Gaming Shop Talk: Microsoft’s Majestic Marketing – Halo 3 Zero Hour

Today is the day that many geeks and overly-competitive gosu gamers have been waiting for: the Halo 3 launch. For me, it is business as usual. I played the beta and wasn’t particularly impressed and I am not a huge fan of Halo to begin with (you’ll have to forgive me for that) but, whatever way you chop it up, this is a historic day. This is the story of a somewhat obscure developer that hit it big by allying with one of the biggest brands out there – Microsoft! It is also the story of how online multiplayer games really got put on the map. Halo brought a gleam of hope to those that wanted something different…

Halo 3 - a ray of light for a different type of gamer!

For many years, the online gaming community has thrived in great numbers on the PC front but it was mostly underground, cult-like, not very organic or viral. Some home consoles tried to capture the magic of PC gaming but failed, mainly because they treated multiplayer modes as an after-thought. Along comes Halo to change everything. Halo is, without a doubt, the killer app of the XBox, comparable to Final Fantasy and Super Mario, easily. It is all a matter of brilliant marketing. The XBox cultivated a huge gaming space that was, for the most part, a vacuum waiting to be filled by a big idea. Bungie was a quiet developer that gave Mac users what they rarely got: fun games that weren’t family-oriented or overly-nerdy. Marathon arguably started it all yet few people even heard of the game. In this case, it is clear that the Bungie brand made little difference as crossing over to the “dark side” (Mac users tend to dislike anything Microsoft) would have lost the long-time followers. Surely, the amplifier of the Halo franchise was something outside of the developers and branding, surely the market was ready and waiting for something to come along. Halo certainly filled void by meeting the needs of those that wanted hardcore competition in a not-so-nerdy package. Finally, an FPS that was fast-paced, revolved around multiplayer (both coop and versus), and didn’t have a complex control scheme!

Had Halo been released on the PC like Microsoft originally intended to, it would not have been as popular; instead, they attacked the console market and used college dorms as marketing hives, the gaming bees buzzing about about their latest gaming addiction. Why do I say this? Well, the game is a rehash of what has been done before but, since it was new to those that only knew console gaming, it was easy to spread.

The brilliance of Halo was never it’s unique storyline or break-through architecture. The technical aspects are all commonplace in a marketplace where ideas are just repackaged and regurgitated. The marketing is where the real money was made and where the Halo franchise became rock-solid. The console market was in dire need of a fast-paced online multiplayer game. Something that was easy to find (accessible), easy to talk to others about (smooth), and simple to play (inviting). The major gripe for people that dabbled in other First Person Shooter (FPS) games is that keyboard-and-mouse control schemes were too complex. Halo opened up the FPS genre to the masses and targeted the most aggressive, competitive gamers as well as everyday, casual gamers that needed something simple to enjoy with friends. These two segments spawned many fans spreading the message: here’s something UNREAL!Since the release of Halo 2, the XBox marketplace got pretty quiet. XBox 360 sales started to become sluggish and Microsoft kept yoyoing on the issue of console price drops (got to love dangling carrots). They needed something to create new buzz and hype, so what better thing than Halo? The return of Master Chief got people excited about XBox 360 and XBox Live once again. Here’s something for those that do not want the “kiddy games” that Nintendo offers and are tired of Mario, Anime characters, and all that jazz. Halo can bring out the gaming geek in just about anyone, regardless of age, background, or weapon of choice. Truly, Halo has been as much a social networking tool as it has been home to some of the most legendary tournaments and epic showdowns.

Many folks do not know nor do they care about the history of Bungie and how Halo ended up getting on the XBox. Both the move to the home console platform and the creation of the XBox were pretty last-minute things but it worked out.. Quite well, I may add! For a over a year, there had been heavy buzz about the new Halo 3. Microsoft started their own rumors and would have their reps deny them to create more community buzz. Easter eggs appeared on different sites and content was “leaked out” to get people foaming at the mouth. The information was dripped little-by-little to a content-hungry audience. VERY brilliant!

By slowly providing snippets of Halo goodness to the huge fanbase, Microsoft created some powerful sneezers (Seth Godin’s term for this is VERY on-point since that communicates the very essence of viral marketing). All the excitement culminated when, finally, signs of a beta appeared. Some received footage on their computers, others downloaded leaked beta releases, and the remaining fans simply hung on to whatever scraps they could get from the folks that got the most exposure to the new-and-improved Halo.

In a most ingenious marketing initiative, it was announced that those playing Halo 2 the most during a preset period would be given a chance to join the private Halo 3 beta. Suddenly, XBox Live started to lag as thousands of gamers resurrected and had a new incentive to play an old favorite – network capacity had to be expanded and re-allocated, apparently! Office parties started brewing, dorms started buzzing again, and talks of Halo 3 became more prominent than ever. Throw in the “buy this game and get a beta invitation” offer that came with Crackdown and you have yourself a ton of gamers that are camping out at video game stores today, like my buddy, the author of Coomacka’s Island and creative mind behind Jamtown Productions, Don P. Hooper, who is apparently camping at Rockafeller Plaza as we speak.

Well, I find myself excited as well because, even though I do not plan to get into Halo 3 any time soon (I already have plenty of distractions and busy work to keep me occupied), I know my friends will be dragging me into the mess and, well, there will be good times! How did we get here? It all started with a not-so-great game called Marathon yet few recall the game. At this point, it doesn’t matter. Halo was properly-timed and positioned. Now all people care about is getting on and being the first to rack up their high scores.

You can be sure that, once the hardcore fans get their copy of Halo 3, there will be many sleepless nights coming. The allure of being an early adopter is having the bragging rights of being a pioneer and a sort of expert at the same time. These folks will spread the already uberviral message of a “kick-ass game for ass-kickers that don’t have time for fluff, waiting, and cartoons”.. or something like that! Regardless of the experience, they will be too excited in the next few weeks, maybe even months, to talk about anything else, or at least any other video game. Microsoft has primed the market and don’t be surprised if XBox 360 units become scarce again, especially as some sites are now providing them as grand prizes. With so much hype brewing, it’s no wonder that Microsoft waited so long to finally follow through on their plans to drop prices. The fact that Sony was being stubborn about that themselves made it much easier for Microsoft to hold their position, in spite of “packing flexibility into their pricing model.”

Hot news is hot news and, while it may not be the talk of the town for me, I am here to share my perspective and bring you what you all ask for. I see my other Microsoft/XBox bits have gotten much attention so expect more of what you know and love! If you are curious about why I am not particularly interested in Halo as a multiplayer game, you can check out my MySpace page (as of 2009ish, I use Facebook more). Like I said: no matter how you chop this up, it is definitely big news for marketers and gamers alike – if you’re both, even better! I know that my gaming group’s forums and MySpace page will certainly be buzzing with talks about this release. Eventually, I’ll be swayed into joining in and I will enjoy it. Don’t get me wrong, Halo is a great game but it is just not unique to me. Then again, you’re talking to an old-school hardcore gamer and a video game designer/developer here, so I am a big more picky. Yeah, I’m THAT guy! *wink*

The Halo 3 tagline/slogan says it all: BELIEVE. Belief and passion are two powerful tools when marketing and, when your fans are your biggest marketers, their belief and passion is everything. The fans will keep Halo strong. Belief and passion build credibility and authenticity, in turn making others into your strongest believers and promoters/marketers. Inevitably, no matter how jaded, old-school, or hard to impress you may be, Halo 3 gives us all something to be excited for. I know that, as much as the hype and buzz does not suck me in and as much as I did not find the beta all that appealing, I am curious to see how things shape out. I already see many of my closest friends jumping on the bandwagon and, sometimes, that’s all you need to get everyone else on board. Referrals and word of mouth marketing works.
Well, I’m off to grab some “schwag” at the flagship event in New York City. See you all at Best Buy, Fifth Avenue… Game on!!! =o]

Halo 3. Believe.

IN RETROSPECT: Halo 3 really brought the XBox 360 back on the front and revitalized XBox LIVE. Halo ODST and Reach did not seem to create nearly as much buzz but, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter. As far as consoles go, the XBox 360 dominates online gaming. Bungie leaving Microsoft to become an independent developer is non-news to me. Halo may have been the flagship game but it’s the XBox LIVE experience (including controller/gamepad preferences) that keeps people around.

It’s been around 3 or 4 years since the Halo 3 launch and the XBox 360 is going strong. Looking back at the past few years, other flagship launches have pailed in comparison. Even Nintendo has been struggling (just look at the 3DS launch and sales number compared to the Wii). It’s safe to say that Microsoft has cemented their leading position in the next-generation console wars.

I’m still not into Halo. I guess you can blame the annoying kids that really should be in bed half the time.. Or the fact that, coming from more tactical shooters, unloading entire clips into your targets is no fun. Real damage, anyone?

I do have to hand this to Microsoft: bundling in tools for user-created content such as custom game modes and physics mods was smart. The XBox 360 may very well be the closest thing to the PC gaming experience. Still, if I still had the time to play tons of video games like in the “good old days”, I’d stick to the combo of PC and Steam over XBox 360 and XBox LIVE Gold. Regardless, consoles have come a long way and Microsoft has certainly made some strong moves…


6 thoughts on “Gaming Shop Talk: Microsoft’s Majestic Marketing – Halo 3 Zero Hour

  1. Just got back from the Halo 3 launch event (well, a few minutes ago). Got TONS of photos and some decent videos. I was too busy grabbing all the swag I could without breaking my old man back. LOL…

    Got tons of stuff to do and I am quite beat (that’s an understatement) but, for now, know this: Adam from G4 is really friendly and goofy. Morgan, not so much, but I am not surprised. Major Nelson is as cool and approachable as he seems in his blogs, podcasts, and the like.

    I met Leon Washington and he gave me quite the emphatic pound after congratulating him on an awesome weekend with the Jets. He is quite down-to-earth and energetic – you can really feel his warmth and genuine in his way! It’s good to see successful people stay humble. The same goes for the Major.

    All and all, it was a great day to re-encounter old friends and make new ones. It was definitely more about the social gathering than the game itself, as quite a few of the attendees admitted that they liked many other games ahead of Halo. I was party to some VERY interesting interviews, including some for a documentary with working title “Gamers” – good stuff!

    Yup yup… There is definitely quite a bit to discuss! Was anyone else at the New York City Halo 3 launch event at Best Buy Fifth Avenue? Man, we sure did get juiced up on Mountain Dew Game Fuel!!

    Let’s trade Halo 3 launch event photos and stories, folks!

    Ok, I agree with you on one point. Had Halo been released on the PC as opposed to the console market, it wouldn’t have been as big. That’s a given. I mean, I and many of the “Halo Geeks,” as you call us, would have never even heard of the game.

    I’m a console gamer. Maybe, if the computer market wasn’t so expensive growing up, more people would have jumped onto computer gaming. I tried, but due to early 1990s’ issues with “Stack Overflow” errors, I gave up my dreams of being a PC gamer. I did play Wolfenstein and a little bit of Doom (among others I don’t remember) on my high school’s Yearbook computer, but that’s about it. Never really caught on.

    I actually hated first person shooters. Never got into “Bond” on N64. That single analogue controller just didn’t do it for me. Then I came across Halo on Xbox. For the first time I could control a first person shooter with startling accuracy. People would come by and we’d play halo on a 19” tv split into quadrants. So, it earned a place near and dear to my heart. And, I grew with Halo. It grew with me.

    Honestly, I love games like Socom 2. One of the teammates who I always run FPS with, we’ll call him Doc, got me onto Socom 2 for PS2. That was my first venture into online gaming. It made having a PS2 worthwhile. The first night I played, Doc and I ran the online game for 5 hours. I was amazed at how fun it was. It wasn’t just random carnage – there was strategy involved. But, in the back of my mind, all I could think was… “If Socom’s like this…I wonder what Halo 2 will be like?”

    I didn’t jump onto Halo 2 right away. A coworker, we’ll call him Bizarro, told me about it. Again, word of mouth as you say won out. Six months after the release of Halo 2, I got on. And, for 2 years straight I played Halo 2, justifying the cost of an Xbox.

    I did have the honor of playing Unreal Tournament on the PC – thanks again to Bizarro. Well, that was the first time in what must have been 10 years that I played a computer game. And, hey it was fun. The controls were pretty seamless. Everyone in the office got on. And, Bizarro and I dominated everyone in two-on-two battles. It was glorious fun.

    But, you know what happened? After each win, we’d tell our opponents… You got to go home and get on Halo 2, so we can play over the weekend. Word of mouth. Indeed a powerful tool, which can also be a powerful adversary.

    Now my speech on Halo 3 will be brief. I like Halo 3. But the map packs are just not quite up to the par of Halo 2. I still play. I can’t turn my back on Halo. Without Halo, I would still be forsaking the world of the FPS. I would never have got on Socom. Never touched Ghost Recon Advanced Warfare. I would be still be shunning a beautiful world, that without Halo, I would never have known to exist.

    So thank you Halo. Thank you Bungie. You conquered this gamer’s hatred toward the FPS. You may not be the definitive solution. But, you were indeed an Answer. And, for that I’m grateful.

    You know. I’m going to post my response on my web blog as well, and invite you to respond 🙂

    BK’s Number 1 Halo GEEK!!!!!! And loving every minute of it.

  3. WAHAHA!

    I guess the fact that I am no longer a very competitive gamer is what makes Halo not appeal to me. It seems to be the premeire platform for smashmouth gaming, non-nerdy fun, and “pwning noobs”! Anywho, I replied to your comments on your Don Hooper-branded blog as well as on the NoF forums. Much love to all my fellow gamers and Nips playing Halo 3!

    /me goes back to play DOOM II using the CSDOOM engine


  4. Well, I must say, just when I think Microsoft is learning how to do things right and drive value through their offerings, actually showing how much they value their customers, something happens that makes me shake my head. Apparently, the new much-needed map pack for Halo 3 will cost over 400 Microsoft Points to buy. Can anyone say RIDICULOUS?

    As an indie game developer, I suppose I am more sensitive to this and perhaps over-reacting. I understand games can’t always be free and that Microsoft tries to charge for all premium content but, in this case, the map pack is basically a patch that makes Halo 3 more playable. Let’s face it: the game didn’t ship out with enough maps and the few good maps that are in there are pretty much just rehashes of what we liked in Halo 2 (Zanzibar, anyone?).

    In my humble opinion, these maps should be free, at least for a good while. The fact that a map pack has been released so soon shows you that they KNOW that the game is lacking in variety. To me, Halo 3 has been almost exactly like Halo 2, just with none of the BXR and modding crap, plus some new power-ups. It’s also tougher to snipe now, making the competitive arena more level.

    I plan to not pick up the map pack and, when Microsoft decides to strong-arm the content by making it so that you can’t do matchmaking without the packs, I will simply trade Halo 3 in gladly. Besides, I only got it to play with my clanmates, my esteemed friends and family. I’ll gladly play Orange Box, Soldier of Fortune 2, Battlefield, Enemy Territory, Call of Duty 4, DOOM, Duke Nuke 3D, etc. instead – emphasis on GLADLY!

    Yes, now I am definitely taking a HUGE potshot at Halo but I know this is Microsoft dropping the ball, not Bungie. In many ways, I am glad that Bungie is leaving Microsoft (at least as an exclusive content developer) after Halo Wars and the movie project is done. Granted, Marathon is not that great of a game, especially considering the platform it started up on (not exactly the premeire gaming platform of the computing world, but I won’t get into that right now).. I think this will be a swiff kick in the groin to get the suits at Microsoft Corporate back to reality.

    So, tell me: how do you guys feel about this? I want to hear from the die-hard Halo fans. I know just about everyone I know that plays Halo religiously will get the map pack, especially those that do not play any other games online. I’m leaning towards boycotting if they do indeed charge for it. I think it’s lame. I mean, GRAW 2 had three map packs (well, technically two plus one exclusive map download) and they were all FREE. Hmmmm… Makes you wonder why Microsoft insists that these downloads be considered premium? It’s bad enough that XBox Live doesn’t have a truly-FREE component, like Sony’s online play has had for a long time. This, my friends, is a slap in the face to the consumer; especially those folks that just picked up a 360 and Halo 3 with the last money they have for a while (it IS the holiday season, after all).

    Two thumbs down for Microsoft’s corporate XBox 360 team – way to screw over customers! =oP

  5. Ewww.. Microsoft finds another way to piss off their customers. They really should extend this offer to those who just barely missed this small window of opportunity. Halo 3 for free.. Now THAT’S an accurate price point! *laughs quietly to himself*

    Kotaku hit the nail right on the head when they covered how the Free Halo 3 Deal went sour. Apparently, Microsoft tried ot change the details of the deal and essentially gave themselves lots of room to deny people the opportunity. I think it’s quite lame. As a business owner, you learn early on that the most important thing you can do is not change the core rules to any service or promise you make. It makes your customers lose faith in you and that’s what Microsoft seems to be good at.

    Tsk tsk… Hopefully, if you have an original XBox, you can take advantage of this deal, even if you don’t particularly care for Halo 3. This is a case of BAD marketing.. Then again, bad publicity is better than none at all – just ask the folks at Sony! ;o)

  6. Just a quick update here: the Halo Hollywood movie trailer everyone is raving about is a fake. Most of those trailers are fan-made or were part of the Halo 3 pre-launch buzz-generating effort. The real movie is slated for Summer 2009 and will be a joint effort between Neill Blomkamp, creator of Yellow and Tempbot, and Peter Jackson, the man behind LOTR’s silver screen success! An official trailer has yet to be released.

    I delve into this a bit more on my MySpace blog… 8)

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