Can Halo 3 Put Microsoft In Console Control?

Halo 3By now you’ve probably been buried in the hype surrounding Halo 3, Microsoft (MSFT) Xbox 360’s exclusive “killer app” game released this week– the canny live action commercials featuring old veterans praising the franchise’s hero, Master Chief, the prominent coverage in the New York Times, the long lines and Chief tattoos and other totems of gamer enthusiasm.

With all that excess, you might assume this means Halo 3 is the game phenomenon of the year. And that would be a mistake.

From the market’s point of view, all that fanboy energy is a sideshow. The reality is that the 360 is no longer the market’s most popular next gen console: the Wii owns that spot, now with more than half a million more units sold worldwide (currently 11.78 to the 360’s 11.10 mil, according to Video Game Chartz). For that matter, the 7 year old Playstation 2 is still going strong, and even into this year, was still outselling the 360.

(Only last month did the 360 finally manage to slip past a system released during the Clinton administration, for God’s sake.) On pure numbers, then, the 360 is still a niche system, and while Halo 3 will sell well with the 11 million who already own one, the big question is, will it move significantly more 360s? And the even more crucial question, will it move the 360 back to its short-lived lead among next gens?

I’ll go on record right now and say No and No.

Hardcore gamers dominate console adoption patterns in the first couple years, and not coincidentally, Halo 3 will appeal to them most. So it’s safe to say most of those who want to play Halo’s final chapter already own one. Of course there’s stragglers (like me), but will they spend several hundred dollars for a new system plus $60 dollars for the game itself just to find out what happens to Master Chief? (Especially when influential game reviewers are beginning to express buyer’s remorse and deep disappointment with Halo 3.)

“I don’t think it’s really going to do much for the 360,” says Alexis Madrigral, very recently a game industry analyst with DFC, now a contributing writer for Earth2Tech. “The rest of their holiday lineup is what’s going to count. Can they get games out there that appeal to kids, women, and non-FPS fans not just in the US but in France, in Spain, in Germany?”

And of course, the significantly cheaper Wii has far more appeal to all those groups, not to mention the market-driving Japanese, who’ve never taken to anything from Microsoft. Meantime, Nintendo, which had a dearth of Wii titles at launch, is rolling out a massive variety of games and peripherals for the holidays, including a Wii-exclusive Metroid title, and even more seductive, a gun-shaped controller. And while Nintendo’s new console has already won over non-traditional gamers, these will do a lot to bring the hardcore into the Wii fold. While hurting the 360’s sales.

Don’t believe me? According to the Wall Street Journal’s game blog, just days into Halo 3’s launch, the Wii is back to outselling the 360 on Amazon.

Image credit: Halo

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