Meet the Great Tech Busts of CES

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The high-definition DVD, the Palm Pre and Lady Gaga’s Polaroid Glasses have one thing in common: They launched at the Consumer Electronics Show to much fanfare, only to disappear from sight or languish as failures on store shelves.

The annual trade show, which runs through this week, is the place where many awe-inspiring technologies have launched. The conference has been held for more than three decades and attracts more than 150,000 attendees to its nearly 2 million net square feet of convention facilities each January.

Some products have gone on to change the world. Others have fallen flat.

Halo 4 Passes Its First Crucial Test: Metacritic

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Microsoft Corp. has a lot riding on its new alien shooting videogame, Halo 4, which is part of the blockbuster Halo franchise and debuts Nov 6. (read “The Big Game Battle“). But there’s one thing over which Halo 4′s creators can breathe a sigh of relief: the game’s review score from Metacritic.com.

Metacritic, which aggregates videogame reviews from various game publications such as GameStop GME +0.04%’s Game Informer magazine and AOL’s Joystiq, gives videogames an averaged score ranging from 1 to 100. The ranking that a game receives is regarded as a barometer for whether a title will sell well, with many game industry veterans and analysts saying a game needs to score in the mid-80s to be a certified hit.

“I’d be hard pressed to buy a 60-rated game,” said Josh Holmes, “Halo 4′s” creative director. “Anything below 75–that’s the kiss of death.”

The Big Game Battle

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In a slick two-minute trailer from David Fincher, the director of “The Social Network” and “Fight Club,” a young boy is stolen from his home, turned into a surgically enhanced supersoldier known as “Master Chief,” then set loose to battle hordes of evil aliens.

The splashy preview isn’t for Hollywood’s latest major motion picture. It’s part of the elaborate build up to the release of “Halo 4,” the latest installment of Microsoft’s blockbuster videogame for the Xbox 360. When it debuts on Tuesday, the game, in development for four years, could easily end up bigger than most movie releases. Its predecessor, “Halo 3” sold $300 million worth of copies in the first week following its 2007 release.

Microsoft is pulling out all the stops to ensure that every male under 45 in America knows “Halo 4” is on its way. In partnership with PepsiCo, there will be Halo-themed Mountain Dew and Halo Doritos. Boys can wear Halo Axe deodorant while playing a Halo version of Risk.

Microsoft and Its Allies Prepare Windows 8 Marketing Blitz

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Microsoft Corp. plans this weekend to start the marketing blitz for Windows 8, the software company’s dramatic overhaul of its flagship product to catch up to the rise of mobile devices such as Apple Inc.’s iPad.

According to people briefed on the marketing efforts, Microsoft’s ads beginning this weekend will coincide with pre-orders of some computers and tablet devices powered by Windows 8. Those devices are slated to go on sale widely on Oct. 26.

It’s no small push. People with knowledge of the marketing efforts said Microsoft and its hardware allies will have blankets of ads with a cumulative price tag of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Apple Gave Few Phones to Other Retailers

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Apple Inc.’s new iPhone 5 remained a hot item following the sales kickoff Friday, with customers flocking to stores to buy the new handset. But they seemed to have little luck finding the gadget at the Silicon Valley company’s retail partners.

While Apple’s own stores appeared to be selling the new device in large numbers, other retail chains that offered the device had limited quantities from the outset, according to sales staff in stores and other people familiar with the situation.

Shortages have hit Apple partners in the past, but the disparity seemed more pronounced this time.

Apple Retail Chief Admits Staffing Mistake

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Apple Inc.’s retail boss told employees the company made mistakes with its staffing levels, leading to news reports that the company was cutting employees, according to two people familiar with the matter.

In a communication with store leadership teams, senior vice president of retail, John Browett, who took the reins of Apple’s retail stores in April, said the company had been trying a new staffing formula for its retail stores.

Apple Stores to Match Discounts on iPhones

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The company has begun telling retail employees that they may offer discounts of $49 on the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 4 to customers who cite lower prices from other outlets, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The outlets include stores operated by Target Corp., Best Buy Co. and Sprint Nextel Corp., according to Apple’s communications with employees.

Microsoft Pulls From Apple Playbook With Surface Tablet

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Microsoft Corp.’s first personal computer, the Surface tablet, provides further evidence that Apple Inc.’s strategies and success continue to shake up the tech sector.

The software giant is for the first time emulating Apple’s longtime practice of managing both elements in a computing device—one that will directly compete with products from its biggest customers.

Though insisting it remains committed to helping other hardware companies make successful tablets using its software, Microsoft also endorsed Apple’s philosophy in forceful terms.

“We believe that any intersection between human and machine can be made better when all aspects of the experience—hardware and software—are considered and working together,” said Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s chief executive, during the Surface launch event Monday.

Apple Raising Pay for Retail Workers

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Employees began learning of the raises in face-to-face meetings with managers last week, according to three Apple employees in various regions across the U.S. The raises, which are based on performance, will begin appearing in paychecks around the middle of July, two of these people said.

Employees said they were appreciative of the move, though they considered the raises had been a long time coming. The increased wages, one person said, more accurately reflected Apple’s position as a high-end retailer.

The iPhone Gives ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ a Second Chance

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Old is the new cool in videogames.

Videogame titles that once gathered dust on collectors’ shelves have found a new life on mobile devices such as Apple Inc.’s iPhone, giving companies a cheap way to make money while also helping to promote new software.

It is what Take-Two Interactive Software Inc. did when it was preparing to release the third installment in a popular film-noire series called “Max Payne.” About a month before the new title went on sale, the company released “Max Payne Mobile”—the first game in the series released 11 years ago, reworked to run on smartphones and tablet computers rather than videogame consoles and personal computers.