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Hello, Halo. The latest installment of the Xbox 360 video-game sensation will be released Sept. 25. Gamers have been playing beta snippets for months, fans are slurping up co-marketed "Halo 3" Mountain Dew Game Fuel and bloggers have typed millions of words on it.
So whether the installment of the first-person shooter saga lives up to its hype is irrelevant. Halo is already a certifiable pop-culture and marketing phenomenon.
Presales for "Halo 3" have already topped 1 million ("Halo 2" set a record with $125 million in first-day sales in November 2004). During E3, then-Microsoft executive Peter Moore said he expects "Halo 3" to become a $1 billion franchise by the end of the year.
"Halo 3," like previous Halos, was created by Bungie Studios exclusively for Microsoft's Xbox. That means anyone who wants to play the game has to have -- or buy -- an Xbox 360 console. Don't scoff. Analysts expect a surge in 360-console sales around the launch.
Beginning with "Halo 2," players could compete online through Microsoft's Xbox Live service. "Halo 2" was the most popular game on Live until "Gears of War" supplanted it last holiday. To date, almost 1 billion collective playing hours have been logged.
A trailer for "Halo 3" was rolled out at E3 in 2006. Microsoft agency McCann Worldgroup, San Francisco, and T.A.G. launched the first ad -- a well-received live-action spot -- in December and ran it only one time. More McCann spots that feature main character Master Chief defeating foes began last week, and Microsoft has dubbed launch week "Unite to Fight." An alternate-reality game, "Iris," also has been running online since June, revealing game details along the way.
Director Peter Jackson has pledged his support, but several studios have dropped the project due to its expense. According to news reports, when Microsoft first went to studios with a script in 2005, its demands included $10 million plus 15% of the box office gross, plus a minimum $75 million budget.
The fanatic group of loyalists are often referred to by Microsoft, Bungie and others as the Halo Nation. There is a Halo Nation website, podcast and plenty of gear. More than 10,000 retailers in the U.S. will sell "Halo 3 " beginning at midnight on Sept. 25.
The Halo franchise has about 30 licensees. For "3," Mountain Dew, 7-Eleven, Pontiac, Burger King and Comcast are looking for the Halo effect on a cadre of products and promotions.
Hardly. Two game studios, Wingnut Interactive (a joint deal between Microsoft Game Studios and Mr. Jackson) and Microsoft's own Ensemble Studios are already at work on more Halo games.