Halo 3 hit the shelves at the stroke of midnight on September 25, 2007, sounding the starting gun for one of the most anticipated game launches of all time. Scores of gamers shuffled down the enormous queues snaking out of game stores, blinking sleepily as they waited for their turn at the tills.
Even store clerks pulled all-nighters on their Xbox 360. Carel from Video Games New York suffered a Halo 3 hangover at work the next morning. "I was up all night playing," he laughs. "Man, I'm so tired."
He's not the only one. Major game retailers like EB Games and GameStop are usually on the front lines for major game and system launches; not surprisingly, they were shipped copies of Halo 3 by the hundreds. Independent game retailers received mere handfuls of the title by comparison, but they found ways to stay competitive.
"It was a last minute decision for us to do a midnight launch of Halo 3," says one clerk at Games X Change in Tulsa, Oklahoma. "GameStop was doing it, so it made sense to stay open."
Outside of presales, some independent stores like Games X Change don't count on being a gamer's first stop when a highly-anticipated game goes on sale. "We're more of a backup. People who didn't want to wait in line just crossed the street and bought a copy from us instead."
Other stores are less laid-back and believe it's important to sell as early as possible in order to ride the hype at its peak. Jason, the owner of Toyz in Alberta, Canada, notes that people are driven by a desire to be the first to play the game, and he prepared accordingly despite some close calls. "It was touch and go with our midnight launch," he says. "UPS held our order hostage."
Victor from Etc., Etc. in Oneonta, New York has noticed that people just want the game, period. "We were open at midnight and we sold out this morning," he says. "We shipped one hundred, and they're all gone."
Most Halo fans aren't satisfied with going Spartan, so to speak. Independent stores made sure to stock up on Halo 3's Legendary and Collector's Editions in addition to the standard title, and gamers have been snatching up the bonuses.
"The Collector's Edition and the Standard Edition have been selling at about the same pace," says Joshua from Gamers in Omaha, Nebraska. "We didn't get many of the Legendary Edition."
"All three editions are selling really well," agrees Carel from Video Games New York.
Some people will take whatever's available. "I had twenty five Legendary Editions," says Victor. "They were all sold."
On the other hand, Anthony from Video Games Plus in Toronto, Canada finds the Legendary Edition has been moving slowly despite hosting its own Midnight Madness event. "We have lots of [the Legendary Edition] left, but only two copies of the Standard Edition."
He's confident they'll move even after the hype has died down. "They'll go, though maybe not until Christmas."
Although Video Games Plus might be stuck with an excess of bonus Master Chief helmets, they've had a lot of success selling systems and peripherals along with Halo 3. "We sold a couple of the Halo 3 Xboxes and one of the Elite systems," says Anthony. "We also sold a lot of the themed controllers. Mostly the Spartan ones—not so many of the Covenant ones." Everybody wants to be a hero.
Joshua from Gamers also had some success selling the Halo-themed Xbox. "A few fanboys came in and bought the game and the system together."
However, most independent retailers claim they're not the first choice when folks are interested in purchasing a game system and they stock accordingly. GameZone in Phoenix, Arizona has a few Xbox 360s on hand, but store clerk Joanne notes none of them went out the door. "We didn't sell any systems with the game," she says. "In fact, we still have several copies of the game itself."
Jason from Toyz also notes that systems aren't so much his store's focus versus peripherals and games themselves. "We don't sell a lot of combined machines and games, which I see happen in Wal-Mart and places like that."
Sales for Halo 3 peripherals, however, were brisk. Video Games NY sold a lot of the little extras every Halo-lover needs. "Headsets, controllers, Xbox Live … stuff like that went quick," says Carel.
There's little question that Halo 3 has been this year's biggest seller for every retailer. "[Microsoft] has done a fantastic job with the launch," says Jason. "They've been making gamers think about Halo 3 for a very long time. The anticipation has been very high."
John, a clerk at Slackers in St. Louis, Missouri says sales of Halo 3 have outstripped everything else. "Halo 3's sold more than [other big titles like] BioShock and Metroid."
Victor from Etc., Etc. says there's no comparison. "Halo 3 has been our best-selling game since Grand Theft Auto: Vice City."
With every store's mad rush to be the first to nuzzle into gamers' pockets, it's strange to imagine that one store is counting waiting for the hype to die down before they sell their own copies. Game Over in Austin, Texas is a used game store that stocks classic titles from the Atari 2600, the NES, and other systems that retreated from living rooms long ago. Despite the store's retro focus, about ten copies of Halo 3 are available for sale.
"We don't expect to sell them very fast," admits David, the store's owner, "but if someone is going down the phone book, we'll be one store that has the game. Besides, people can walk in and trade a stack of NES cartridges for Halo 3. You can't do that anywhere else!"