At The Azenberg Group's [A] List Summit, vice president of strategy and client services Steve Fowler took some time to chat with me about his days at Microsoft. Serving as lead product manager from 2000 to 2003, Fowler was responsible for the brand management of numerous action games, including a little title called Halo. The word on the street was that Fowler was largely responsible for the game's tagline, "Combat Evolved". When asked about its origins, he told me:
"Back in the original days of the Halo brand, before it was anything, we did a lot of consumer research. We went across the world, talking to consumers in Europe, Asia, and North America. We were concerned with gamers that weren't aware of what Halo was and we needed to be concerned with them because if this was going to be a franchise title then we couldn't just rely on core gamers or people that were following it since the MacWorld announcement. The new customers were going to be the ones that would make or break the Xbox, so we need Halo to go bigger than that.
The emotional response to the word halo was not exactly what we were looking for. [laughs] It seems trivial now because it's such an established brand and it's synonymous now with unbelievable sci-fi action. Back in the day, halo was seen as a feminine word and had religious connotations to it, so we felt like we needed a definer. 'Combat Evolved' was what ended up being that definer. [laughs]
There was a lot of back and forth between Bungie, the internal Microsoft marketing team, and the outsourced creative agency. There was a lot of debate, a lot of nail biting, a lot of screaming at each other [laughs], and lots of compromise. It was the single piece of content that defined the Xbox. At that time it was the next-gen system, so we were evolving combat. First-person shooters on consoles were never really that popular outside of GoldenEye 007, so Halo was a big risk. It was a bold statement that said, 'Hey, this is a shooter that was meant to be played best on a console with a gamepad in your hand.'"
When I asked Fowler if he was the one that coined the phrase, he shared credit with his team. He also told me that a lot of people at Microsoft weren't keen on Master Chief representing the Xbox and would have preferred a certain Oddworld Inhabitant.
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