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People are probably already spewing spittle across their keyboard, while drenching their monitor in a torrent of swear words and fanboy protests. It’s okay, I understand your grief. But this is not a “Halo bashing” article, but rather, a look at how gamers have allowed it to control their online, console gaming experience.

It’s no surprise that Halo 2 always topped the charts for the original Xbox, and it continued to do so into the early stages of the Xbox 360, up until Gears of War. But Gears didn’t top the charts for too long, as Halo 3 came out and took dominance of the online competition ring. Now there’s nothing wrong with a popular game that’s fun to play online. In fact, I enjoy playing Halo games with other people; who can argue with a 8-on-8 CTF match on Coagulation? No one can. But the problem is that – like most gamers in the gaming community – there’s always a penchant for wanting to play other games online, which seem to receive little or no fanfare.

Sadly, though, this problem has been around since the days of the MSN Gaming Zone: Where Quake II and Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II pretty much owned the MSN’s online gaming network, leaving titles like Mechwarrior 3 and Heretic II out in the cold. The same thing is now happening with Halo 2 and Halo 3.

As the September statistics show on Major Nelson’s blog, Halo 2 and Halo 3 are still some of the top played games on Xbox Live. Yes, Call of Duty 4 and Gears of War are also always on the list too, but you’re never going to find an empty multiplayer channel of Halo. Finding multiplayer competition for titles like Blacksite: Area 51, 007: From Russia With Love, The Outfit, or Fatal Inertia (just to name a few), is almost tougher to do than finding a Republican who doesn’t support the NRA. However, there’s never a shortage of players hounding Halo 2 and Halo 3, even if they aren’t actually playing. In fact, this conundrum extends beyond Xbox Live, and into other fields of online services for online console gaming.

Xlink Kai, the popular, free alternative to Xbox Live, offers gamers services for more than just the Xbox/Xbox 360. The PS2, PSP, Gamecube and PS3 can also be used on the free service, but take a wild guess which two games dominate? Yep, Halo 2 and Halo 3. Despite Xlink supporting favorites like Call of Duty and Star Wars: Battlefront and Forza Motorsport, Bungie’s billion-dollar baby is still jam-packed with people. It doesn’t stop there, though. Another service, aptly named XBConnect, offers gamers another alternative for playing consoles games for free, and guess what dominates the playing field? And guess which games dominate on the new up-and-coming Leaf Network service? Yep, you’re starting to see the pattern here if your answer started with the consonant ‘H’ and ended with the vowel ‘O’.

Even Bungie tracks the amount of players for both Halo games, and the numbers are staggering. Don’t believe me? Just check their website for the constant updates of who’s playing what, and how many of them are playing.

The problem isn’t that a lot of people are playing Halo 2 and Halo 3, the problem is that everyone who goes on any service that offers these games are playing them, and pretty much little of anything else. You can bet that nearly everything else that isn’t Halo 2, Halo 3, Call of Duty or Gears of War is going to see sparse activity, if none at all. It sometimes makes you question what happened to everyone who bought other online-supported games from the retail shelves? I’m assuming these are the same people who keep their games in the original packaging, never to open or play them.

The media hype surrounding Halo keeps gamers playing Halo, but it doesn’t really help expand online console gaming beyond that. Server hosts should start changing things up a bit; offering more incentives to lesser known, or lesser played games. Otherwise, the money publishers complain about losing when their title ends up in the used-game bargain-bin, is partially to blame on no one having a reason to play it anymore, especially if everyone is playing the latest Halo game.

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