Tech analysts say this may be the best holiday season yet for the video-game industry.
A three-way war for next-gen dominance is already under way among Nintendo's Wii, Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation 3, and gamers got an early start to the season when the Xbox-exclusive Halo franchise dropped in September - the anticipated third of its game trilogy.
"It's going to be a darn good year for video games and definitely the best in the history of the industry," said David Riley, director of market research at global marketing and retail research group NPD.
The industry is expected to top $18 billion in the United States alone, driven primarily by video game hardware sales, Riley said.
"Who's going to perform the best? I guess that's really open to interpretation," he said.
"There's a lot of buzz about alleged shortages of the Wii. We saw that last year, and in 2000 with the PlayStation 2. And so we tend to see shortages around the holiday when there is a new console in the market."
Paul Bond, West Coast Business Editor for the Hollywood Reporter, believes Nintendo's Wii will outpace sales of other video game consoles.
"My prediction is the Wii will blow away sales of Xbox and PlayStation 3," Bond said. "That's because Christmas is about the kids, and Wii's are all about kids too."
"The real buzz with the Wii is that Nintendo can't keep up with the demand," Riley said. "I don't think it's a stretch to see that it's hard to find a Wii. That's a fact."
Nintendo officials said about 353,000 Wii units sold during Thanksgiving week.
That week also treated the company's Nintendo DS well, selling more than 650,000 of the handheld system and breaking the all-time sales record of 600,000 previously set by Game Boy Advance sales in 2005.
And it's not just Nintendo:
Sony says sales for the PS3's hardware in the Black Friday week period is up 245 percent this year compared with last year.
Microsoft also released its Black Friday and Cyber Monday numbers on Nov. 29, asserting that the Xbox 360 outsold the PS3 two to one.
Xbox group product marketing manager Aaron Greenberg on Thursday said 310,000 Xbox 360 units sold during Thanksgiving week.
Sony immediately disputed the latest figures.
But Sony Computer Entertainment America spokesman Ryan Lowry said company policy does not allow him to disclose numbers for that period until NPD's own numbers are released Dec. 13.
"However, I can assure you that Microsoft's estimates of our PS3 unit sales numbers are way off and they did not outsell PS3 2:1 during Black Friday week," he said.
A request seeking a response to Sony's statement was not returned by Microsoft officials.
What's a next-gen console without a game or a dozen?
Die-hards compiled lists, stood in line for Halo 3, and counted down the weeks as a succession of top titles hit the shelves - Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (Activision); Mass Effect (BioWare); Half Life 2: Episode 2 (Electronic Arts); Assasin's Creed (Ubisoft); Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Activision); Rock Band (MTV Games); Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools Of Destruction (Sony Computer Entertainment); Heavenly Sword (Sony Computer Entertainment Europe); SuperMario Galaxy 3 (Nintendo).
By October, gamers spent some $1.1 billion in video games alone. That's a 73 percent increase compared with October 2006, when sales at that time reached $643.3 million, according to NPD.
Franchise games definitely play a significant role, Riley said.
Take Halo 3, for example.
Already, the title has sold 3.7 million copies. In October alone, Halo 3 moved 433,800 units.
The Xbox 360-exclusive game outpaced cross-platform titles like Guitar Hero 2 and Madden NFL 08.
October's release of Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock also did well across all platforms.
According to NPD, the Guitar Hero III game and guitar package ranked second, third, fourth in October sales. Independent from the bundle, the game for the PlayStation2 platform ranked eighth, NPD said.
But the game also faces competition from a similar game: Rock Band.
"I think Guitar Hero III will beat Rock Band," Bond said.
While MTV is behind Rock Band, Guitar Hero's marketing campaign has a better stranglehold, Bond said.
Classic titles are also predicted to do well.
"Historically family-friendly franchises like 'Mario' are a shoe- in, I think," he said. "That's why it's going to be such a great holiday season. There are so many choices out there."
Staff writer Don Jergler contributed to this report.
firstname.lastname@example.org, 562-499-1284 KEEPING COUNT? HERE'S THE SCORE. Xbox 360
Launch: Nov. 22, 2005
Units sold by Nov. 22, 2007: 7.1 million
Cost: $349.99 for the Xbox 360; $279.99 for Xbox 360 Arcade; $449.99 for Xbox 360 ElitePlayStation3
Launch: Nov. 17, 2006
Units sold by Nov. 17, 2007: 2 million
Cost: $399.99 for 40GB PS3; $499.99 for 80GB PS3Wii
Launch: Nov. 19, 2006
Units sold by Nov. 19, 2007: 5 million
Cost: $250TOP GAME TITLES Titleunits sold
Halo 3 3.7 million
Madden NFL 08 3.2 million
Guitar Hero 22.8 million
Play W/Remote2.5 million
Pokemon Diamond Version2.1 million
Pokemon Pearl Version1.5 million
Spider-Man 31.4 million
Guitar Hero III:
Legends of Rock 1.4 million