Yesterday's announcement of the Halo: Mobile Portal is another great example of Microsoft nurturing and growing their still-young Halo brand. Everyone already knows that Halo is very big business (not many games get their own Slurpee cups cups at 7-11 or a line of novels), but it's clear that Microsoft's intentions are even greater. With this portal another medium has been tapped, and a feature film is still on the way.
We spoke with Mobile Portal developer In-Fusio's Senior Vice President of Marketing Andy Babb about this portal's longterm place within the stable of Halo properties, why this is the kind of mobile app Halo fans want, and whether it helps (or hinders) Microsoft's Live Anywhere initiative, among other topics.
GamesOnDeck: Talk to me about the timing of the Halo: Mobile Portal. What was the benefit of launching it now, instead of waiting until Halo 3 or the feature film were ready to drop?
Andy Babb: Halo fans have wanted this content for a while. With such strong demand, there is no reason to wait.
GOD: Tell me about "The Vault" of hidden, locked-off extras. Without giving away any secrets (they're part of the fun, after all), give me an example or two of how a Halo fan might gain access to a vault code? And what they might potentially be gaining access to?
AB: The Vault can only be accessed by using codes derived from the Halo universe, and each of the unique codes will give fans access to a different item of specialty content. Some are intended to be easy to access while others will take a bit of deduction. We’ve hidden codes amongst the places Halo fans like to visit online and will be revealing them as time goes by.
All of the codes are numerals. Since most numerals on a handset keypad also have letters attached, words are easily translated into numbers. For example, to get access to Jackal wallpaper, type in 5-2-2-5-2-5 which corresponds to the letters J-A-C-K-A-L on the keys.
GOD: Elaborate on this system of credits. Within the Halo: Mobile Portal, what does and doesn't cost credits to access? Obviously wallpapers and ringtones won't be free, but what about the gameplay tips, Xbox Live functions, etc.?
AB: The system of credits is particular for Verizon. There is no charge for the Halo: Mobile Portal, but in order to download the application, you have to purchase credits which can then be applied towards wallpapers or ring tones. All content through the Halo: Mobile Portal will range from one to three credits to download and fans can get more bang for their buck by buying in bulk. Either you get one credit for $2.49, three credits for $5.99 or five credits for $9.49.
The other features do not have a per-use charge. Once you have the Halo: Mobile Portal, you can access them and the regular Verizon data charges will apply.
GOD: Is In-Fusio looking at doing cross-marketing in the future, giving gamers free credits when they perhaps buy a Halo novel or game?
AB: I am unable to discuss the details just yet, but yes we would love cross-market the Halo: Mobile Portal when we have good opportunities and it makes sense for Halo fans.
GOD: Is the Halo: Mobile Portal's current feature set expandable, or fairly rigid? Could we see entirely new features like user-generated content, or is that not doable within this framework?
AB: We have discussed the possibilities of adding user-content and expanding the Halo: Mobile Portal. That's the beauty of creating a portal hub, there is potential to expand and update.
Our first step is to get the portal deployed to mobile carriers throughout the world with its current features. As we do that, we can listen to what fans like and what else they want to add. The Halo: Mobile Portal is a work in process for IN-FUSIO and for the Halo community.
GOD: Is there any interest in using this portal as a way to communicate with Bungie directly, or vice versa? The hardcore Halo community is extremely active on Bungie's website.
AB: The Halo community on Bungie.net is phenomenal and our hope is that the Halo: Mobile Portal will be a valuable addition to the overall Halo community. This application lets fans get news alerts and check stats even when they are away from their PC and can’t access Bungie.net.
As for communicating directly with Bungie, while the people there have been incredibly supportive of Halo: Mobile Portal, they are in fact quite busy making the best games in the world. Thus, there is no plan for Bungie to actively communicate through the portal.
GOD: Microsoft has been making a big push into mobile communities with their Live Anywhere initiative - a single community for ALL mobile games. Is that a concept that is at-odds with this exclusive, closed-off Halo portal? Or could there be Live Anywhere compatibility, in the future?
AB: I can’t comment on Microsoft’s initiatives however, they have had great input in the development of the Halo: Mobile Portal and have approved of everything we have done.
GOD: The announcement noted that continually updated tips and storyline summaries would keep the portal fresh, but can you provide some specific examples of future content?
AB: We view the Halo: Mobile Portal as a living entity. The current focus is to continually provide fresh content with new wallpapers and ringtones weekly.
The main menu has "Just Arrived" and "Limited Time" categories so fans can look for the latest and greatest pretty easily. Additional categories will be released to feature specific characters like the Arbiter, Guilty Spark, Marines and more. Different vehicles and weapons will also be showcased.
Tips are scheduled to be released every two weeks with hints for various player skill levels. We are constantly thinking of what would be cool to add to the Halo: Mobile Portal and we look forward to player responses so we can react to what they want to see.
GOD: In-Fusio hinted from the start that a something like this mobile portal would be the company's first use of the mobile Halo rights, but there's no denying that an actual mobile game set in the Halo universe could be gigantic. Your thoughts?
AB: Right now it’s all about the Halo: Mobile Portal.
[This interview was produced in association with Modojo.com.]