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This week in game news

"Halo 2" proves heaven-sent as Microsoft racks up big-time sales and game fans burn the midnight oil.

They risked hypothermia and fought off the effects of sleep deprivation to be the first to achieve their quest in the wee hours of the morning. Was it worth it? Computer game enthusiasts will tell you it was.

Nearly six hours before the release of "Halo 2"--the follow-up to the most successful title ever released for Microsoft's Xbox--more than 200 hard-core gamers stood in line in San Francisco to buy a copy of the $49.99 game. The long lines were duplicated in major cities across the United States.


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Many in the crowd said they simply didn't want to wait any longer than they had to to hear the gunshots in this first-person shooter game. That's likely music to the ears of console makers and game publishers, who this holiday season will be looking to capitalize on the rapidly growing game industry, which is challenging the popularity of the movie industry.

Microsoft was the clear early winner, beating even its own heady expectations on the way to selling more than $125 million of the product on its first day in stores. The software giant reported sales of 2.38 million units for the game in the first 24 hours.

Microsoft is deriving another benefit from "Halo 2." The software giant is apparently using the game to help crack down on the use of modified Xbox consoles. Hundreds of Xbox owners have reported in online forums in recent days that they were banned from Xbox Live, Microsoft's online gaming service, after trying to play "Halo 2" online with a modified console.

A Microsoft representative would not specify which additional security measures, if any, have been added to Xbox Live around the "Halo 2" launch. "Microsoft listens carefully to the Xbox Live community and reserves the right to take steps necessary to preserve the integrity of the user experience," the representative said in a statement.

Meanwhile, bits and pieces of Valve Software's "Half-Life 2"--another of the year's most hotly anticipated computer games--have been trickling onto nearly 2 million computers around the world for weeks now. "Half-Life 2" won't be out until next week, but Valve's new broadband content distribution network, called Steam, has been slowly loading players' computers with the game so they'll have it at their fingertips the moment it's released.

The network, which has been used to a lesser extent during the past few years to distribute updates and less-anticipated games, is getting its toughest market test with "Half-Life 2." By selling the games directly over the Net, the company is experimenting with a model that could substantially transform the video game business, which now rivals Hollywood in annual revenue.

But the network has also gotten Valve into hot water with Sierra Entertainment. Sierra is the Vivendi Universal subsidiary that's publishing the "Half-Life 2" game, but Sierra doesn't get the same cut of copies that are distributed online. Even as they jointly promote the new game, the companies are locked in a court battle over the broadband network that could help shape the increasingly profitable game world for years to come.