Kiki Wolfkill, Executive Producer for the Halo TV series, has left 343 Industries, leading to suspicion she has been punished by Microsoft.
The tech sector didn’t have a great start to 2023, with Amazon, Google, and Microsoft announcing a total of 40,000 layoffs between them by mid to late January. For Microsoft, cutting 10,000 jobs, this comes after earlier job cuts in October and July last year.
Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier reported that the layoffs would also affect Microsoft’s gaming division. According to “people familiar with the matter,” those affected included Bethesda Game Studios and 343 Industries. Even those who had over a decade at Xbox weren’t spared.
This may explain why Studio Head Pierre Hintze reassured fans via the Halo series Twitter account that “Halo and Master Chief are here to stay.”
He further noted, “343 Industries will continue to develop Halo now and in the future, including epic stories, multiplayer, and more of what makes Halo great.”
Schreier would go on to elaborate on his initial report, claiming that “the outfit is all but starting from scratch.” Along with Halo Infinite being sluggish to release features expected on launch, 343 Industries was already “losing staff by the week,” along with a “major leadership change” in Fall 2022.
“According to a spreadsheet of affected employees,” at least 95 employees were laid off — some of whom were described as “top directors and contractors.” What’s more, the developers weren’t working on new single player missions or story content for Halo Infinite. Though presumably outsourcing, they were instead working on new multiplayer content, as well as pitches and prototypes for new Halo games.
A brand new game code-named “Tatanka” is reportedly in the works. Microsoft declined to comment when approached by Bloomberg.
Suspicion only grew as Kiki Wolfkill had left her position as Studio Head of Halo Transmedia and Entertainment at 343 Industries. VGC and WCCFTech reported she had left the in January, 2023. Though her LinkedIn profile states she left in November 2022, some users on Twitter showed alleged screenshots of the profile with the January 2023 date.
“(FYI) Kiki Wolfkill, formerly head of Halo transmedia and entertainment at 343 Industries, has seemingly left the studio for another role at Xbox,” noted @IdleSloth84_.
They added, “She recently oversaw the launch of the Halo TV show.”
As per Google’s translation, user @BathrobeSpartan pointed out, “Kiki Wolfkill would no longer work at 343 Industries.”
“According to her LinkedIn profile, the latter would have returned to the heart of Microsoft in the division #Xbox as Head of Xbox IP Expansion and Entertainment,” the user added.
Though no archive of the LinkedIn profile from that time exists, multiple attempts at an archive were made via Internet Archive the days following the reports. None of these show the Experience section however.
Likewise, there is no confirmation if Wolfkill changed positions within Xbox due to the 343 Industries layoffs.
In any case, Wolfkill then became (and is currently) Head of Xbox IP Expansion and Entertainment, while retaining her role as executive producer for Paramount’s Halo TV series.
Paul Tassi painted a damning picture for Halo‘s future in his Forbes editorial, fearing Microsoft would ruin Halo between the TV series and Infinite. “The result is that we are now entering an era where there will be no game stories for Master Chief indefinitely, which leaves season 2 of this show (and possibly more, given its good-for-Paramount-Plus viewership) as the main portrayal of Chief in media.”
The woefully inaccurate and fan-loathed TV series featured a “Non-helmet wearing, sex-having, war-crime-committing Master Chief, who ended the second season actually dead with Cortana remote piloting his corpse,” as Tassi summarizes. We also found little to like about it in our review.
“What the Paramount show has done to Master Chief, what 343 and Microsoft have let them do, is pretty horrific, and they may destroy the character altogether without some sort of coherent plan to bring him back to his old glory days,” Tassi fears. “A plan which they very clearly do not have.”
Kneon of YouTube channel Clownfish TV discussed the news, hoping that Microsoft would axe the Paramount TV series “if they were smart,” and agreed with co-host Geeky Sparkles that the show’s reception was part of the reason behind Wolfkill’s “layoff.”
Geeky Sparkles also agreed with the sentiment of Tassi’s editorial, but that Microsoft had already ruined the franchise. Kneon speculated Microsoft had “diminished her [Wolfkill’s] creative input, let’s put it that way.”
He also argues that former showrunner Steven Kane’s claim that he left the series after its first season because he wanted “to return stateside for personal” is “bullsh-t”, as he believes Kane was in fact “hiding from the angry fans” and doing whatever he could to pass the buck to Wolfkill and others.
“Everybody decided, all at the same time, that there were greener pastures at Microsoft,” Kneon mocks.
Kneon also brings up an IGN interview with Head of Xbox Phil Spencer, wherein he praised the live-action adaption of The Last Of Us, notably stating “the fact that Neil [Druckmann] himself has played a role obviously in the creation of the game and the franchise, but see him applying his creative talents in the TV space…I think is really great. It’s great for him, it’s great for the team.”
Geeky Sparkles quickly adds that Wolfkill — despite being an Executive Producer on Halo 4 — “still f—ked it up! So it didn’t help in this case!!” Kneon implores her to “read between the lines,” however.
“What he is saying is […] ‘we gutted 343 because it should have been us, Halo should have been getting all the praise The Last Of Us is getting, and we done f—ked up,'” Kneon proposes. “And this isn’t gonna happen again.”
“So I don’t know where that leaves the series, if they’re gonna continue down the path they’re going in?” Kneon pondered. “That’s what I’m getting from this, is ‘we screwed up Halo, I let it get screwed up, I’m un-f–king it, I’m firing these people.'” Geeky Sparkles felt that, instead of rebooting the series, it would be better for them to “stop while you’re ahead, and just… don’t.”
The pair also cast doubt on Microsoft blaming “macro economics” and the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic on their issues, agreeing that upcoming Paramount-Showtime merger could result in Halo being cancelled due to it’s high production cost and poor reception.