Halo 3 will be released for the XBox 360 on Tuesday. I know, you don’t play games, but this is one of those cultural events that are worth knowing about to keep from feeling old and out of touch.

It’s likely that the sales during the first 24 hours will be $155 million or more – allowing Microsoft to brag that it is the largest entertainment launch in history. That’s more money than any movie or book has ever brought in – bigger than Spiderman 3, bigger than Harry Potter. Here’s the kind of news item you’re likely to see about the record-setting sales.

The Los Angeles Times has a more detailed look at the movie industry and game industry financial statements. Movies are more expensive to make than games, and revenue from movies is far higher. But profit margins are absurdly high for successful games; the bottom line is that Halo 3 will create as much profit as the most successful movies.

There’s far more at stake for Microsoft. Sony stumbled badly with the PlayStation 3, which was intended to wipe out every competing game console and leave the XBox 360 in the dust. Instead the Playstation 3 was delayed, giving Microsoft a year to build an audience, and when the Playstation 3 finally appeared, it was too expensive and lacked a killer game to focus game-players’ attention. Currently the XBox 360 is far ahead of Playstation 3 in sales, and Microsoft hopes Halo 3 will be the catalyst for the XBox 360 to be perceived for years as the console favored by serious gamers. The real money in game consoles is the continuing flow of income from console owners buying more games and online services over the life of the console. Here’s an article about Microsoft’s hope to dominate the next generation of console gaming.

(Interestingly, the game console that has sold far and away the largest number of units in the last year is the low-priced Nintendo Wii, with a novelty controller and kids’ games. Sony and Microsoft try to ignore that. It’s embarrassing.)

Oh, and since we’re on the topic – how’s the game? Glad you asked. If early reviews pan out, it’s one of the best games ever released for any platform, ever. Here’s a typical review. Try watching some of the trailers on this site – the video Review will give you a good idea of what gamers have in store. It makes me wish I still had reflexes.

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