Microsoft's flagship series returns next month with Halo 3: ODST. But can it be a global smash like its predecessor? James Batchelor grills Xbox boss Stephen McGill…
How important is Halo 3: ODST to Microsoft and to your Q4 plans?
Halo 3: ODST is an absolutely key title for us. As part of arguably one of the biggest video game, if not entertainment franchises of all time, Halo 3: ODST is very much something fans of blockbuster action titles are looking forward to. From a software publishing perspective we've always believed in delivering the very best AAA blockbuster gaming experiences, and Halo 3: ODST is no different, and we're extremely excited for the title. First off, 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. It was no coincidence that following a great showing at E3, Nielsen Media
Research quoted Halo 3: ODST as the number one title that consumers should pre-order in 2009. This has also been reflected in the UK press: Recent preview events have seen UK media incredibly excited and extremely positive about the title, so we know there's a huge amount of anticipation and excitement around the game.
Can ODST be the phenomenon Halo 3 was?
I think Halo 3 had a unique moment in time – when it launched it truly was the biggest entertainment launch of all time, surpassing the biggest films and albums in terms of opening box office and day one numbers. Although overall market conditions are in a slightly different place today, we firmly believe Halo 3: ODST will be a fantastic success, and continue to drive the cultural phenomenon that is the Halo franchise. The title boasts an all new, fully comprehensive single player campaign, which puts fans in the shoes of an all new character from the Halo universe – that of an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper.
As part of the elite special forces that fight alongside the more familiar Master Chief, this offers a totally new and unique Halo experience. Firefight is also an all new game mode that we're confident will resonate extremely well with both the established Halo core and newcomers to the franchise. Coupled with that, Halo 3: ODST also includes all of the Halo 3 multiplayer maps released to date as game add-ons on Xbox Live, as well as several new and exclusive maps.
Halo 3 is still the most consistently played game on Xbox Live, so we know there is a very active and engaged audience out there hungry for more Halo experiences.
Looking forward, what about Halo: Reach? How big a title can that be for you?
Launching in 2010, Halo: Reach will be the next title from Bungie set in the Halo universe. We're not talking too much about it right now, but we have confirmed there will be a multiplayer Beta launching ahead of the game's release. The only way to access this beta will be through the Halo 3: ODST disc, so we feel there's another extremely compelling reason for both fans and newcomers to the franchise to experience Halo 3: ODST.
We saw the success of this mechanic with the Halo 3 multiplayer beta that came on the Crackdown game disc and the continued sales momentum and excitement generated around that title throughout its lifecycle, and we fully expect Halo 3: ODST to exceed that achievement. It's a great way to extend the shelf life of the title at retail, and allows us to deliver some cool and creative sustained marketing activity around the game throughout 2010.
In addition to the existing products available and the upcoming launch of ODST, there are even more reasons arriving in the coming months that cement Halo's position as a true entertainment and cultural phenomenon. We recently announced Halo Legends – a series of animated short films set in the Halo universe, helmed by the creators of some of the most imaginative and innovative anime movies of recent times. We're also creating a Halo-specific experience on the Xbox Live dashboard called Halo Waypoint.
This will house exclusive content and keep fans up to date with the latest happenings in the Halo universe – again, the first time we've done anything like this around a game title, and Halo 3: ODST is a great way title to kick this off. Trade and media buzz is extremely positive. Pre-orders are looking very healthy at the moment, so yes, we're very excited.
Will the marketing rival that of Halo 3? What do you currently have planned?
We've got an extremely robust and exciting marketing campaign in place that will do a great job of building and delivering the already incredible amount of consumer demand out there today. From a media perspective we've got a fantastic, highly targeted plan in place, including TV.
A heavyweight online campaign in specialist media has already driven great pre-order momentum, and this will continue throughout the launch period, incorporating homepage takeovers and re-skinning of multiple specialist and men's consumer online sites.
Specialist print and men's consumer print are comprehensively covered in the run-up to launch and beyond. TV is, of course, a critical part of the plan – we'll be delivering multiple TVRs weighted throughout specific targeted programming, along with the takeover and sponsorship of select shows and programming events. Given the nature of the Halo 3: ODST consumer and their appetite for all things Halo we're also creating a compelling, interactive branded digital experience that supports the existing Halo content on Xbox.com.
Retail buzz kicked off with the pre- order mechanic – fans who pre-order the game will get an exclusive playable character in the form of Sgt Johnson – an unsung hero of the previous Halo games.
This is the first time Bungie has done anything like this for one of their titles, and we ensured we had the standout POS to convey this messaging. In the run-up to launch we've got a ton of cool and innovative POS, standees, posters and kiosk wraps ready to activate that will drive home the fact this is yet another blockbuster title from the Halo universe.
As mentioned before, the PR campaign continues to gather momentum following off the back of an extremely impressive E3 showing and preview events.
Media feedback has been incredibly positive so we feel great about the game meeting our quality expectations. As we near launch, PR will activate bespoke review events, multiple preview and review front cover features in the specialist press, promotions and features across national and consumer media, along with some very cool and exciting tactics to be announced soon.
When it's released on September 22nd, 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. 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.
Who is the target audience – established fans or newcomers? How will the game appeal to newcomers?
We definitely feel both. As mentioned, 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, and they'll relish the chance to play both as an all new character and in a totally new game mode within the game.
However, by including all of the Halo 3 multiplayer content released to date on the disc, and coupled 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 that Halo 3: ODST offers the perfect introduction to the Halo universe.