September 2007 was dominated by the release of Halo 3.
The game not only outperformed all other titles on Xbox 360, but even smashed records – generating more revenue in its debut week than Hollywood’s biggest ever releases.
Now Microsoft looks to build on that success further with the next instalment in the series, Halo 3: ODST. As the name suggests, this is not a true sequel, instead depicting the events that led up to Halo 3. But that doesn’t make it any less significant as a new release.
“Halo 3: ODST is an absolutely key title for us,” says Microsoft’s Xbox and Entertainment director Stephen McGill. “As part of arguably one of the biggest video game, if not entertainment, franchises of all time, ODST is very much something fans of blockbuster action titles are looking forward to.
“We’re extremely excited about ODST. It’s a Halo game in every sense of the word, and we know that Bungie will undoubtedly deliver another incredibly innovative, high quality title. “We firmly believe Halo 3: ODST will be a fantastic success and continue to drive the cultural phenomenon that is Halo.”
Players take on the role of a rookie Orbital Drop Shock Trooper on a mission to New Mombasa. As is often the case with sci-fi space marine stories, things go more than a little pear-shaped and you become separated from your team and stranded in a city overrun by Covenant forces.
In addition to this epic new single-player campaign, the renowned Halo 3 mulitplayer modes return. As well as standard deathmatches, the new co-operative Firefight mode pits four players against waves of enemies in a variety of tight arenas.
If players tire of the core ODST stages, there is even a bonus disc included with the game that contains all of the Halo 3 multiplayer maps released to date.
Shying away from the all-out gunfights of the mainstay Halo games, ODST takes on a much more open structure. New Mombasa serves as an open world hub, which players must explore in order to find clues about what occurred here.
Finding those clues triggers flashbacks where players switch to the perspective of other members from the ODST team. As they relive the events that led to the rookie’s predicament, the game becomes more of a detective story, with gamers piecing together the plot from these scenes.
Naturally, the presence of a new Halo title on the shelves will be enough to catch the attention of the hardcore gaming consumers, but Microsoft is pulling out all the stops to ensure that awareness of ODST is at an all-time high by September (see Retail Assault, below left).
THE LONG GAME
Not only does Microsoft’s McGill believe the game can dominate the charts in the run-up to Christmas,
he is also confident it will rack up strong sales next year and beyond.
“We’re aware we’ve got a fantastic opportunity to own consumer mindshare before we hit the more traditionally crowded release schedules later in the year,” he says.
“However, this gives us a great opportunity for a second burst of activity in the run-up to the critical Christmas buying period, along with the sustained marketing activity offered throughout 2010 with the launch of the Halo: Reach beta.”
While the target audience is obviously the established Halo fanbase, Microsoft hopes to expand the franchise’s influence further by emphasising ODST’s potential as an entry point to the series for newcomers.
“Existing Halo fans have an incredible appetite for all new content around the Halo universe, we know the anticipation for Halo 3: ODST around these guys is extremely high,” adds McGill.
“However, by including all of the Halo 3 multiplayer content released to date on the disc, and couple with the fact you don’t need the original game to play them, we feel there’s a great opportunity to talk to consumers completely new to the franchise – and shows them that Halo 3: ODST offers the perfect introduction to the Halo universe.”
Obviously, as the biggest release of the year for Microsoft, Halo 3: ODST will benefit from a mammoth promotional effort to raise awareness and drive interest in the hugely popular series’ return.
“We’ve got an extremely robust and exciting marketing campaign in place that will do a great job building and delivering the already incredible amount of consumer demand out there today,” says Microsoft’s Xbox and Entertainment director Stephen McGill.
– A heavyweight online campaign in specialist gaming media has already driven pre-order momentum, which is expected to continue throughout the launch period. This includes a mixture of homepage takeovers and re-skinning of multiple gaming and men’s consumer websites.
– Print ads will run in specialist games and men’s consumer publications in the run-up to launch and beyond.
– Multiple TV spots will run throughout specifically targeted programming in the run-up to Halo 3: ODST’s arrival. Microsoft has also arranged the takeover and sponsorship of key shows and programming events.
– An interactive Branded Digital Experience will support the established Halo content on Xbox.com.
– Interest in pre-orders has been given a massive boost by the inclusion of an exclusive playable character, Sergeant Johnson, for early adopters.
– A range of POS material for retailers, including standees, posters and kiosk wraps, has been designed to emphasise this pre-order bonus.