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'Halo 3' gamers brave midnight openings

| Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2007

"Halo 3" is more than a video game, according to Joe Bender, 14, of Mt. Lebanon.

"It's not a game, it's a lifestyle," said Bender, decked out in free "Halo" wear at the front of the line curving around the Best Buy parking lot in Bethel Park last night.

By midnight, more than 75 people had lined up in front of the electronics retailer, one of about 10,000 stores that opened at 12:01 this morning to sell what is arguably the most anticipated video game of all time.

"Halo 3," an alien shooter game, is viewed as the $30 billion video game industry's equivalent of a new Harry Potter book.

Gaming retail chain GameStop Corp. said the title set a record for advance orders, while Microsoft expects initial demand to surpass that for 2004's "Halo 2," which racked up $125 million in its first 24 hours.

"This is a critical holiday in terms of winning the next-generation console fight versus our competition and nobody has anything to go up and match 'Halo,"' said Shane Kim, vice president of Microsoft Game Studios.

"Halo" games are sold exclusively for play on the Xbox consoles, and Microsoft is expecting "Halo 3" to push its money-losing entertainment unit into profitability.

Bender was the first to line up at Bethel Park's Best Buy, the chain's only location in the area to open early for the "Halo 3" launch, and waited seven hours before the store began releasing copies of the game.

Most of the people waiting in line last night, including Bender, had pre-ordered the game but couldn't wait until normal store opening hours to get their hands on the game. Being released in 37 countries and 17 languages, "Halo 3" had more than 1.5 million copies pre-ordered before it went on sale today.

"It was really the game that started the Xbox 360," said Todd Myers, operations manager at Best Buy in Bethel Park. Many people bought the Xbox console solely because they knew they were going to buy "Halo 3," Myers said. "Halo 3" can only be played on the 360 console, which has added hard drive space and graphics capability.

Positive buzz about the science-fiction game -- in which players try to save humanity from an army of aliens -- pushed Microsoft shares up as much as 3.35 percent, their biggest one-day gain since April.

At EB Games in Squirrel Hill, owned by GameStop Corp., about 15 people had lined up outside the store by 10:30 p.m. Ricardo Tucker, 24, of Wilkinsburg, staked out his spot in line at 6 p.m. As the first one in line, Tucker passed the time by reading, watching movies on his laptop and ordering pizza from across the street.

"We were going to see if they delivered, but they wouldn't walk across the street," said Tucker's friend, Jason Currie, 24, of Edgewood, explaining that he was worried about giving up his spot in line.

Get ready for the abundant synergistic marketing that goes along with a major release: Pepsi-Cola is looking to cash in on frenzy with the release of a Mountain-Dew type drink called Game Fuel, whose packaging features images of "Halo" hero Master Chief. Expect to see other "Halo" marketing campaigns from Burger King, 7-Eleven, Pontiac and Comcast.

Reuters contributed to this story.

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