It is “the most highly anticipated game of all time and biggest entertainment event in history”, if you believe the hype being generated by Microsoft for the midnight launch of its Halo 3 video game.

But in financial terms, this shoot ’em up game starring US marines in space suits is even more important for the games and electronics unit that Bill Gates built.

Microsoft has predicted its entertainment and devices division – home of the Xbox 360 console, its games studios and the Zune media player – will finally make a profit this fiscal year after more than $5bn in losses since the Xbox was launched in 2001.

Halo 3, the $60 game with its army of supporting merchandise, would be a major contributor to that.

Exclusive to the Xbox 360, it should provide the biggest boost from any game to sales of the console, which is being challenged for next-generation leadership by Nintendo’s Wii.

Halo is in a class by itself,” says Edward Woo, video games analyst at Wedbush Morgan Securities.

“This is going to be Microsoft’s best shot, but I don’t think anyone thinks this is a magic bullet that takes all the air out of the Wii.”

Halo 3 and the publicity around it should lift the rest of the industry in a year when software unit sales have been flat to date.

Anita Frazier of the NPD research firm says the US industry should hit a record of $16bn to $18bn in hardware and software sales this year.

Halo 3’s release relatively early in the season leaves lots of breathing room for other games and more hardware sales during November and December,” she says.

The chief victim of the Halo hype appears to be Sony and its PlayStation 3 console. With global sales of less than 5m, it trails its rivals and lacks any blockbuster games to drive adoption.

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