Microsoft gives vidgame biz a much-needed boost

Gamers aren’t showing signs of losing interest in Microsoft’s “Halo” franchise.

“Halo: Reach,” the fourth installment in the series, earned more than $200 million in its first day of release on Tuesday in the U.S. and Europe, Microsoft said. The game is exclusive to the Xbox 360, and has been the console’s biggest moneymaker since the franchise bowed in 2001, spinning off a series of books, toys and other merchandise, a DVD toon and plans for a live action film.

The figure beats the $170 million “Halo 3″ earned in its first 24 hours in 2007, and “Halo 2’s” take of $125 million during the same one-day period in 2004.

While impressive, the sales don’t beat the record-breaking $310 million that Activision Blizzard’s “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2″ earned last year in its first day. Followup, “Call of Duty: Black Ops” leads an assault into stores Nov. 9.

But “Halo: Reach” is still the biggest launch and top earning game so far this year — and gives the videogame biz a much-needed shot in the arm after months of disappointing sales.

Even though “Madden NFL 11″ scored a touchdown for Electronic Arts in August, it was one of the worst months for the games sector since 2006, according to market research company NPD, down 10%. Overall, the industry is down 8% for the year, with a tally of $8.37 billion. Year-end figures are expected to come in at $18.6 billion-$20 billion, off from last year’s $20.2 billion haul and the $21 billion earned in 2008.

The release of “Halo: Reach” this month is the first of what’s expected to be a string of tentpole game titles to hit stores through the end of the year, as well as new hardware launches — including the Kinect for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation’s Move — which should also increase gamemakers’ bottomlines.

With each launch, Microsoft has sought to compare sales to the weekend box office figures of major tentpoles, and “Halo: Reach” was no different. The company compared its one-day haul to the smaller B.O. bows of hits like “Iron Man 2,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “Toy Story 3,” calling the game the “biggest entertainment launch of 2010 in the U.S.”

Of course, such comparisons aren’t necessarily fair, with retailers charging around $60 and even more for special versions of “Halo: Reach,” the swan song of the franchise’s creator, Bungie Studios, whose developers have since moved on to Activision.

Phil Spencer, corporate VP of Microsoft Game Studios, described “Halo: Reach” as “the biggest game Microsoft has ever released.”

He added, “Every major installment has grown in scope and popularity, firmly cementing the ‘Halo’ franchise as one of the most popular entertainment properties in the world over the past decade.”

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