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MI6: Halo 3 'Transcended Pop Culture'

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In a special presentation at the recent MI6 Conference, Microsoft marketers talked about the success story that is Halo 3. MS wanted to make sure the mainstream, not just the hardcore, viewed Master Chief as a hero.

by N. Evan Van Zelfden on Thursday, April 10, 2008

One the biggest game success stories in recent years has been Microsoft's Halo 3. And at the MI6 conference in San Francisco, the marketing minds behind some of the biggest projects gave a presentation on how they'd planned to conquer the market – and how the titles had succeeded.Jerret West, a global group product manager from Microsoft, says they had a Halo 3 mandate from former Xbox exec Peter Moore: "Don't screw up."Starting with positioning, the team wanted to develop the humanity around the character of Master Chief as a human savior, "not as a reckless American cowboy." West says that they also wanted to raise the immersion bar of the franchise.

"We didn't have an awareness problem – people knew Halo 3 was coming out. We had a perception problem."

Microsoft knew Halo 3 could be big, bigger than gaming itself. As West says, it "wasn't about video games, wasn't about video games press," but the franchise had to become part of pop culture. "You have to be very articulate about the tactics."

West talks about showcase cover stories that were beyond the games press. "We needed a Wired cover, we needed a Time cover." The team also set popular culture goals, or benchmarks to see "if we were moving into the pop culture."

West also talked about partnering with other companies, advising marketers not to come with the game idea, but to "come with a marketing idea."

The team is particularly pleased with driving coverage beyond the gaming press. As West points out, "The Halo PR news cycle for beta and launch date resulted in more than 500 million impressions."

West notes that another key was the public beta, making sure to let people know it was a beta, not a demo. That built hype, didn't hurt sales, and the stated goal was "selling gamers on the idea they could influence."

Chris Lee, a global group product manager from Microsoft, talks about why putting a human face on Master Chief was so crucial. "We didn't have an awareness problem – people knew Halo 3 was coming out. We had a perception problem."

People thought the game was hardcore, and not mainstream. To change that perception, the team wanted people to think about Master Chief as a hero. "That's how we transcended from video games to pop culture," he says.

"We sold a lot of units," concludes Lee. In round numbers, that's 170 million dollars on day one. "Being opened at midnight helped a lot," he notes. And research showed that the awareness was not only raised by advertising, but that it actually resulted in sales.

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