Halo 3 already a smash

This summer is yielding record-breaking profits for the entertainment industry. Although Spider-man 3 had the largest opening weekend of all time, the biggest title lies outside the world of celluloid. Already garnering massive hype, Halo 3 for the Xbox 360 ends the saga of space marine Master Chief. Microsoft is predicting this title – set for release September 25 – will break sales records once it hits shelves, and they have good reason to believe so.

The game will ship in three different iterations. While the standard version will cost $59.99, the Legendary Edition will run for a whopping $129.99. Some may wonder how a single game can cost more than $100. But because this is not just any game, Microsoft can attach almost any price tag they want. In fact, people were more than willing to shell out $59.99 just to play an unfinished version of the title for only three weeks. Is this madness? No, it’s Halo.

“If they make a version with more content than the others – something that’s more collectible – I have to get that one,” said senior David Gray, a biomedical science major. “When the beta’s out, my friends know better than to ask me what I’m doing. For the three weeks or so that it’s out, Halo 3 is my life.”

Gray is not the only one with such a strong devotion to the series. Since its initial launch in November 2001 with Halo: Combat Evolved, the series has taken the gaming world by storm. As its subtitle implies, the game didn’t revolutionize the genre – it simply refined previous efforts into a more polished design. Kicking off the release of the Xbox, Halo earned an enormous critical and commercial success, scoring a 9.7 on IGN.com and selling 3 million units by July 2003. By then, the inevitable sequel was well into its development cycle.

Although Microsoft had anticipated that the title would bring in $100 million on launch day, Halo 2 surpassed expectations by $25 million, netting the highest day-one earnings of any entertainment release. In less than a month, it had sold more than 5 million copies – a feat that took the original Halo more than 3 years to achieve. Bungie, the developers of the series, have kept Halo 2 alive with additional content, including 2005’s Halo 2 Multiplayer Map Pack, and more than 4 billion games of Halo 2 have been played, amounting to more than 650 million hours of gameplay.

This summer fans of the series will finally have the chance to get their hands on the online multiplayer portion of Halo 3. Inserting a specially marked copy of the game Crackdown into the Xbox 360 will give players the ability to download the unfinished beta version of the multiplayer edition and grant access to join thousands of other players in ranked and unranked matches. This marketing scheme caused Crackdown to sell more than 400,000 copies in 8 days. Releasing the beta in this way limited the amount of potential players – assuring that the servers won’t be overrun – and gave Crackdown a serious boost in sales figures. Many people considered it a $60 beta with a game attached.

“Oh, and you’ll get a copy of Crackdown to boot. Sweet!” said IGN.com editor Hilary Goldstein in a review of the promotion for IGN’s web site.

After a brief delay, the beta version was released earlier this month, and to apologize to its loyal Halo fan base, Bungie extended its run until June 10. For almost an entire month, Halo enthusiasts have been able to play three new levels and test out new items and weapons. While Halo fanatics only have a few more days to take advantage of the beta version, Gray is looking forward to the game’s official release this fall.

“It’s a good thing I graduate this summer because come September, it’s all over. I’m going to be glued to the TV, on Live all the time,” said Gray. “I just feel bad for everyone who’s stuck playing Halo in the middle of fall semester. ‘Good luck’ is all I can say.”