Microsoft's marketing mavens are using the slogan "Finish the Fight" to promote the company's "Halo 3" video game, the final chapter in a popular science-fiction combat game trilogy.
It could just as well be the rallying cry for Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) MSFT to beat rival Sony (NYSE:SNE) SNE in the next-generation video game console war.
"We're locked in a pretty good fight with Sony and (its) PlayStation 3 to win the generation. That's always been our aspiration," said Shane Kim, corporate vice president of Microsoft Game Studios. "This holiday season is critical in terms of winning that generation."
"Halo 3" is Microsoft's biggest weapon yet. The $60 game goes on sale Tuesday. Some retailers, including GameStop GME, will hold Monday night events capped off with "Halo 3" sales at midnight.
The previous two "Halo" games for the original Xbox sold a combined 15 million copies. "Halo 3" is being made exclusively for Microsoft's new Xbox 360 console. Microsoft expects the latest "Halo" game to outsell its predecessors and encourage gamers to buy an Xbox 360 and subscribe to Xbox Live.
"It's a very important product for Microsoft because it's the one product that really distinguishes the Xbox 360 from the competition," said David Cole, an analyst with DFC Intelligence.
Microsoft has arguably the strongest game lineup this holiday season, Cole says, but it needs gamers to buy its console first. By comparison, Sony doesn't have any big exclusive titles for its PS3 this holiday.
"The pressure is on Microsoft this holiday season to either grab the bull by the horns or be in big trouble," Cole said.
"Halo 3" is assured to be a hit, given sales for the previous games and the franchise's fanatical user base, says Van Baker, an analyst with market research firm Gartner. It will help sell "significant numbers" of Xbox 360 machines, perhaps a million or two, he says.
"There are people who haven't stepped up to buy Xbox 360 yet that are 'Halo' fans, and when the title comes out, that's going to be what they need to push them over the edge," Baker said.
About 2.5 million people are still playing "Halo 2" on Xbox Live, Microsoft's online gaming service, Kim says. Microsoft knows many of those people are still on the original Xbox, so it's confident "Halo 3" will spark upgrades.
Microsoft needs a big boost from "Halo 3" for its Entertainment and Devices division to post a first-ever profit in fiscal 2008, which ends in June. "This will be the biggest consumer entertainment launch in history. It will be bigger than any movie, any books or music and so forth," Kim said. "'Halo 3' will be much bigger than 'Halo 2' was."
"Halo 2" set a one-day entertainment sales record when it launched in November 2004. It generated $125 million in sales in its first 24 hours.
With this "Halo" launch, Microsoft has cranked up publicity with a host of licensing deals. The "Halo" universe has spawned novels, comics, action figures and even a new soft drink from Mountain Dew.
"Halo 3" is more than a first-person shooter game, Kim says.
In addition to great game mechanics, the new game, like the first two in the series, boasts a rich story and characters along with stunning graphics and stirring music, he says. Players guide a heavily armed super soldier known as Master Chief in his battle against an alien enemy called the Covenant.
While the "Halo" trilogy concludes with "Halo 3," Microsoft has no intention of ending the franchise. It's prepping a spinoff game called "Halo Wars" for holiday season 2008 and two interactive entertainment series from "Lord of the Rings" film director Peter Jackson.
Microsoft has sold 11.6 million Xbox 360 consoles worldwide compared with more than 6 million for Sony's comparable PS3.
For the prior generation of consoles, Microsoft sold 24 million Xboxes compared with 120 million for Sony's PlayStation 2.
Newstex ID: IBD-0001-19752732
Originally published in the September 21, 2007 version of Investor's Business Daily.