A former Ensemble Studios developer who worked on the Halo MMO has revealed that it was Microsoft's pursuit of the casual market, inspired by the success of the Wii, which caused the project to be cancelled.
Dusty Monk, now president of Windstorm Studios, worked on the game, codenamed Titan, for three years. He told IncGamers that a change of management and direction at Microsoft put paid to the project.
"There was a bit of a changing of the guard at Microsoft at this time," he said. "Microsoft, from its gaming division, was really changing directions. They were looking really hard at the Nintendo Wii and they were really excited by the numbers that the Wii was turning.
"This was about the time that Microsoft decided that its Xbox platform and XBLA really needed to go more in the direction of appealing to a more casual, broader audience.
"So part of this changing of the guard at Microsoft came along with the changing of the attitude to this very expensive, very long and very protracted $90 million project we were working on, which was Titan. To cut a long story short, Titan was closed down."
Monk said the game "was absolutely going to compete against" World of Warcraft and is confident that it would have had a good chance against Blizzard's behemoth.
"Even though a lot of people talk about how you just can't build a WOW killer, I absolutely believe that we could have built an MMO, if Microsoft had maintained their commitment, that if it hadn't been a WoW killer it certainly would've competed," he said.
Monk pointed out that Ensemble was "really good at competing against Blizzard", with its Age of Empires games historically going toe-to-toe with the Warcraft series. And he noted that many of Titan's design decisions are reflected in the next pretender to the throne, BioWare's Star Wars: The Old Republic, especially its "heroic stylised artform", earlier narrative time-frame, and cover system. It also had a system similar to Warhammer Online's public quests.
"We had all this incredible talent, we had the right people, the right passion, we had a phenomenally successful IP - the Halo IP... and we had a company that had our back when we started and the funding to put together that type of project."