by James Brightman on Wednesday, November 17, 2004
Calling Halo 2 the biggest game launch in history might sound like hyperbole, but it isn't. Hype from an extremely broad marketing campaign along with grassroots hype from Halo fans led to a completely unprecedented 2.4 million copies sold on its first day of availability. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas "only" managed to sell 2.06 million copies in its first six days of availability, giving Halo 2 early bragging rights. Although GTA will most likely wind up the better seller over the long term, one can no longer deny Microsoft Game Studios' ability to orchestrate a game launch on a size and scale unlike anything the games industry has ever seen.
Less than a month ago San Andreas held the record for the fastest selling game of all time. The record was short-lived, however, as Halo 2's first day sales easily eclipsed that of Rockstar's magnum opus.
An estimated 7,000 retailers ran special "midnight madness" promotions to allow gamers to get their copies literally the first moment possible. GameStop alone reported first-day sales of over half a million copies.
Prima's Halo 2 Strategy guide was purchased by only about 10% of gamers who bought the game, yet those 270,000 copies sold made it Random House's best first-day sales since Bill Clinton's My Life. The initial run of the guide was 1.1 million copies, about five times normal, yet an additional run has already been ordered.
Halo's launch is easily comparable to the biggest in other sectors of the entertainment industry.
"Across North America, 2.4 million copies of the game were sold in its first 24 hours on store shelves. This established a benchmark for the industry by posting stronger first day revenues than any entertainment product in history, besting even this month's opening weekend box office total for 'The Incredibles' and the launch day totals for 'Shrek 2' on
DVD," Peter Moore, Corporate Vice President, Worldwide Marketing and Publishing, Xbox said.
While Halo 2 is an excellent sequel to an excellent game, the same can be said of San Andreas, or a handful of other "AAA" fall releases. If it were a poor game, sales would have been great but not record breaking. Microsoft's marketing muscle is what pushed the title to record-breaking limits, and pushed it beyond every other major release.
"Halo 2 has become more than a pop culture phenomena -- it's become a pop culture frenzy,'' Dan Dematteo, president and chief operating officer at GameStop said.
Dematteo's statement perhaps best sums up the reason for Halo 2's record-breaking success. Starting with the theatrical trailers in July, Microsoft set out to market the title to an extremely broad base, more typical of the marketing push that large films receive. After Halo 2's release, they wanted everyone to recognize the Halo name, whether they were gamers or not.
The campaign, estimated to have cost in the 10s of millions, obviously paid off. Although magazines, websites, and television were inundated with Halo 2 advertisements leading up to November 9, it's the extra little pushes Microsoft gave the title that put the brand awareness through the roof and into mainstream culture.
Special Halo 2-decorated Slurpee cups could be found in the 5,800 7-Eleven
locations in the United States. The viral marketing device/alternate reality game found at ilovebees.com helped fuel the fire. The game was featured in segments of Comedy Central's The Daily Show, and MTV's TRL.
None of these things by themselves will generate the biggest entertainment launch of all time, but it's these additional pieces of exposure (coupled with an extremely heavy ad blanketing) that separated Halo 2 from the other major fall releases, and generated that aura of excitement.
Videogame launches have long been major cultural events in Japan, but this marks the first time a similar situation has happened in America. Although few publishers can do for their biggest titles what Microsoft did for Halo 2, you can be sure that the $125 million in first-day sales showed what a title can do when it penetrates enough facets of American life.