Social Space: Halo 4 Spartan Ops, and the war between social and core

Halo Spartan Ops
Halo Spartan Ops

One of the most anticipated console games of the year, Halo 4, will land on the Xbox 360 in less than two weeks. With its Nov. 6 release date, Microsoft and developer 343 Industries have annual shooter mega series Call of Duty in their sights. But with its most interesting play mode, Spartan Ops, the duo seems to have another target in the cross hairs: social and mobile gaming.

Spartan Ops is more than a mode, really. Offering a weekly cadence of cooperative multiplayer missions that will episodically progress the overall story, it's a full blown initiative. According to alleged leaks to a Halo fan blog, each mission (as part of a 50-mission series over 10 weeks) will offer up to an hour of cooperative play each week throughout the season.

Halo Spartan Ops screens
Halo Spartan Ops screens

It's somewhat of an unprecedented move, offering weekly updates to a console game. In fact, looking at this purely from a content perspective, this isn't a far cry from what Facebook game and some mobile game makers have been doing for years. It's on a much smaller scale than what Halo 4 will offer, sure, but social games like FarmVille and The Sims Social offer new quests to complete and items to collect on a weekly basis. And to think that Zynga's flagship game has been at it for three years.

Do Microsoft and 343 Industries feel threatened by FarmVille? I doubt that, but what they might be threatened by is the constant stream of content these social games offer. It's seems that, in the age of app updates and gamers' seemingly shrinking availability to play, the duo wants to future-proof its biggest bet of the year. Generally speaking, gamers have more mega franchises begging for their attention than ever, so a move like Spartan Ops makes even more sense.

But it's the experiences that players can squeeze into the free 15 or 20 minutes they may have on a given night--nay, it's the volume of those experiences--that stand to slowly draw them away from Blockbuster Brand A. And where can gamers go, even the core set these days, to find a myriad of those experiences? Reach into your pocket or log onto Facebook.

If Spartan Ops proves successful for Halo 4--and, I my mind, there's little doubt--it will be interesting to see whether, or how quickly, the rest of the console game industry adapts and begins to offer similar experiences. Just look at the success of episodic games like The Walking Dead series. If core games want to continue to compete for the time of increasingly strapped gamers, weekly content release schedules a la Facebook games may be the answer.

Are you a fan of this weekly content release strategy? Do you see more developers adopting this approach? Sound off in the comments. Add Comment.

Joe Osborne is associate editor at News. Weekly in Social Space, Joe shares opinions and observations on the intersection of social gaming and traditional games. Follow him on Twitter here.