Last night, developer 343 Industries rolled out a Juneteenth-themed cosmetic option for Halo Infinite, its multiplayer shooter. For a moment, the affiliated Pan-African-themed color palette was titled “Bonobo.” A bonobo, for those who don’t know, is an endangered species of great ape.
I do not need to tell you how abhorrent this is.
Halo Infinite, which is based on a free-to-play model, has its weekly “reset”—when a slew of new cosmetics and modes cycle into the game, meant to keep the grind feeling fresh—every Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. ET. This week, 343 Industries added a free but time-limited nameplate in commemoration of Juneteenth, a federal holiday marking the end of slavery in the United States.
At 4:45 p.m. ET, the Halo content creator Sean W posted a video on YouTube explaining the situation. Yes, the nameplate itself is named “Juneteenth.” But the color option for it, which you access via a secondary submenu, was initially listed as “Bonobo.” By 5:10 p.m. ET, Sean W noted on Twitter that it had been fixed—probably the quickest fix to ever roll out in Halo Infinite’s turbulent history—and is now named “Freedom.” Still, it absolutely boggles the mind how this happened in the first place.
If you’re familiar with the development of Halo Infinite and would like to chat, my inbox is always open. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter, Halo senior community manager John Junyszek said the palette was “incorrectly named” and attributed the error to an “internal toolset,” but didn’t specify any further details. The Halo content creator Mint Blitz further pointed out that a program in Bungie’s development tools for earlier Halo games is named “Bonobo.” (After 343 Industries assumed stewardship of the Halo franchise a decade-ish ago, original developer Bungie passed on the keys to many of the development tools.)
An individual familiar with the development of Halo, who spoke to Kotaku under condition of anonymity, confirmed that Bonobo is indeed an asset-editing program at 343. Though it was commonly used during the development of Halo 5, the studio moved away from its use during the development of Halo Infinite. But it exists. It’s popular among staff. And it would widely be known by many employees at the studio.
That’s what’s so mind-boggling about how this happened in the first place.
It’s unclear whether or not the Bonobo program’s name would get pulled automatically in the text field for the name of a color palette. It’s possible that someone on staff punched in the name of the program as placeholder text, and the studio’s normal processes for quality-checks on this stuff didn’t catch it. (Jerry Hook, longtime head of design at 343, left the studio last month. Multiple sources familiar with Infinite’s development, all of whom have requested anonymity, have told Kotaku that Hook heads up the game’s cosmetic system.) Microsoft, Kotaku is told, has many quality checks in place before anything makes its way to a public-facing position.
For seven months now, Halo Infinite has rolled out tons of cosmetic options on a weekly basis, including no shortage of color options.This happens to be the first time this specific screw-up has happened—which, c’mon. Come on. For a nameplate regarding Juneteenth? Really??? So, at best, it’s an embarrassing fuckup, and the studio’s quality checks did not catch it before the update went live. At worst, someone, or many someones, cracked a racist joke somewhere in the development process and the studio’s quality checks did not catch it before the update went live. Either way, it’s an institutional failure.
Studio leadership at 343 seems to acknowledge how ugly this looks. Halo Infinite head of creative Joe Staten apologized on Twitter, writing, “Our mistake today was inexcusable, and I’m ashamed we allowed it to happen.” And studio head Bonnie Ross wrote, “On behalf of 343, I apologize for making a celebrated moment a hurtful moment.”
But the main Halo channels, which have a far broader reach than the channels of any individual employee, have yet to issue a formal statement or explanation, save for a retweet of Ross’ apology. When reached for comment, representatives for 343 Industries did not have anything to add.