biggest surprises for the team was learning how many fans accessed Halo content on mobile devices. We took a mobile-first approach to designing the interface and content to minimize the need to dramatically customize based on device, and screens were designed with an eye toward mobile displays.

Image
While it was important to take advantage of each platform's strengths for particular kinds of content, our users were clear that they wanted to access most Waypoint content from anywhere. What began as an effort to design for mobile screens became a mandate for simplicity and economy that made every platform's experience better.

I worked across design teams at Microsoft Studios to find the best solution for displaying substantially similar content while still taking advantage of the different interaction conventions and motion options of each platform, ensuring we could telegraph a sense of liveliness and excitement on mobile devices.

The result was a modular set of containers, typically limited to 3 per screen, with a taxonomy allowing customized motion behavior by container type.

Image
Example A: module 3 tagged as persistent top-level navigation for major hubs; Example B: Module is tagged as category navigation; Example C: Modules are tagged as gallery content

It's worth noting that Waypoint v1 was in development just before the emergence of responsive design, but switched to a responsive framework in v2.5 with the help of Joel Tinley.

Visual Explorations

At this point the experience design needs to honor the hybrid nature of the prompt: the design process for the fictionally-anchored immersive elements of the experience typically don't follow a strict user-centered design process, while the task-based elements must.

Elements tied to the fiction were free to dream and explore, with user tests starting after the concept was well-formed.

One of the first visual design explorations for the Halo Waypoint "terminal screen" where users would access everything within the network (view of "alien space" in background, foreshadowing an emerging storyline in the fiction)
One of the first visual design explorations for the Halo Waypoint "terminal screen" where users would access everything within the network (view of "alien space" in background, foreshadowing an emerging storyline in the fiction)
My redlines and notes on the visual concepts
My redlines and notes on the visual concepts
Wordmark treatment is especially important for a parent brand defined by its iconic letter forms. Of our candidates approved by franchise branding, I hybridized the lettering of #1 with the compass iconography of #5
Wordmark treatment is especially important for a parent brand defined by its iconic letter forms. Of our candidates approved by franchise branding, I hybridized the lettering of #1 with the compass iconography of #5
The final "visor" design for the v1 Waypoint screen: in the fiction, users stand on an observation deck aboard a ship exploring alien space, viewing a semi-transparent info terminal screen

We commissioned Skip Kimball -- the cinematic colorist responsible for James Cameron's Avatar and Netflix's Stranger Things, among many others -- for Waypoint's final alien space backdrop, which would tease the Waypoint fiction

The final "visor" design for the v1 Waypoint screen: in the fiction, users stand on an observation deck aboard a ship exploring alien space, viewing a semi-transparent info terminal screen
The final "visor" design for the v1 Waypoint screen: in the fiction, users stand on an observation deck aboard a ship exploring alien space, viewing a semi-transparent info terminal screen
An early introductory sequence exploring mood and tone that we liked enough to use for promotional videos

Guiding Ideation

Not a game, but game-like

Fans didn't want a website or application that stored and presented lifeless data, they wanted a Halo experience. We didn't need to make it playable, but we did need to make it immersive, with enough fantasy for users to feel like they stepped into a Halo story when logging in.

Video games rely on motion and sound to draw players into their worlds and Waypoint too would use those techniques to engage users, with a challenge to ensure the added motion, sound, and interactivity supported the experience and didn't feel bolted-on.

"Users wouldn't PLAY the experience, but they would PLAY WITH the experience"

We also knew our users wanted a single thing accessible from all screens, that it should be deeply personalized, and shareable.

I worked with our franchise team to build a backstory capable of supporting the pillars: users would enter the experience as recruits in Halo's ubiquitous United Nations Space Command (UNSC), and the experience itself would take place through an info terminal typically found on UNSC space vessels. We chose "Waypoint" as the name for the experience as it would serve as a way for players to always situate themselves within their long-term Halo journey.

Native on every screen

One of the biggest surprises for the team was learning how many fans accessed Halo content on mobile devices. We took a mobile-first approach to designing the interface and content to minimize the need to dramatically customize based on device, and screens were designed with an eye toward mobile displays.

Image
While it was important to take advantage of each platform's strengths for particular kinds of content, our users were clear that they wanted to access most Waypoint content from anywhere. What began as an effort to design for mobile screens became a mandate for simplicity and economy that made every platform's experience better.

I worked across design teams at Microsoft Studios to find the best solution for displaying substantially similar content while still taking advantage of the different interaction conventions and motion options of each platform, ensuring we could telegraph a sense of liveliness and excitement on mobile devices.

The result was a modular set of containers, typically limited to 3 per screen, with a taxonomy allowing customized motion behavior by container type.

Image
Example A: module 3 tagged as persistent top-level navigation for major hubs; Example B: Module is tagged as category navigation; Example C: Modules are tagged as gallery content

It's worth noting that Waypoint v1 was in development just before the emergence of responsive design, but switched to a responsive framework in v2.5 with the help of Joel Tinley.

"3 on a screen isn't just about layout, it's about presenting information simply and elegantly on every platform"

Visual Explorations

At this point the experience design needs to honor the hybrid nature of the prompt: it's important for the immersive and the task-based components of the experience to freely ideate within their own domains, but they need a cadence of regular convergence to stay in sync.
One of the first visual design explorations for the Halo Waypoint "terminal screen" where users would access everything within the network (view of "alien space" in background, foreshadowing an emerging storyline in the fiction)
One of the first visual design explorations for the Halo Waypoint "terminal screen" where users would access everything within the network (view of "alien space" in background, foreshadowing an emerging storyline in the fiction)
My redlines and notes on the visual concepts
My redlines and notes on the visual concepts
Wordmark treatment is especially important for a parent brand defined by its iconic letter forms. Of our candidates approved by franchise branding, I hybridized the lettering of #1 with the compass iconography of #5
Wordmark treatment is especially important for a parent brand defined by its iconic letter forms. Of our candidates approved by franchise branding, I hybridized the lettering of #1 with the compass iconography of #5
The final "visor" design for the v1 Waypoint screen: in the fiction, users stand on an observation deck aboard a ship exploring alien space, viewing a semi-transparent info terminal screen

We commissioned Skip Kimball -- the cinematic colorist responsible for James Cameron's Avatar and Netflix's Stranger Things, among many others -- for Waypoint's final alien space backdrop, which would tease the Waypoint fiction

The final "visor" design for the v1 Waypoint screen: in the fiction, users stand on an observation deck aboard a ship exploring alien space, viewing a semi-transparent info terminal screen
The final "visor" design for the v1 Waypoint screen: in the fiction, users stand on an observation deck aboard a ship exploring alien space, viewing a semi-transparent info terminal screen
An early introductory sequence I directed to explore mood and tone that we liked enough to use for promotional videos

Content and flows

To meet our commitment to deliver content that would appeal to a broad spectrum of fans, Waypoint needed to support a wide range of use cases (including our commuters):

  • Authenticate users and generate a detailed and shareable timeline of their participation across media types
  • Host film, video, and image content, both from the studio and from users
  • Provide content for fans of the books and written fiction (without asking users to read long-form text on TV screens)
  • Foster community interaction
  • Include a news channel
  • Offer special rewards, redeemable through the Xbox marketplace

The notion of a unified Halo "career" emerged as the most desired feature across all types of users, a visual record of growth and progress from the moment they engaged with their first Halo experience.

I took the task to design the full career system including screens, user flows, IA, and the core career progression model, validating each step with users from paper prototypes to high-fidelity clickable screens.

"The shareable Halo Career summary is a trading card that's scannable in under 10 seconds"
Paper test #1: The earliest mockups were paper and focused on content, comprehension, and maintaining simplicity

Paper test #1: The earliest mockups were paper and focused on content, comprehension, and maintaining simplicity

Clickable Prototype #10: as we validated basic flows and feature systems I moved to clickable prototypes with beginning layout guidance

Clickable Prototype #10: as we validated basic flows and feature systems I moved to clickable prototypes with beginning layout guidance

Cavalcade of clickables

Users wanted their Halo career to be shareable, and they didn't want to be overwhelmed with data.

Xbox achievements are popular across demographics with over 90% of Halo fans earning at least some from playing the games, so I built the career system on an achievement foundation: we could aggregate achievements from every game into a meaningful ranked progression with a retroactive timeline and add new categories for books, videos, and other experiences.

It was critical to find the balance between depth and simplicity, so I produced over 250 screen mockups and ran 3x weekly user tests through full product flows.

Production prototype #19: user flows and visual design merged in high-fidelity production prototypes

Production prototype #19: user flows and visual design merged in high-fidelity production prototypes

"3 on a screen isn't just about layout, it's about presenting information simply and elegantly"

The basic layout started taking shape by clickable prototype #6:

Screen shots of clickable prototype screens showing some layout

In addition to Career screens and interactions, I also delivered product-wide information architecture.

Navigating content on a game console presents unique challenges relative to PC or mobile devices: game controllers aren't ideally suited for fast navigation over an x-y plane and place a higher cognitive burden on users as they traverse content.

We discovered that users were more likely to become lost when diving deep into a console experience, so I kept the IA limited to a fairly shallow 3-level nested max.

Detail section from an early Halo Waypoint IA diagram

Detail section from an early Halo Waypoint IA diagram

Content & flows

To meet our commitment to deliver content that would appeal to a broad spectrum of fans, Waypoint needed to support a wide range of use cases (including our commuters):

  • Authenticate users and generate a detailed and shareable timeline of their participation across media types
  • Host film, video, and image content, both from the studio and from users
  • Provide content for fans of the books and written fiction (without asking users to read long-form text on TV screens)
  • Foster community interaction
  • Include a news channel
  • Offer special rewards, redeemable through the Xbox marketplace

The notion of a unified Halo "career" emerged as the most desired feature across all types of users, a visual record of growth and progress from the moment they engaged with their first Halo experience.

I took the task to design the full career system including screens, user flows, IA, and the core career progression model, validating each step with users from paper prototypes to high-fidelity clickable screens.

Cavalcade of clickables

"The shareable Halo Career summary is a trading card that's scannable in under 10 seconds"

Users wanted their Halo career to be shareable, and they didn't want to be overwhelmed with data.

Xbox achievements are popular across demographics with over 90% of Halo fans earning at least some from playing the games, so I built the career system on an achievement foundation: we could aggregate achievements from every game into a meaningful ranked progression with a retroactive timeline and add new categories for books, videos, and other experiences.

It was critical to find the balance between depth and simplicity, so I produced over 250 screen mockups and ran 3x weekly user tests through full product flows.

Image

Paper test #1: The earliest mockups were paper and focused on content, comprehension, and maintaining simplicity

Image

Clickable Prototype #10: as we validated basic flows and feature systems I moved to clickable prototypes with beginning layout guidance

Image

Production prototype #19: user flows and visual design merged in high-fidelity production prototypes

The basic layout started taking shape by clickable prototype #6:


Image

In addition to Career screens and interactions, I also delivered product-wide information architecture.

Navigating content on a game console presents unique challenges relative to PC and mobile devices: game controllers aren't ideally suited for fast navigation over an x-y plane and place a higher cognitive burden on users as they traverse content.

We discovered that users were more likely to become lost when diving deep into console IA, so I limited to a fairly shallow 3-level nested max.

Image

Detail section from an early Halo Waypoint IA diagram

Screens Come Together

It took about 8 weeks to fully merge the user flows with the visual, motion, and sound design for the 28 unique screens in the console launch service (samples follow):
Screen shot of an image gallery on the console
Image gallery
Screen shot of a the "intel" hub on the console
"Intel" (news) hub
Screen shot of the Career's achievement hub on the console
Career achievements hub
Screen shot of a the in-game unlockable item section on the console
In-game unlockable rewards
Screen shot of an image detail on the console
Image detail
Screen shot of a text description of a Halo unit on the console
"Halopedia" entry
Screen shot of a Career award detail screen on the console
Career award detail
Screen shot of recently added streaming videos on the console
New videos (sharing UI active)

BUT WE BROKE THE GRID

We broke the grid on purpose.

The Waypoint experience integrated a mystery that would unfold over time: alien tech had infiltrated human networks and was gradually changing things in disturbing ways; in the Waypoint case it was altering the screen display and introducing shapes used by the extinct super-species The Forerunners; astute fans would recognize the asymmetrical containers as not human.

Image
The broken grids and strange container shapes in Waypoint's screens were clues to a larger mystery

Screens Come Together

It took about 8 weeks to fully merge the user flows with the visual, motion, and sound design for the 28 unique screens in the console launch service (samples follow):
Screen shot of an image gallery on the console
Image gallery
Screen shot of a the "intel" hub on the console
"Intel" (news) hub
Screen shot of the Career's achievement hub on the console
Career achievements hub
Screen shot of a the in-game unlockable item section on the console
In-game unlockable rewards
Screen shot of an image detail on the console
Image detail
Screen shot of a text description of a Halo unit on the console
"Halopedia" entry
Screen shot of a Career award detail screen on the console
Career award detail
Screen shot of recently added streaming videos on the console
New videos (sharing UI active)

BUT WE BROKE THE GRID

We broke the grid on purpose.

The Waypoint experience integrated a mystery that would unfold over time: alien tech had infiltrated human networks and was gradually changing things in disturbing ways; in the Waypoint case it was altering the screen display and introducing shapes used by the extinct super-species The Forerunners; astute fans would recognize the asymmetrical containers as not human.

Image
The broken grids and strange container shapes in Waypoint's screens were clues to a larger mystery

THAT DesignOps LIFE

AAA video games with a significant online presence were early champions of DevOps: a 24x7 global service continuously deploying updates, enhancements, and content expansions to production needs to ensure development, test, and operations are joined at the hip.

Waypoint pushed Xbox and the Xbox Live service to the edge, and the design team didn't have the luxury of working in a sandbox: our prototypes were integrated into DevOps sprints to ensure there were no surprises on production servers.

We continued to refine the experience based on user testing feedback throughout production. This is a document snapshot from my weekly design change requests sent through DevOps triage, which would typically be built and deployed to the production mirror for each sprint.

Detail section from Halo Waypoint Career feature logic from a mid-production sprint, with changes from user test data noted in red

Detail section from Halo Waypoint Career feature logic from a mid-production sprint, with changes from user test data noted in red

THAT DesignOps LIFE

AAA video games with a significant online presence were early champions of DevOps: a 24x7 global service continuously deploying updates, enhancements, and content expansions to production needs to ensure development, test, and operations are joined at the hip.

Waypoint pushed Xbox and the Xbox Live service to the edge, and the design team didn't have the luxury of working in a sandbox: our prototypes were integrated into DevOps sprints to ensure there were no surprises on production servers.

We continued to refine the experience based on user testing feedback throughout production. This is a document snapshot from my weekly design change requests sent through DevOps triage, which would typically be built and deployed to the production mirror for each sprint.

Image

Detail section from Halo Waypoint Career feature logic from a mid-production sprint, with changes from user test data noted in red

The V1 Launch

The original schedule allowed for 2 full years of development work and media production (including film), but the studio was becoming more agile so we made the call to deliver less initial functionality in 12 months followed by a series of quarterly enhancements responding to the emerging preferences of our users.

The v1 launch included all core Career, media, rewards, and social features on the console and PC.

One of the promotional videos showing the Waypoint v1 Xbox experience

Mobile Disappointment

Microsoft was making another run at the mobile market and an exclusive Halo app was was viewed as an incentive for consumers to make the jump; that said, virtually none of our customers were using Windows mobile devices and there was no data showing that limiting Waypoint to Windows Phones would make them want one. I'm tenacious and persuasive and I'm not shy about pushing back against mandates that make no sense for users, but I was unable to move the mountain.

Windows Phone's ship date slipped by months and Waypoint on mobile wouldn't be available until nearly a year after console. We moved mobile work into the Waypoint anniversary update and I began a series of motion studies and screen layouts based on the updated SDK, but I left the team to start a new Halo project shortly before Waypoint mobile launched.

Image
Waypoint launched with reduced features on mobile as a Windows Phone 7.0 exclusive nearly a year after the console and PC version launched; a full featured mobile version would release a year later, and iOS and Android a year after that

V1 Reflections

The Waypoint launch was considered a major success by Microsoft: one of the highest rated Xbox releases of the year at 4.5/5 three months post launch and handily beat expectations for driving online hours in multiplayer, increasing sales of legacy titles, and attracting a greater diversity of Halo fans to participate in the social community.

With the above said, the launch missed a crucial component of the design prompt and failed to address the needs of mobile users, which was one of the primary user needs the team was addressing. We had an opportunity to deliver a service well ahead of the market that we knew would meet a need, but Microsoft's unfortunate decision to require product ties made Waypoint miss the opportunity by two full years.

I'm happy with the changes Waypoint v1 drove to the Xbox console experience and the opportunities it provided to offer a personalized experience to a wider range of fans, but the Windows Phone forced exclusive is a cautionary tale about the risk of prioritizing corporate strategy over user needs.

Image
Halo Waypoint was rated 4.5/5 stars by over 100k users at three months after release

The V1 Launch

The original schedule allowed for 2 full years of development work and media production (including film), but the studio was becoming more agile so we made the call to deliver less initial functionality in 12 months followed by a series of quarterly enhancements responding to the emerging preferences of our users.

The v1 launch included all core Career, media, rewards, and social features on the console and PC.

One of the promotional videos showing the Waypoint v1 Xbox experience

Mobile Disappointment

Microsoft was making another run at the mobile market and an exclusive Halo app was was viewed as an incentive for consumers to make the jump; that said, virtually none of our customers were using Windows mobile devices and there was no data showing that limiting Waypoint to Windows Phones would make them want one. I'm tenacious and persuasive and I'm not shy about pushing back against mandates that make no sense for customers, but I was unable to move the mountain.

Windows Phone's ship date slipped by months and Waypoint on mobile wouldn't be available until nearly a year after console. We moved mobile work into the Waypoint anniversary update and I began a series of motion studies and screen layouts based on the updated SDK, but I left the team to start a new Halo project shortly before Waypoint mobile launched.

Image
Waypoint launched with reduced features on mobile as a Windows Phone 7.0 exclusive nearly a year after the console and PC version launched; a full featured mobile version would release a year later, and iOS and Android a year after that

V1 Reflections

The Waypoint launch was considered a major success by Microsoft: one of the highest rated Xbox releases of the year at 4.5/5 three months post launch and handily beat expectations for driving online hours in multiplayer, increasing sales of legacy titles, and attracting a greater diversity of Halo fans to participate in the social community.

With the above said, the launch missed a crucial component of the design prompt and failed to address the needs of mobile users, which was one of the primary user needs the team was addressing. We had an opportunity to deliver a service well ahead of the market that we knew would meet a need, but Microsoft's unfortunate decision to require product ties made Waypoint miss the opportunity by two full years.

I'm happy with the changes Waypoint v1 drove to the Xbox console experience and the opportunities it provided to offer a personalized experience to a wider range of fans, but the Windows Phone forced exclusive is a cautionary tale about the risk of prioritizing corporate strategy over user needs.

Image

The V2

After launch we started hustling to scrub and revisit the backlog, engage our users, and take a personal inventory about where the team thought we could realize the biggest gains.

Some good news: rendering options on Xbox dramatically improved shortly after shipping (in fact, our team helped drive that change), and I was able to lay the foundation for an even more ambitious visual presentation that would be fully realized in v2.

I left the team 6 months into v2 development to start a new Halo project, but was thrilled to see the full vision realized.

The v2 Waypoint experience

The aspirational introduction to my Waypoint v2 framing doc

The aspirational introduction to my Waypoint v2 framing doc

The V2

After launch we started hustling to scrub and revisit the backlog, engage our users, and take a personal inventory about where the team thought we could realize the biggest gains.

Some good news: rendering options on Xbox dramatically improved shortly after shipping (in fact, our team helped drive that change), and I was able to lay the foundation for an even more ambitious visual presentation that would be fully realized in v2.

I left the team 6 months into v2 development to start a new Halo project, but was thrilled to see the full vision realized.

Image

The aspirational introduction to my Waypoint v2 framing doc

The v2 Waypoint experience