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Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times reporter Sharon Chan.

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October 9, 2008 10:05 AM

Microsoft unveils new 'Halo' titles at Tokyo Games Show, sets date for Xbox update

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft's games unit made several significant announcements at the Tokyo Games Show yesterday including the confirmation of two new "Halo" titles.

"Halo 3: Recon," from Kirkland-based Bungie Studios (which split with Microsoft a year ago), is an expansion on the latest installment of the blockbuster game. Microsoft describes it as a "stand-alone expansion" with hours of "new campaign excursions and multiplayer gameplay" that will let "gamers experience events leading up to the epic story told in 'Halo 3' through the eyes of a new hero in the 'Halo' universe." "Halo 3: Recon" is due in fall 2009.

Another extension of the "Halo" franchise, "Halo Wars" is due in early 2009, Microsoft said. This strategy game, from Microsoft's Ensemble Studios, is also exclusive to the Xbox 360.

"Halo" is an important business for Microsoft. When "Halo 3" launched a year ago, it gave Microsoft and the Xbox 360 a substantial boost. Sales of the game helped the company to an outstanding first quarter of the 2008 fiscal year, which drove the stock price to its highest point in six years.

The franchise has surpassed $1 billion in sales. It is closely tied to the success of Microsoft's console gaming effort ("Halo" was an exclusive launch title for the original Xbox). And there is presumably still an audience of millions of fans of the series eager for more.

Microsoft also pressed its console pricing advantage, highlighting console-and-game packages for the holiday season, expected to be one of the worst for consumer spending in recent memory.

Here are the deals its offering, beginning this month:

-- The low-end Xbox 360 Arcade, with "Sega Superstars of Tennis" and five Xbox Live Arcade games for $200.

-- The mid-range Xbox 360 ($300) and the high-end Xbox 360 Elite ($400) with "LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures" and "Kung Fu Panda".

The company is clearly continuing its effort to balance a sales pitch to the broader audience of casual gamers and families (which Nintendo has owned with the Wii), while still keeping the hard-core game enthusiast audience satisfied.

In addition to the "Halo" news, the company touted partnerships with Japanese games publishers and developers for forthcoming titles for the holiday and 2009:

-- "The Last Remnant," a role-playing game from Square Enix, due Nov. 20.

-- "Ninety-Nine Nights II," an action strategy game from Q Entertainment;
-- "Resident Evil 5," a horror-shooter, from Capcom Entertainment;
-- "Star Ocean: The Last Hope," another role-playing game from Square Enix
-- "Tekken 6," a fighting game from Namco Bandai Games

A new advertising campaign -- Microsoft's largest for Xbox -- is hitting airwaves this fall. It focuses on the broad range of functions of the console, such as on-demand video and social networking, apart from traditional gaming.

One of the company's big announcements at this summer's E3 Media and Business Summit was a new user experience for the Xbox 360, meant to be easier to use and highlight the non-gaming entertainment capabilities of the console. That update will arrive Nov. 19, Microsoft said at the Tokyo Games Show.

Some of the new features include:

-- New custom avatars (which appear somewhat similar to Nintendo's Miis) that represent a player in various Xbox Live activities.

-- Virtual "parties" for up to seven people over Xbox Live, including voice chat and photo sharing, with a higher-end "Gold" Live subscription.
-- An expanding library of movies and television programs through Netflix and other content partnerships, such as the one announced with PBS earlier this week.
-- A new channel of community developed games.

Microsoft's announcements yesterday noted that there are now more than 14 million Xbox Live subscribers globally. That's a new figure to me. Microsoft said at E3 in July there were more than 12 million members for the service, which is one of the Xbox 360's chief differentiators from competitors Nintendo and Sony.

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