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Wednesday, October 06, 2004 - Page updated at 12:35 A.M.
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"Halo 2" for Xbox gets jump on holiday season

By Kim Peterson
Seattle Times technology reporter

DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Andrew Jenkins, a Microsoft Xbox product manager, shows off the latest video games intended for release this holiday season.
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Microsoft's Xbox division is gearing up for what could be the best-selling holiday season in its history, at least as far as games go, with "Halo 2" among several upcoming titles that are exclusive to the console.

About 1 million copies of "Halo 2" have been pre-ordered so far, making it the highest presale in the history of video games, the company said yesterday. The game, which launches in North America on Nov. 9, could be the top-selling game of this year.

Microsoft has sold 5 million copies worldwide of the original "Halo," which launched with the Xbox debut in 2001.

"We have the blockbuster of blockbuster titles launching this year," Andrew Jenkins, an Xbox product manager, said yesterday at a briefing to show upcoming games on the console. "It's hard to see a downside."

Microsoft said that by the end of June it had shipped 15.5 million consoles worldwide, the latest figure available. While that's nowhere near the 72 million PlayStation 2 consoles shipped by rival Sony, analysts said the number is respectable and that the Xbox has recently been gaining momentum.

In a research report yesterday, analyst P.J. McNealy of American Technology Research said that Xbox is the only platform to currently see increasing year-over-year sales. Xbox led North American console sales in August, McNealy said, with 41 percent of the market, compared with 40 percent for Sony and less than 20 percent for Nintendo's GameCube console.

A shortage of PlayStation 2 consoles led to a sales drop of 20 percent last month compared with the same period a year ago, McNealy said. Sony is gearing up for the Nov. 1 release of a slimmed-down and redesigned PlayStation 2, informally known as the PSTwo.

About 150 new titles for the Xbox have been scheduled for release between September and the end of the year, Microsoft said. Most of those will also be available on other game systems.

Microsoft closed its sports-video-game studio in Redmond earlier this year, laying off 76 employees. That left the bulk of development in the genre to gaming giant Electronic Arts, which said last May it would release about 15 titles, including several sports games, that are compatible with the Xbox online gaming service, called Xbox Live.

With sports games out of the way, Microsoft focused on Xbox-exclusive titles it plans to debut before the holidays and early next year. They include "Star Wars Republic Commando," role-playing game "Jade Empire" and "MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf."

The division has also been working on a new arcade service to be launched before the holidays for the Xbox Live platform. The service will offer dozens of online games that are simpler than the typical console game, including arcade classics such as "Dig Dug" and games that have become breakthrough hits on online game sites, such as "Super Collapse 2."
 
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The games will range from $10 to $20 each to download.

In offering the service, Microsoft is hoping to attain what Xbox chief Robbie Bach has long maintained is an important goal: reaching nontraditional game players, including women.

"It was just taking the Xbox Live service and looking at how do we expand it and how do we bring gaming enjoyment to more than the hardcore players," said Xbox spokesman Michael Wolf. "It basically gives them something to play on the Xbox."

Kim Peterson: 206-464-2360 or kpeterson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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