Halo 3: ODST was a big game for Microsoft in 2009, but it wasn't Halo 4, and both Microsoft and Bungie always made it clear it wasn't being engineered as the blockbuster game of the year. Aaron Greenberg, Microsoft's group product manager for Xbox 360, told me in a recent phone interview that Microsoft made a gamble that Infinity Ward's shooter would be the game of 2009. 4.2 million units later, it definitely paid off, helping Microsoft reach its most profitable November in Xbox 360 history.
But what would November 2009 have looked like without Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2? What if Activision decided the shooter needed more time and pushed it into early 2010? As a third-party, Microsoft would have no control over what happened. They would have lost their biggest game.
When I asked Greenberg about this scenario, he briefly paused.
"November without Modern Warfare 2 would have looked very different," he admitted.
"There's titles that appeal within the inner circle of the core, but this is that title everyone that owns a video game console buys," he continued. "If they buy two games a year, this was one of those games. I think the software numbers would have looked dramatically different, I don't think that people would have spent that money on another game. I think people actually said 'I'm choosing to buy Modern Warfare 2 instead of buying an iPod or instead of going to a movie or instead of doing something else. This is going to deliver its entertainment value for me.'"
"November without Modern Warfare 2 would have looked very different"
Microsoft would have been the one most affected if Modern Warfare 2 wasn't there (not counting Activision, obviously). The game sold far more copies on Xbox 360 than PlayStation 3.
"My guess is we would have probably sold less consoles, too, to be honest," he said. "I think it was that kind of blockbuster, just like a new blockbuster movie -- it's an event, people knew about it."
Microsoft also partnered with Activision to produce a limited edition Xbox 360 bundled with a massive hard drive and a copy of the game. Greenberg wouldn't release specific sales numbers for the bundle, but said it contributed "hundreds of thousands."
"It's not like it would have been a million more [sales of the game to be accounted for]," he said, "but it wasn't loose change, either. And it's essentially sold out."
Of course, this remains a hypothetical. Modern Warfare 2 was released and sold big numbers in November -- selling 6 million units across both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, 4.2 million on Xbox 360 alone. Microsoft decided to push Modern Warfare 2 as Xbox 360's big game of 2009, and it worked.
"I think we did think of Modern Warfare 2 as the biggest game of the year -- that's where we made our big bet," said Greenberg. "I think it's definitely paid off."
[image credit: flickr / popculturegeek.com]