Microsoft (MSFT) has said it’s counting on its Halo franchise to get gamers whipped into a frenzy and jump-start Xbox 360 sales – and so far, it looks like that could happen. The company announced that its eagerly anticipated Halo 3 game has clocked 1 million pre-orders in North America, the fastest pre-release rush in gaming history. The company has also signed up marketing partners worthy of a summer blockbuster.
The pre-orders come on the heels of a wildly popular beta test period for the game, during which Microsoft said 820,000 people played for more than 12 million total hours. Halo 3 goes on sale September 25. The game will be available exclusively on the Xbox 360 console, which Microsoft hopes will lead to more console sales.
Microsoft is clearly trying to position the Halo 3 launch on par with a major movie premiere. From the company’s press release:
“What we’ve experienced is nothing short of phenomenal,” said Bob McKenzie, senior vice president of merchandising at GameStop Corp. “‘Halo 3’ has eclipsed many previous records and will prove to be one of the must-have items of 2007.”
“The excitement for ‘Halo 3’ is incredible,” said Jill Hamburger, vice president of movies and games at Best Buy. “From our preorders online and the buzz we’re hearing in our stores, we know this release is going to be one of the biggest entertainment events of the year. We’re thrilled to be able to bring it to our customers.”
To support its contention that Halo 3 is as big as a major movie, Microsoft is readying the sort of marketing onslaught normally reserved for cinematic blockbusters such as the Spider-Man and Batman franchises. There will be a specially branded Mountain Dew drink in partnership with Pepsi (PEP), Halo 3 Slurpee cups from 7-11, “Gamers Garage” events sponsored by General Motors’s (GM) Pontiac, and special Burger King (BKC) packaging, to name a few.
But will the hype help Microsoft sell enough game systems to give it an advantage versus Sony (SNE) and Nintendo? That will become clear this holiday season, as the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii consoles duke it out for market share. So far this year, Nintendo has out-gunned the competition in console sales.