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Halo 3: Does Success Push Bungie Out Of The Game?

CNBC.com

You can't say we didn't warn you: Halo 3 is an even bigger success than analysts thought it would be and the numbers are simply staggering. So staggering in fact that the game title alone might be enough to push Microsoft's Xbox 360 into the black for the first time in its history, a neat trick considering that Microsoft loses a dollar for every dollar in revenue Xbox generates--to the tune of nearly $5 billion in losses these last six years.

Microsoft now says that Halo 3 has generated a whopping $300 millionin sales since it went on sale Sept. 25. That first 24 hours saw $170 million, which was a blockbuster on its own. The remarkable thing is that the momentum hasn't slowed.

But the metric the company is offering that might be even more important: the number of people playing Halo 3 on Xbox Live!, Microsoft's interactive, online-gaming feature driving Xbox 360 sales. A million players logged in and played the game online that first 24 hours, a robust number to say the least. Now, Microsoft says nearly 3 million players are going up against each other online.

Why is that important?

As we've said in the past, more than 2 million Xbox users had yet to trade up to Xbox 360 before Halo 3 was released. Analysts and Microsoft had been counting on the title to juice sales going into the holiday shopping season. Indeed, this was the title, the conventional wisdom went, that players were waiting for before they traded up to a new console.

If that's the case, Microsoft could see not only a flood of software sales connected to this title; but more importantly, a flood of hardware sales as well.

All of this continues to be good news for the Xbox 360 platform, which enjoys more exclusive content by a better than 3 to 1 margin, than its PlayStation 3 counterpart from Sony . This could be an absolutely huge holiday shopping season for Microsoft and all the game developers producing for the Xbox platform. We knew this would be a big deal for Microsoft; but this big? And the bigger this all is for Microsoft, the worse it gets for Sony. None of this necessarily matters for Nintendo which brilliantly focused on the sector the industry Microsoft and Sony were ignoring. Easily room for two big gaming platform success stories.

Sorry Sony.

The online component to all this cannot be understated, either. The 2.7 million Halo 3 players on Xbox Live! represents a third of the 7 million registered Xbox Live! members globally. Within that first day, players spent 3.6 million hours competing against each other online. The number swelled to 40 million hours at the end of that first week, and the game-play has driven a record number of the higher priced Xbox Live! Gold memberships.

Buried beneath all this success is word that Microsoft and Halo creator Bungie Studios may part company. Be still my heart! Rumors about this began circulating earlier this week when the Seattle Post-Intelligencerand Game Informerstarted writing about a rift of some kind between the two. Game Informer suggested that Bungie was no longer interested in creating any new Halo games; Microsoft, its parent, had different ideas.

But here's the rub: if the two do split, Microsoft retains the rights to the Halo franchise, and will also have first refusal on any future titles that may come from Bungie. That could be interesting if Bungie ever wants to design games for Sony's PS3 and Nintendo's Wii, or if Hollywood gets involved and finally produces and releases Halo as a feature film.

This is certainly worth watching: Microsoft snapped up Bungie back in 2000 and the partnership has been key in generating excitement and interest in the various versions of the Xbox. With the Halo trilogy at an end, this might be a perfect time for the two to party company. Me? From the two people I'm talking to inside Bungie, I'm expecting a new kind of partnership between the two and not a wholesale break-up.

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com