Microsoft on Wednesday announced that its latest blockbuster video game, Halo 3, is off to a torrid start, earning an estimated $170 million in sales in its first 24 hours. That figure beats the previous one-day video game sales record, $125 million, which was set by Halo 2 in 2004. It's also significantly higher than the one-day tally of any entertainment product in history, including movies, DVDs, and other electronics products. (This year's best-selling movie, "Spider-Man 3," generated $59 million in its first day, by comparison.)

Long story short, Halo 3 is a huge success. Or is it?

The question, of course, is whether Halo 3 is really setting any meaningful records. Video game titles were less expensive in 2004 than they are today, and Halo 3 is available in three different versions that cost $60, $70, and $130 each, respectively. So it's likely that many first day buyers--the rabid Halo fans who have waited years for this release--ponied up for the more expensive versions. So it's not unreasonable to believe that Microsoft actually sold fewer copies of Halo 3 this year than they did with Halo 2 three years ago. (As for Spider-Man 3, that movie will generate far more profits and revenues in the long run than any video game could ever hope for.)

Of course, part of the aura around Halo is that the series has always generated big sales numbers. The first version of the game was a launch title for the original Xbox, while the second was, of course, the previous one-day sales entertainment record holder. There was little doubt that Halo 3 would beat this figure, given its near-fanatical user base. Gamers, quite literally, have been clamoring for this game for quite some time. And they did stand in line before midnight all around the country on Tuesday morning, waiting for "midnight madness" events where they could purchase Halo 3 at the earliest possible time.

The problem for Microsoft is that the Xbox 360 user base is smaller than was the Xbox user base at the time of Halo 2's launch, and this past year hasn't exactly been a time of steady growth for the console. After selling briskly during the holiday 2006 selling season, the Xbox 360 stalled in 2007, and finally fell behind Nintendo's best-selling Wii console. A massive number of Xbox 360 consoles also failed in 2007--reports suggest that failure rates are as high as 50 percent of all 360s ever manufactured--requiring Microsoft to absorb a record $1 billion warranty fee.

The company hopes that Halo 3 will turn things around and help its struggling Entertainment division post its first-ever yearly profit. Certainly, the game has sold well given the market. But Microsoft has sold only 11 million Xbox 360 consoles in two years, and Halo 3 is expected to generate just an additional 100,000 to 200,000 console sales in the next 30 days. For Halo 3 to outsell its processor, Microsoft will have to sell nearly one copy of the game to each person that already owns an Xbox 360. That's unlikely in the short term, though many Xbox owners purchase the console almost solely for the Halo series. Over time, I think we can expect Halo 3 to outsell Halo 2.

From a quality standpoint, Halo 3 is solid. I've played through the single player campaign already and will soon turn to the more popular (and, for long-term viability, more relevant) multiplayer, and it doesn't suffer from any glaring issues. The game play itself is good, maybe even great, and the title offers a nice range of possibilities for playing with and against others online. I'll be reviewing Halo 3 on the SuperSite for Windows soon.