Release date for Halo 3 … Sept. 25

Circle your calendars to call off sick that day. I wish there was some way to calculate the hours of lost productivity that will happen that first week, kind of like the first few days of March Madness.

Here are the official words from Microsoft:

In a year when Hollywood is launching its biggest blockbusters ever, a video game is set to conquer them all. Halo 3, the final chapter in the groundbreaking Halo trilogy, is set to shatter day-one entertainment sales records when it is released worldwide beginning Tuesday, Sept. 25. Created by legendary developer Bungie Studios and exclusive to the Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system, Halo 3 will set a new standard for interactive storytelling and social gaming by engaging consumers worldwide in Master Chiefs epic battle to save humankind. Halo 3 will be available to audiences around the world starting Sept. 25 and will release in Europe on Sept. 26.

Halo 3 is much more than a video game release; its the biggest entertainment event of the year, said Peter Moore, corporate vice president of Microsofts Interactive Entertainment Business. On Sept. 25, we intend to deliver a finale that will go down in entertainment history and leave people around the world with an experience that will be shared and enjoyed for years to come.

Fueling the early buzz around Halo 3, Microsoft unveiled the multiplayer beta on the eve of its release at a star-studded event in Hollywood. Beginning tomorrow, May 16, Microsoft Game Studios will kick off the Halo 3 multiplayer beta, which provides audiences worldwide with an exclusive, early look at some of the multiplayer elements of Halo 3 on Xbox LIVE. Adding to the excitement, Microsoft is also announcing a special edition Zune digital media player inspired by the hugely successful Halo franchise. On shelves next month, the Zune-Halo 3 edition comes loaded with a collection of Halo content, including videos, soundtracks, trailers, ads and artwork.

In November 2004, the worlds view of video games changed forever with the release of Halo 2, which generated a record-setting $125 million in sales within the first 24 hours and changed the way people think about interactive entertainment. Three years later, it remains the most-played game on Microsofts Xbox LIVE online gaming and entertainment network, with nearly 1 billion hours of online gaming logged to date.

The unveiling of the Halo 3 launch date comes on the eve of the release of the Halo 3 multiplayer beta, which will debut to audiences worldwide via Xbox LIVE on May 16 at 5 a.m. PDT and run through June 6 at 11:59 p.m. PDT.* The Halo 3 multiplayer beta will provide audiences worldwide with an exclusive early look at some of the multiplayer elements of Halo 3 on Xbox LIVE. Gamers who are interested in experiencing the multiplayer beta of Halo 3 can still participate through the purchase of the critically acclaimed, Xbox 360-exclusive title Crackdown, which was launched in February. Starting May 16, the specially marked copies of Crackdown will act as a key for gamers to participate in the Halo 3 multiplayer beta. In addition to giving gamers their first opportunity to get their hands on the new levels, weapons, vehicles and game types, the multiplayer beta will also provide valuable data that Bungie will use in continued development.

The Halo franchise has expanded beyond video games into The New York Times best-selling books, graphic novels, collectible merchandise and now a new, special edition Zune digital media player. Encased in collectible packaging, the Zune-Halo 3 edition digital media player comes pre-loaded with artwork, trailers and music from all three Halo games, as well as an exclusive new episode of Red vs. Blue from the fan-adored machinima creator Rooster Teeth Productions LLC. The Zune-Halo 3 edition (estimated retail price $249) will be available exclusively at GameStop starting June 15.