MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--For the marketing folks at Microsoft and at its Bungie video game studio, the next 19 minutes will be some of the most meaningful of their careers.
That's because, at 9 p.m. Pacific, midnight eastern, it officially becomes Halo 3's world.
Since the launch of the Xbox 360 in November 2005, everyone has been waiting for this: the one great game that will define the next-generation console era.
And even though I'm here, at Microsoft's Silicon Valley campus, where the software giant is hosting a pre-launch event for developers, investors and other "tech influencers," I can almost feel the palpable tension in Microsoft Nation.
But for the players who are crowded around the many big-screen TVs here, pounding away at their Xbox controllers while they compete in the Halo 3 tournament that's going on, as well as for others in attendance here, the question of whether this much-anticipated game will be all it can be is not quite as important. To them, it's just another game.
For example, famous blogger Robert Scoble was overheard responding to the question of whether he was a Halo player by responding, "I'm not that much of a gamer...My son plays."
Not far away a little while later, however, some real gamers were engaging in a bit of trash talk.
"I'm very proud of killing their whole team before they pick up their controllers," one player said with a huge grin. "That's strategy."
And while nearly everyone here for the pre-launch event was an adult, there was a small collection of kids on hand, clearly just as excited to be part of this as anyone.
"Can we play?" one kid yelled out as he and a friend discovered a TV and Xbox set up with no one playing. "Can we play?"
But perhaps my favorite overheard comment of the evening came downstairs, in the cafeteria, where a DJ is spinning tunes and gamers and others are munching on free food and downing free beer and Halo 3-branded cans of soda.
Suddenly, over the loudspeaker, the disembodied voice of the DJ came on, ostensibly to announce the next round of the tournament. And then, in a low voice, almost a whisper, the male voice said, "Microsoft is good. Google is bad...Microsoft good. Microsoft good."
Welcome to the Halo 3 era.