Microsoft is taking cues from Hollywood as it prepares for tomorrow's release of "Halo 2," the much-anticipated sequel that the software giant hopes will fuel Xbox gaming device sales and cement its footing in the video game industry.
The Redmond, Wash.-based software company is planning a glitzy marketing blitz and a red carpet-style treatment that could render the movie studios green with envy, the latest signs that Microsoft wants to crown itself king of the digital entertainment realm. And in an indication that this games is a hot property, bootlegged copies already are selling on eBay.
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How big an event is this supposed to be? "It's huge," Michael Chu, a supervisor at the Software Etc. store in New York, told the New York Post. "People have been waiting for this for three years. We had people reserve this as early as 2001."
"The anticipated release of Halo 2, the sequel to Microsoft's best-selling 2000 game, is the latest and perhaps the best indication of how the blockbuster mentality of Hollywood has pervaded the video game industry. As development budgets for the most advanced games approach $20 million, the stakes for producers have risen accordingly. According to Microsoft, the marketing budget for Halo 2 is 'tens of millions of dollars,' perhaps more than the cost of developing the game itself (which the company will not divulge," the New York Times reported. "And just as a splashy Hollywood premiere attracts attention for a film, a video game's first-week sales can be critical to winning shelf space and retailer support. More than 1.5 million people preordered a $50 copy of Halo 2; if all of them pick it up the first few days, the game's opening gross will be $75 million, almost $5 million more than the animated film 'The Incredibles' did this weekend."
"For the first 24 hours, Halo 2 will blow past anything Hollywood has put out there," Peter Moore, a marketing vice president for Microsoft's Xbox unit told the paper. "I'm eager for the comparison."
New York Post: Xboxers Can't Wait to Say Hello, 'Halo'
The New York Times: Microsoft Seeks Video Game Winner With Halo 2 (Registration required)
"Why the Hollywood-sized publicity blitz for a video game? Halo 2, an immersive science-fiction combat game, is a linchpin in Microsoft's ambitious $2 billion bet that it can lure a mainstream audience to the video-game-playing habit," USA Today wrote. "Microsoft's gamble is a calculated one. Global video game hardware and software sales top $10 billion annually -- surpassing what U.S. consumers spend on movie tickets. Yet it remains largely the province of kids and young men. Since muscling its way into the business with the introduction of the Xbox in late 2001, Microsoft has sold 18 million gaming consoles. Sony's PlayStation 2 dominates with 75 million sold, while Nintendo has moved 16 million GameCubes, according to Arcadia Investment. Getting Xboxes into pervasive use was just step one in Microsoft's plan to redefine the video game market. In November 2002, it introduced Xbox Live, an elaborate online gaming service -- and the real engine behind its drive to weave video games deeper into the cultural fabric."
USA Today: Xbox Uses Halo 2 To Herd Players Online
The game, which goes on sale at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday "requires a $50-a-year subscription to Microsoft's interactive Xbox Live platform, in addition to the game system itself, a home Internet connection and a state-of-the-art TV," the NY Post explained. More from USA Today: "Xbox Live isn't growing fast enough to draw 10 million subscribers by 2007, as Microsoft had hoped. 'Reaching critical mass will take time,' says Jay Horwitz, Jupiter Research lead analyst. That's where Halo 2 enters the picture. Microsoft has been scrambling all year to build buzz. It wants to assure a blockbuster -- one that tilts mainstream attention toward Xbox Live. Halo 2 trailers have run for months in movie theaters, as have Internet promotions. A TV ad campaign will kick into gear for the holiday season. And Microsoft has been throwing lavish Hollywood Xbox parties. Celebrities like actress Aisha Tyler and rock band Incubus have received free Xboxes, HDTVs and test copies of Halo 2 from the software giant."
Some gamers just can't wait for the official release, much to Microsoft's chagrin. "Advance copies of the aliens-versus-space marines video game Halo 2 have already fetched as much as $265 on Internet auction site eBay, days before the official launch," the AP reported. More mischief, from a Seattle Times roundup: "The much-awaited game for the Microsoft Xbox is hitting the market tomorrow, but a few Midwest retailers apparently began selling the game last week, including a store in Toledo, Ohio, according to reports on enthusiast Web sites Gamespot and Gaming Age," the paper said.
"In a statement, Microsoft would only say it has been 'working really hard to keep the Halo 2 plot twists a secret so everyone can have an equal opportunity to enjoy them. That will happen when the game officially goes on sale at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday,'" the AP reported.
Associated Press via the Houston Chronicle: Xbox Action Game 'Halo 2' Sells Early On eBay
The Seattle Times: Early Jump On 'Halo 2'
The legitimate sales will be part of Microsoft's battle to win more converts to the Xbox, as the Daily Telegraph reported: "Let the battle of Christmas begin. It's the first of the festive season duels and it's one of high stakes and even higher interest. The two major videogame consoles, Sony's Playstation 2 (PS2) and Microsoft's Xbox, are involved in a multi-million dollar pre-Christmas contest for supremacy over each other -- and over the cinema. At stake is control of the $800 million industry. This year the stakes have been raised by the industry's adaption of cinema's late-year release of blockbuster titles. 'It's a huge business and it continues to amaze me that it's not recognised as such,' Microsoft home entertainment regional director David McLean said."