When Halo 2 was released in November 2004, Microsoft made much of the fact it generated over $125 million in 24 hours--making it one of the biggest entertainment product launches of all time. With Halo 3's release just two weeks away, the software giant is pulling out all the stops to promote and distribute the Xbox 360 exclusive.
First, the hype. To date, Microsoft has spent $10 million on a five-stage publicity campaign for Halo 3, as outlined in an article in this week's Brandweek magazine. It began with a TV spot during Monday Night Football last December that was seen by an estimated 7.9 million people on air and a further 3 million on YouTube. Then came the beta test, which saw over 820,000 players take the Master Chief through his multiplayer paces. The vast majority of the players gained access to the test by buying Crackdown, which was bundled with--and buoyed by--a packed-in Halo 3 beta key.
Less high-profile was Project Iris. The "project" was yet another attempt by Microsoft to generate viral buzz for a product via an alternate reality game along the lines of ilovebees.com, which sparked widespread public interest--and press consternation--during the summer of 2004. Possibly because of Microsoft's frequent use of ARGs, including the 360-hyping ourcolony.net, Project Iris generated only a fraction of the interest as ilovebees.com did.
Phase four of Microsoft's Halo 3 hype offensive was a wave of cross-product promotional synergy normally reserved for summer blockbuster movies. Microsoft struck deals with PepsiCo for a Halo 3-branded Mountain Dew and Doritos, and with 7-Eleven and Burger King for in-store promotions--including Halo 3 Slurpee drinks. Microsoft also took less conventional approaches, sponsoring Linkin Park's Projekt Revolution tour, a Halo 3 NASCAR vehicle, and even a Master Chief figurine at the Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in Las Vegas. According to BrandWeek, it also convinced Pontiac to pony up $5 million of its own money to pay for Halo 3 IMAX events, like the one tonight at San Francisco's formerly Sony-owned Metreon.
As outlined on the official Xbox site, the Halo 3 hype machine's endgame is a fusillade of events surrounding the game's September 25 launch. Though it didn't provide specific locations, Microsoft is claiming some 10,000 retail stores in the US alone will be holding midnight launch events for Halo 3.
One participating retailer is Best Buy, which will also pay for Xbox Live Gold to be free for everyone from September 25-27, allowing anyone to play Halo 3's various online modes, including four-player co-op. Anyone who plays Halo 3 online during the period will be automatically entered into a sweepstakes which will see Best Buy giving away a Halo 3-themed Pontiac, as well as home theater systems and Microsoft points to spend on Xbox Live Marketplace.
From September 28-30, Microsoft will be holding its own Play and Win sweepstakes, which will hand out Halo 3-themed Xbox 360s and Zunes, among other prizes. The company will also be staging its own special, celebrity-studded launch Halo 3 events in New York City, Los Angeles, and Seattle. It will also release unspecified launch-week content on Xbox Live Marketplace to commemorate the game's launch.
To find out whether the multimillion campaign was worth the effort, check back during Halo 3's launch week for GameSpot's full review of the game.