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 the design effort to reimagine Halo as a lifestyle product, unifying touchpoints and platforms over years of engagement and leading to a first of its kind transmedia entertainment network called Halo Waypoint.

Served as Creative/UX Director and Product Manager for a team of 40+ with a $50M launch budget

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 the design effort to reimagine Halo as a lifestyle product, unifying touchpoints and platforms over years of engagement and 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+ with a $50M launch budget


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.

THE PROBLEM & OPPORTUNITY

After a decade of experiences in the Halo universe fans were increasingly asking for connections between content islands and communities, and recognition for their long-term engagement and support. Competing franchises were investing heavily in the fan experience and Halo was at risk from years spent over-prioritizing a small segment of the multiplayer console base.

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

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.

THE PROBLEM & OPPORTUNITY

After a decade of experiences in the Halo universe fans were increasingly asking for connections between content islands and communities, and recognition for their long-term engagement and support. Competing franchises were investing heavily in the fan experience and Halo was at risk from years spent over-prioritizing a small segment of the multiplayer console base.

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

LEARNING ABOUT USERS

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 the franchise was a major force in the lives of tens of millions of people around the world, but we didn't understand how that force manifested outside of games and conventions.

We discovered:

  • Over 70% 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 (frequently both physical and digital), but only a small number were active on Xbox

  • Fans who didn't regularly 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

  • Almost all Halo fans had an Xbox and at least 2 of the games
Image showing different devices accessing Halo-themed internet content while the Xbox is unable to do so
We learned that Halo was as much a lifestyle brand as a video game, and it became clear that the creative home of the franchise on the console was an isolated island

LEARNING ABOUT USERS

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 the franchise was a major force in the lives of tens of millions of people around the world, but we didn't understand how that force manifested outside of games and conventions.

We discovered:

  • Over 70% 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 (frequently both physical and digital), but only a small number were active on Xbox

  • Fans who didn't regularly 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

  • Almost all Halo fans had an Xbox and at least 2 of the games
Image showing different devices able to access a wide range of Halo-themed content on the internet, but Xbox unable to do so
We learned that Halo was as much a lifestyle brand as a video game, and it became clear that the creative home of the franchise on the console was an isolated island

THE QUESTIONS & INSIGHTS

After extracting key information from verbatims and a few rounds of affinity mapping, we noticed that almost all Halo fans valued experiences in one or more of the same three buckets:

  • EXPLORING a vast and surprising universe through both story content and interactive experiences
  • SHARING content, experiences, and accomplishments with friends and other fans
  • ANCHORING long-term investment in the franchise by connecting content islands in the vast Halo lore and within their personal journeys via identity and access to content

We started thinking about ways to answer our high-level questions by increasing opportunities for fans to have experiences that enhanced exploring, sharing, and anchoring:

  1. How can we make the Xbox experience more inviting and relevant to fans who aren't interested in competitive multiplayer?

  2. How can we make it easier for different kinds of fan communities to interact?

  3. How can we give fans a feeling of return on their investment of time in the franchise (often thousands of hours over many years)?

  4. How can we keep Halo relevant for a new generation?
We knew Halo was social, but we didn't realize it had become an identity for millions of people
Image showing design 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 many use cases

THE QUESTIONS & INSIGHTS

After extracting key information from verbatims and a few rounds of affinity mapping, we noticed that almost all Halo fans valued experiences in one or more of the same three buckets:

  • EXPLORING a vast and surprising universe through both story content and interactive experiences
  • SHARING content, experiences, and accomplishments with friends and other fans
  • ANCHORING long-term investment in the franchise by connecting content islands in the vast Halo lore and within their personal journeys via identity and access to content

We started thinking about ways to answer our high-level questions by increasing opportunities for fans to have experiences that enhanced exploring, sharing, and anchoring:

  1. How can we make the Xbox experience more inviting and relevant to fans who aren't interested in competitive multiplayer?

  2. How can we make it easier for different kinds of fan communities to interact?

  3. How can we give fans a feeling of return on their investment of time in the franchise (often thousands of hours over many years)?

  4. How can we keep Halo relevant for a new generation?

We knew Halo was social, but we didn't realize it had become an identity for millions of people
Image of design 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 many use cases

STATING ASSUMPTIONS

Video content was almost universally popular across every kind of Halo fan, with high-quality third party content generating millions of views each week:

We believed quality original Halo video content was sufficient to drive and sustain traffic to any platform.

Although other major game franchises were beginning to ship mobile versions of their games, our research was clear that Halo fans were interested in videos, community interaction, and fiction on their mobile devices:

We believed fans would be more likely to regularly engage with a non-game experience on their mobile devices.

Almost every Halo fan had an Xbox and had played at least some of the games and earned some Xbox Live achievements:

We believed the right mix of non-game content would attract new users to Xbox Live, and that Xbox achievements were valuable to all fans.

Rooster Teeth's long-running Red vs. Blue Halo-themed comedy series has millions of fans, many of whom don't play the Halo games

Nearly all Halo fans talked about feeling like they were part of a shared, living universe and curated their Halo identities through forums, cosplay, Xbox Live achievements, video playlists, and the like:

We believed fans would strongly engage with a shareable Halo identity system that chronicled their experiences and accomplishments throughout the Halo universe.

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

STATING ASSUMPTIONS

Video content was almost universally popular across every kind of Halo fan, with high-quality third party content generating millions of views each week:

We believed quality original Halo video content was sufficient to drive and sustain traffic to any platform.

Although other major game franchises were beginning to ship mobile versions of their games, our research was clear that Halo fans were interested in videos, community interaction, and fiction on their mobile devices:

We believed fans would be more likely to regularly engage with a non-game experience on their mobile devices.

Almost every Halo fan had an Xbox and had played at least some of the games and earned some Xbox Live achievements:

We believed the right mix of non-game content would attract new users to Xbox Live, and that Xbox achievements were valuable to all fans.

Nearly all Halo fans talked about feeling like they were part of a shared, living universe and curated their Halo identities through forums, cosplay, Xbox Live achievements, video playlists, and the like:

We believed fans would strongly engage with a shareable Halo identity system that chronicled their experiences and accomplishments throughout the Halo universe.

Rooster Teeth's long-running Red vs. Blue Halo-themed comedy series has millions of fans, many of whom don't play the Halo games

The Hypotheses

We hypothesized that a personalized home base anchored in the Halo universe and accessible from any screen could help us reach every Halo fan through a single channel.

This home base would generate significant direct and indirect revenue from:

  • 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

  • Driving more users to the Xbox Live platform

We suggested 4 major components of the home base most likely to attract and retain users:

  1. Engaging and fun to use (not just another website) and anchored in the fiction

  2. Frequently updated high-quality original video content

  3. Robust social features crossing platforms and communities

  4. A personalized Halo "career" chronicling everything players did in the universe that became more impressive over time and could be easily shared with friends
"The main hypothesis developed from our insight into the popularity of non-game Halo experiences"
Image of a diagram showing different kinds of devices (TV, mobile phone, game console) all connecting to a home base that access all available Halo content
We hypothesized that a unified cross-platform Halo portal or "home base" that was anchored in the fiction, fun to interact with, and featuring specific kinds of content would be appealing to virtually all Halo fans

The Hypotheses

We hypothesized that a personalized home base anchored in the Halo universe and accessible from any screen could help us reach every Halo fan through a single channel.

This home base would generate significant direct and indirect revenue from:

  • 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

  • Driving more users to the Xbox Live platform

We suggested 4 major components of the home base most likely to attract and retain users:

  1. Engaging and fun to use (not just another website) and anchored in the fiction

  2. Frequently updated high-quality original video content

  3. Robust social features crossing platforms and communities

  4. A personalized Halo "career" chronicling everything players did in the universe that became more impressive over time and could be easily shared with friends
"The main hypothesis developed from our insight into the popularity of non-game Halo experiences"
Image of a diagram showing different kinds of devices all connecting to a home base that access all available Halo content
We hypothesized that a unified cross-platform Halo portal or "home base" that was anchored in the fiction, fun to interact with, and featuring specific kinds of content would be appealing to virtually all Halo fans

Legacy, good & bad

Halo already had a stunningly deep and rich personalized home base for multiplayer users that captured virtually every action taken in every multiplayer game, providing deep analytical data to both professional e-sports players and hardcore fans.

Unfortunately, less than 10% of Halo fans ever accessed this data, and only a fraction of that 10% used the feature regularly.

The data tracking experience was also only available on PC web browsers and presented as a lifeless set of stat sheets completely separate from the fiction, and we'd heard clearly that fans wanted every Halo experience to be "as much fun as playing one of the Halo games".

Competitive gameplay may be the heart of Halo, but the heart is a small part of the body most people never see.
Image showing hundreds of personalized statistics displayed on a static web page for competitive Halo players

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

Halo already had a stunningly deep and rich personalized home base for multiplayer users that captured virtually every action taken in every multiplayer game, providing deep analytical data to both professional e-sports players and hardcore fans.

Unfortunately, less than 10% of Halo fans ever accessed this data, and only a fraction of that 10% used the feature regularly.

The data tracking experience was also only available on PC web browsers and presented as a lifeless set of stat sheets completely separate from the fiction, and we'd heard clearly that fans wanted every Halo experience to be "as much fun as playing one of the Halo games".

Image showing hundreds of personalized Halo multiplayer stats displayed on a static webpage

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.

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

Guiding MVP Ideation

Defining the MVP

The team broke our complex initial hypothesis into a series of structured MVPs for career, community, user-generated content, studio-product content, etc. that we could deliver sequentially as each was validated, and ensured each was an independent service so we could easily change or toss any that didn't work out.

The cross-platform home base was was its own MVP, and we believed the biggest long-term reward potential with the highest risk resided in building a universal personalized Halo career as it required major changes to the Xbox Live platform architecture and policies.

NOT A GAME, BUT GAME-LIKE

We knew fans wanted a "Halo experience", which meant something interactive, visually engaging, and with a story; something that made them feel like they stepped into the Halo universe when logging in.

Video games rely on motion and sound to draw players into their worlds so the home base 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.

We adopted this POV when starting ideation for the immersive elements of the home base:

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

I worked with our franchise team to build a backstory capable of supporting the functional design: 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 for large screens (people carry mobile devices in the Halo universe so that fiction didn't need to be written).

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.

SCREEN INTERACTIONS

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.

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

Image showing identical content displayed on different devices
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 also led the interaction exploration for mobile and worked with the Windows Phone team to coordinate user tests on prototype hardware and ensure our interactions were supported by the frequently changing SDK; Halo Waypoint was to be a Windows Phone 7 launch exclusive and both products were in development at the same time.

Image showing static mockups of mobile interactions
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

Visual Explorations

At this point the experience design needs to honor the hybrid nature of the creative challenge: the design process for the fictionally-anchored immersive elements of the experience typically won't follow a strict user-centered design process (this aspect of the work is more film direction than application development), while the task-based elements must, of course, be anchored in user-centered process.

In the early phases of production, we explored visual concepts supporting the developing narrative.

Image showing 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 experience (view of "alien space" in background, foreshadowing an emerging storyline in the fiction)
Image showing redlines and notes on Waypoint visual concepts
Art direction on the visual concepts
Image showing 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. We tested over 100 representations, eventually hybridizing #5 and #1 from the above
Image showing 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 animated 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
I led the motion design team through mood and tone explorations to support Waypoint's unique brand

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.

Guiding MVP Ideation

Defining the MVP

The team broke our complex initial hypothesis into a series of structured MVPs for career, community, user-generated content, studio-product content, etc. that we could deliver sequentially as each was validated, and ensured each was an independent service so we could easily change or toss any that didn't work out.

The cross-platform home base was was its own MVP, and we believed the biggest long-term reward potential with the highest risk resided in building a universal personalized Halo career as it required major changes to the Xbox Live platform architecture and policies.

NOT A GAME, BUT GAME-LIKE

We knew fans wanted a "Halo experience", which meant something interactive, visually engaging, and with a story; something that made them feel like they stepped into the Halo universe when logging in.

Video games rely on motion and sound to draw players into their worlds so the home base 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.

We adopted this POV when starting ideation for the immersive elements of the home base:

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

I worked with our franchise team to build a backstory capable of supporting the functional design: 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 for large screens (people carry mobile devices in the Halo universe so that fiction didn't need to be written).

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.

SCREEN INTERACTIONS

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 showing identical content displayed on different devices
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 design for a modular set of containers, typically limited to 3 per screen, with a taxonomy allowing customized motion behavior by container type.

Image of several diagrams of mobile animated screen interactions for Halo Waypoint
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

I led the interaction exploration for mobile and worked with the Windows Phone team to coordinate user tests on prototype hardware and ensure our interactions were supported by the frequently changing SDK; Halo Waypoint was to be a Windows Phone 7 launch exclusive and both products were in development at the same time.

More on the risk of this kind of dependency later in this case study (anyone who practices Lean UX understands why it's a bad idea).

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 creative challenge: the design process for the fictionally-anchored immersive elements of the experience typically won't follow a strict user-centered design process (this aspect of the work is more film direction than application development), while the task-based elements must, of course, be anchored in user-centered process.

In the early phases of production, we explored visual concepts supporting the developing narrative.

Image of 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 experience (view of "alien space" in background, foreshadowing an emerging storyline in the fiction)
Image of redlines and notes on the visual concepts
Art direction on the visual concepts
Image of several Halo Waypoint logo text options
Wordmark treatment is especially important for a parent brand defined by its iconic letter forms. We tested over 100 representations, eventually hybridizing #5 and #1 from the above
Image of 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 animated alien space backdrop, which would tease the Waypoint fiction

Image of 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
I led the motion design team through mood and tone explorations to support Waypoint's unique brand

Content and flows

Cavalcade of clickables

I took the lead to drive the career design from the earliest storyboards and paper prototypes through to final. Our goal was to offer a richly detailed and personalized career that didn't overwhelm with information, and that could be easily shared with friends on any device.

We brainstormed and paper tested a range of ideas, and the presentation with the best response was roughly equivalent to a sports trading card and showed:

  • A career "rank" from 1-40 calculated by how much fans had accomplished in the universe

  • The total Halo Gamerscore earned, based on various achievements

  • Awards for doing groups of related things (reading a certain number of books, piloting all of the vehicles in the games, etc.)

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

We chose console as the lead experience since everything relied on the Xbox Live APIs allowing us to extract, package, and transport the data we needed. We were also tied to the future launch of Windows Phone 7 and details hadn't yet been released about screen dimensions and resolutions, SDKs, and the like.

I used the mobile-first container model to guide layout and began 2-3x weekly user tests, progressing from paper prototypes to high-fidelity production code.

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

It was critical to find the balance between depth and simplicity, so I produced over 500 screen mockups and ran 3x weekly user tests through full product flows.

Image showing Halo Waypoint career 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

Image showing Halo Waypoint 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

Image showing Halo Waypoint 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:

Image showing 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 limited the IA to a fairly shallow 3-level nested max.

Image showing detail section from an early Halo Waypoint IA diagram

Detail section from an early Halo Waypoint IA diagram

Content and flows

Cavalcade of clickables

I took the lead to drive the career design from the earliest storyboards and paper prototypes through to final. Our goal was to offer a richly detailed and personalized career that didn't overwhelm with information, and that could be easily shared with friends on any device.

We brainstormed and paper tested a range of ideas, and the presentation with the best response was roughly equivalent to a sports trading card and showed:

  • A career "rank" from 1-40 calculated by how much fans had accomplished in the universe

  • The total Halo Gamerscore earned, based on various achievements

  • Awards for doing groups of related things (reading a certain number of books, piloting all of the vehicles in the games, etc.)

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

We chose console as the lead experience since everything relied on the Xbox Live APIs allowing us to extract, package, and transport the data we needed. We were also tied to the future launch of Windows Phone 7 and details hadn't yet been released about screen dimensions and resolutions, SDKs, and the like.

I used the mobile-first container model to guide layout and began 2-3x weekly user tests, progressing from paper prototypes to high-fidelity production code.

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

It was critical to find the balance between depth and simplicity, so I produced over 500 screen mockups and ran 3x weekly user tests through full product flows.

Image of Halo Waypoint 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

Image of Halo Waypoint 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

Image of Halo Waypoint 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 limited the IA to a fairly shallow 3-level nested max.

Image showing detail section from an early Halo Waypoint IA diagram

Detail section from an early Halo Waypoint IA diagram

THE MOTION DESIGN

Halo Waypoint was designed as an immersive experience, where tasks like reviewing personal achievements, viewing user-generated content, and interacting with other fans were all taking place while the user was aboard a fictional space vessel in the Halo universe.

We were delivering a lively experience filled with sound and motion, and the design patterns for interactions were far more elaborate than non-game experiences typically utilized. I led the audio and motion team through the design of a unified palette of motion and sound, directing a full mockup of the experience to use as reference (background music was purely for team inspiration and not featured in the product).

A high-fidelity experience mockup detailing motion and sound conventions for the experience

WINDOWS PHONE DRAMA

Microsoft's SLT tied the Halo Waypoint release to the launch of Windows Phone 7 and planned to make it a platform exclusive; the app was viewed as an incentive for consumers to change platforms and give Windows Phone 7 a try. We argued that virtually none of our fans had a Windows Phone device and there was no data indicating Waypoint would encourage them to buy a Windows Phone, but we were unable to move that mountain even though I'm fairly certain everyone knew it was a bad strategy.

It's an excellent cautionary tale.

Windows Phone's ship date slipped by months, and we made the call to launch desktop and console on schedule. Details on phone specs were still changing frequently, so I began a series of motion studies and screen layouts based on current SDK guidance but moved most work into the product backlog.

Animated image showing a mockup of motion and interactions for Halo Waypoint on a simulated Windows Phone 7
Mid-fidelity prototype on a simulated Windows Phone 7 showing motion and interactions based on launch capabilities.

THE MOTION DESIGN

Halo Waypoint was designed as an immersive experience, where tasks like reviewing personal achievements, viewing user-generated content, and interacting with other fans were all taking place while the user was aboard a fictional space vessel in the Halo universe.

We were delivering a lively experience filled with sound and motion, and the design patterns for interactions were far more elaborate than non-game experiences typically utilized. I led the audio and motion team through the design of a unified palette of motion and sound, directing a full mockup of the experience to use as reference (background music was purely for team inspiration and not featured in the product).

A high-fidelity experience mockup detailing motion and sound conventions for the experience

WINDOWS PHONE DRAMA

Image showing animated Halo Waypoint interactions on a simulated Windows Phone 7
Mid-fidelity prototype on a simulated Windows Phone 7 showing motion and interactions based on launch capabilities.

Microsoft's SLT tied the Halo Waypoint release to the launch of Windows Phone 7 and planned to make it a platform exclusive; the app was viewed as an incentive for consumers to change platforms and give Windows Phone 7 a try. We argued that virtually none of our fans had a Windows Phone device and there was no data indicating Waypoint would encourage them to buy a Windows Phone, but we were unable to move that mountain even though I'm fairly certain everyone knew it was a bad strategy.

It's an excellent cautionary tale.

Windows Phone's ship date slipped by months, and we made the call to launch desktop and console on schedule. Details on phone specs were still changing frequently, so I began a series of motion studies and screen layouts based on current SDK guidance but moved most work into the product backlog.

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)

DID YOU NOTICE 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 and off-center alignment as not human.

Screenshot of a Halo Waypoint screen showing intentionally misaligned visual elements
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 an image detail on the console
Image detail
Screen shot of a the "intel" hub on the console
"Intel" (news) hub
Screen shot of a text description of a Halo unit on the console
"Halopedia" entry
Screen shot of the Career's achievement hub on the console
Career achievements hub
Screen shot of a Career award detail screen on the console
Career award detail
Screen shot of a the in-game unlockable item section on the console
In-game unlockable rewards
Screen shot of recently added streaming videos on the console
New videos (sharing UI active)

DID YOU NOTICE 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 and off-center alignment as not human.

Image showing intentionally misaligned visual elements on a Halo Waypoint screen
The broken grids and strange container shapes in Waypoint's screens were clues to a larger mystery

LEAN UX + DEVOPS

AAA video games with a significant online presence were early DevOps models: a 24x7 global service constantly deploying updates, enhancements, and content expansions to production based on continuous customer feedback needs to ensure design, 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 weekly 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 weekly 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 accessible to our beta testers for each sprint.

Image of a 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

LEAN UX + DEVOPS

AAA video games with a significant online presence were early DevOps models: a 24x7 global service constantly deploying updates, enhancements, and content expansions to production based on continuous customer feedback needs to ensure design, 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 weekly 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 weekly 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 accessible to our beta testers for each sprint.

Image showing 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

V1 LAUNCH

Because we were working in a lean model and aggressively minimized dependencies and up-front design, we were able to deliver a robust experience in 9 months instead of the 24 originally budgeted. Each major feature area was its own MVP: the portal (or container), the career, the community features (uploading and sharing content), etc.

We needed to make some adjustments and cuts, of course; Xbox 360 had significant limitations for dashboard graphics rendering and we scaled-back some of our visual ambitions, but interestingly the v1 was lauded for its graphics (likely because Waypoint was doing considerably more than other experiences on the platform at the time).

The service was a hit and one of the highest rated Xbox releases of the year, with an unprecedented range of features that raised the industry bar.

Media production team Rooster Teeth reviews Halo Waypoint in the below video (warning for some coarse language).

Media production team Rooster Teeth reviews the launch of Halo Waypoint

V1 LAUNCH

Because we were working in a lean model and aggressively minimized dependencies and up-front design, we were able to deliver a robust experience in 9 months instead of the 24 originally budgeted. Each major feature area was its own MVP: the portal (or container), the career, the community features (uploading and sharing content), etc.

We needed to make some adjustments and cuts, of course; Xbox 360 had significant limitations for dashboard graphics rendering and we scaled-back some of our visual ambitions, but interestingly the v1 was lauded for its graphics (likely because Waypoint was doing considerably more than other experiences on the platform at the time).

The service was a hit and one of the highest rated Xbox releases of the year, with an unprecedented range of features that raised the industry bar.

Media production team Rooster Teeth reviews Halo Waypoint in the below video (warning for some coarse language).

Media production team Rooster Teeth reviews the launch of Halo Waypoint

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, increasing sales of legacy titles, and attracting a greater diversity of Halo fans to Xbox Live.

Millions of fans were using Halo Waypoint within three months of launch.

With the above said, the launch missed a critical platform 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 had high confidence would result in a cascade of benefits to the business, but Microsoft's unfortunate decision to require product ties made Halo miss what should have been an easy win.

Image showing Halo Waypoint rated 4.5 out of 5 stars by over 100,000 users on the Xbox Live site
Halo Waypoint was rated 4.5/5 stars by over 100k users at three months after release

V1 Reflections

Image showing Halo Waypoint rated 4.5 out of 5 stars by over 100,000 users on the Xbox Live website
Halo Waypoint was rated 4.5/5 stars by over 100k users at three months after release
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, increasing sales of legacy titles, and attracting a greater diversity of Halo fans to Xbox Live.

Millions of fans were using Halo Waypoint within three months of launch.

With the above said, the launch missed a critical platform 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 had high confidence would result in a cascade of benefits to the business, but Microsoft's unfortunate decision to require product ties made Halo miss what should have been an easy win.

The V2

All was not lost for mobile! Although it took a while to live through the pain of a slipped Windows Phone release, the team did manage to pull everything together for the Waypoint v2 release on Xbox One, which included significant enhancements to dashboard graphics rendering.

I left the team 6 months into v2 development to launch a new Halo project, but was thrilled to see the full vision realized. Waypoint would eventually ship on both iOS and Android as well.

The v2 Waypoint experience

The V2

All was not lost for mobile! Although it took a while to live through the pain of a slipped Windows Phone release, the team did manage to pull everything together for the Waypoint v2 release on Xbox One, which included significant enhancements to dashboard graphics rendering.

I left the team 6 months into v2 development to launch a new Halo project, but was thrilled to see the full vision realized. Waypoint would eventually ship on both iOS and Android as well.

The v2 Waypoint experience