The Halo effect: can a top videogame sell without its protagonist?

LONDON - Halo is one of the most popular video game series of all time. To launch its latest instalment today without its protagonist, Master Chief, would, on the face of it, appear foolhardy at best.

The Halo effect: can a top videogame sell without its protagonist?

Yet, such is the appetite among gamers for the franchise that Halo 3:ODST (Orbital Drop Shock Trooper) has surged to the top of the Amazon chart on pre-order sales alone.

The game had originally been penned in as a stopgap for fans until next year's major release, Halo: Reach. However, today's launch follows an extensive marketing campaign by Microsoft, spanning TV, print and online.

Marketing has always played a huge role in the success of the Halo franchise. Following a $40m ad investment, Halo 3 took $170m on its first day alone. As with several best-selling computer games, Halo was released exclusively to one console - in this case, Xbox360. Two years on, Halo 3 is still the most played game on Xbox Live, according to Microsoft's head of entertainment, Stephen McGill.

For Halo:ODST, Microsoft has created a Halo Waypoint, a dashboard on Xbox Live, which houses exclusive content and informs fans on the latest news from the world of Halo. Pre-order sales have been driven by an offer of an exclusive Sgt Johnson playable character to customers, while the post-launch activity includes extensive TV and print marketing in the lead up to the key Christmas period.