Halo 3 Takes Toll on Workforce

By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Call it the Halo holiday, or the Halo bug.

Some gamers are going to be a little sleepy this week at work or school, if they show up at all. With yesterday's release of Halo 3, the highly anticipated video game for the Xbox 360 console, many gamers are taking some personal time.

"In my group of friends, we're all taking the day off," said one Halo fan waiting in line late Monday night at a GameStop store in Rockville.

Like many game stores, GameStop opened at midnight yesterday to let some diehard fans get their hands on the first copies. The raucous event drew a hundred or so gamers -- and a small group of savvy local businesses marketing to the young male demographic. A nearby pizza restaurant sent a stack of free pies; a man in a nun costume passed out fliers for his Halloween shop, which just opened in a neighboring shopping center.

Microsoft's online service for the Xbox 360 was loaded up with Halo 3 players looking for a match yesterday morning. On gamer blogs, meanwhile, Halo 3's packaging had already generated some complaints. A fastener holding the game disc inside Halo 3's metal case didn't hold the disc in place for some early customers. As a result, some gamers reported that their discs came out scuffed. Microsoft says it will replace any scratched discs.

A government tech worker, Mark, who spoke on condition that he be identified only by his first name, said that he might not be going into the office yesterday.

Working from home?

"I wouldn't say I'll be 'working,' " he shrugged, with a wry smile.

Some local workers won't have to skip out on the office to play the game. At some companies that offer video games as a break room activity, Halo 3 was pre-ordered months ago. The Motley Fool, the Alexandria investment advisory firm, is expecting its copy of the game to arrive from Amazon.com soon. Same for Platinum Solutions, a Reston software consulting firm.

It's not just the tech guys who might be in short supply this week. Farther back in the GameStop line, Brian, a government economic analyst, was wondering about the wisdom of Microsoft spending more $10 million to promote Halo 3.

"All these people were going to buy the game anyway," he said. "I have no idea how they're going to get $10 million more in revenue. I have to hope that their marketing people know something I don't."

Brian said he and his college friends in Indiana were taking the day off to play the game together online.

A Google search for references to "Halo 3" and "skipping work" turned up discussions at a variety of Web locations, from gamer sites to those dedicated to home audio or such sports as fencing and lacrosse.

At GameFAQs, there was a first-year lawyer soliciting good excuses to stay home from work. At GameSpot, a student observed that Halo vacations were not reserved exclusively for students. "My History, Math, and Science teachers are skipping school for the release," wrote one gamer.

Jeff Thomas, a real estate appraiser in Dallas, took yesterday off to play the game after picking it up at GameStop early yesterday morning.

He didn't have a problem getting the day off, he said, because the housing market is slow. "We have a little more time on our hands now that all that mortgage stuff is going on," said Thomas, 43, who said he was looking forward to playing the game with his brother-in-law.

To be fair, not every fan was taking a break from the daily grind just to play the game.

"I was going to do it, but I have a software demonstration on Tuesday that I don't want to be tired for," wrote one Halo fan at a home audio site called Audioholics.

Not everybody who said they were taking time off was doing so just to play Halo.

Jerret West, global project manager for Xbox, was in town to host a Halo promotional event at the home of Washington Redskins wide receiver Brandon Lloyd last week. The Halo 3 launch has been by far the biggest event of West's working year. Now, he's going on a month-long sabbatical.

West said he planned to spend time with his newborn; he didn't indicate whether he'd spend any time playing Halo 3.

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