Prior to its release, Halo 4 was the most highly anticipated game on the Xbox 360. As a 360-exclusive title, it was considered a system seller—or "killer app"—for Microsoft's aging console. Like the previous games in the series, developed by Bungie, were subject to long lines during the game's midnight release on November 6 last year.
In spite of the game's initial surge in popularity, the number of players within the game's online mode have since waned tremendously, dropping to a low fourth place this week on the LIVE Activity for week of January 7th charts released by Major Nelson on his official Xbox blog. The list sees Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 as the highest played game, followed by the Xbox 360 version of Minecraft, and EA Sports' FIFA Soccer 13.
Those perplexed by the game's drop in popularity should consider that the game was released with a heavy focus on its Spartan Ops co-op mode, which—based on what I've personally experienced—is a lot less fun than the single-player campaign. The competitive mode, known as War Games, appears to have been relegated to second string with such a small rotation of maps on its playlist.
In spite of the fact that the War Games offers a ton of different modes, it's hard to be excited about playing the same maps over and over again. The release of the Crimson Map Pack last month added some amount of excitement to the game, but it clearly wasn't enough to spur players into spending more time within the game, preferring instead what Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 has to offer, judging by the LIVE activity.
343 Industries plans to expand the War Games mode even further with the release of the Majestic Map Pack, which adds 3 new maps, but it's hard to see whether it'll do much to revitalize the numbers, which appear to be steadily dipping as the weeks go by.
In addition to the severe lack of maps, fans have complained repeatedly that the studio's silence on the development and release of a new patch to deal with the matchmaking issues currently in the game have contributed to its declining popularity. By contrast, the Bungie newsletter, along with their strong forum presence, fostered a strong sense of community. The forums were never completely overrun by trolls, as seems to be the case with the Halo Waypoint forums at this point in time.
Moving forward, there' a lot of things 343i can do to improve the state of the game, and it begins with communicating their plans for the future of the game. For all that it's worth, they still have a chance to save the community from turning into the Bioware Social Forums, which has been lamented by one of Dragon Age's lead developers for its toxic atmosphere.