"Interactive entertainment will never be the same, with the launch of one title that has changed the way the world thinks about video games."
There's nothing like a sense of perspective. And that, taken from a Microsoft press release marking Halo 3's release, is nothing like a sense of perspective.
Inevitably, then, the hype train steamed into town this month to leave us in no doubt that life would Never Be The Same Again. "Halo: Reach is the biggest entertainment launch of 2010," Microsoft solemnly intoned to UK media, fully four days before it actually released.
Between publishers' obsessive need for each major release to be "bigger" and "better" than the last one, lest it be deemed by some perverse logic a failure, feeding the media's addiction to headline-ready pronouncements and amazing-sounding but essentially meaningless stats ("over 2000 human years have been spent playing Halo: Reach online!"), it's all beginning to sound a little desperate.
I should say at this point that I, too, happily lapped up and added to the Halo-perbole as much as the next fanboy, because I adore the series. But the hysterical PR-apotheosis of a game's release, fuelled by the industry's insecure need for validation alongside other entertainment media, has smothered any calm reflection on the game's "record-breaking" start.
The result of this is that press releases and articles become virtually – and in some cases literally – written in advance. The awkward, recalcitrant facts are cajoled, bullied and bent by our cognitive biases until they fit obediently into the pre-agreed narrative.
Exhibit A: a press release from Microsoft issued on 16th September, which opens with: "It's official: the 'Halo video game franchise has made history once again." Wow. The fastest-selling game ever? The biggest? A Master Chief on the Moon?
None of the above. Granted, it achieved Microsoft's stated ambition of becoming the "best-selling entertainment launch of 2010", making a massive $200m in its first 24 hours. Fantastic, but is it really "record-breaking" as the press release headline suggests? If so, then we must surely brace ourselves for Call of Duty: Black Ops to "rewrite the history/record books" in a not-quite-geological eight weeks.
Halo: Reach sold 300,000 copies on day one to became the fifth fastest-selling game over its "launch week" in UK chart history - a stunning achievement however you spin it. But let's look at this a little closer.
The four games (split into individual formats) which had better openings than Reach are, in reverse order: GTA IV (360), GTA: San Andreas (PS2), and Modern Warfare 2 (both PS3 and Xbox 360 versions).
Which seems clear enough, but there are other details to consider. First of all, what constitutes a "launch week" isn't as straightforward as it sounds. The official UK weekly chart is based on data collected from Sunday to Saturday of the previous week. The vast majority of games release on a Friday, meaning their "launch" figure comprises two days' sales.
However, over the past few years a small but significant number of major releases have eschewed tradition and had their releases brought forward earlier in the week.
Of those five top-selling games in the UK, only GTA: San Andreas released on a Friday, with GTA IV (Tuesday). Halo 3 (Weds), Halo: Reach (Tues) and Modern Warfare 2 (Tues) all jumping the gun.
The benefits of this are obvious enough: first, it allows the launch to be heralded as a unique 'event' in the media (and, if brought in line with the US, a 'global moment'); second, it provides extra time at retail, all of which goes towards the eventual weekly total.
Dorian Bloch, chief number cruncher at GfK-ChartTrack, says this tactic was rare before 2008, but that subsequently there's been "between 10 and 15 games off the top of my head" that have gone early.
We know, thanks to Bloch and his magic gaming abacus, that Halo: Reach sold an estimated 300,000 units on day one in the UK - a terrific result - and went on to outsell Halo 3's "launch week" by just 20,000 copies. But we also know it had an extra 24 hours at retail.
Was the extra time decisive? Not according to Bloch, who insists: "It's all about day one." But it's clear Microsoft wasn't going to take any chances in its determination to "make history".
ChartTrack won't release the full-week figure for Halo: Reach (it's 'commercially sensitive'), but with a little digging it's possible to make educated assumptions.
When Halo 3 launched, 1.4m Xbox 360s had been sold in the UK. Again, we don't know the exact sales figure for the game's opening week, but ChartTrack at the time said "one-in-three" Xbox owners picked it up. Which suggests just over 460k copies. So, by adding the 20k difference, we can say UK Halo: Reach sales last week were in the region of 480k.
But how many Xbox 360s are out there now? The last publicly released figure dates all the way back to June 2009, putting it at 3.9m. However, I spoke to two senior industry sources with access to the data who both said the present figure is around 5m.
So, around one in every 10 Xbox 360 owners bought Halo: Reach last week. With millions more 360s sold, therefore, does that mean Reach's launch was a relative disappointment?
Not necessarily, suggests Bloch, who argues that the overwhelming majority of hardware when Halo 3 launched would have been in "active service", compared to now where the 5m figure doesn't tell us how many consoles are no longer in use as a result of, say, RROD or – incomprehensible, I know – boredom. Plus, early adopters are more likely to want to buy and play 'core' games like Halo.
That is comparable to the launch of GTA: San Andreas when, again, one in 10 of the 6.6m PS2 owners at the time bought the game. Which is arguably more impressive given its Friday release, and Rockstar's epic remains the fastest-selling platform exclusive in the UK (with other versions coming much later).
Given Microsoft's marketing spend on Halo: Reach is also a whopping two-thirds greater than that for Halo 3, one possible interpretation of all this is that, while the game remains as popular as ever with fans, Microsoft has - despite throwing the kitchen sink at it – failed to, forgive me, reach out to a new crowd. Only time will tell if this changes.
Analysis of the early data does not and should not diminish the amazing achievements of Microsoft and Bungie with Halo: Reach, a brilliant game launched brilliantly.
All of which is to say, a single Microsoft game release did $200m of business in 24 hours, sold half a million copies in the UK alone in five days, has a Metacritic score of 92 and is the fastest-selling Xbox exclusive of all time.
What a strange world we live in when that needs exaggerating.