No Glasses Needed: Nintendo's 3DS on Sale March 27

Nintendo hopes to kick the 3D revolution into overdrive on March 27.

Nintendo 3DS
Yoshikazu Tsuno | AFP | Getty Images
Nintendo 3DS

That’s the date its eagerly awaited 3DS portable gaming system will go on sale in North America. The device will be the first mass market consumer device to offer stereoscopic 3D images without the need for special glasses – something analysts see as critical to the success of 3D in the market.

It won’t be cheap, though. Nintendo says it plans to charge $250 for the device. That’s on par with Apple’s iPhone but more than the iPod Touch, which are two of the fastest growing competitors in the mobile gaming space. It’s $100 more than the company charged for the DS when that system launched in 2004.

“This is the next big step in the modern era of video games,” said Reggie Fils-Aime, president and chief operating officer of Nintendo of America. “The Nintendo 3DS is 3D games, plus 3D video, plus 3D photography. There are no special glasses or skills required to enjoy it.. And above all, the Nintendo 3DS is distinct. It’s a breakthrough. There’s nothing else like it. It is truly a category of one.”

Nintendo plans a splashy launch for the 3DS, supporting it with over 30 games in the system’s “launch window” – from the day it hits shelves until early June. The idea is to offer a variety of entertainment options to people and take advantage of what is almost certain to be extremely strong consumer interest in the device.

Nintendo is counting on the 3DS to regain momentum in the video game industry. After dominating sales charts for the past several years, 2010 saw the company lose a lot of ground.

Sales of the DS handheld devices plunged 23 percent, as consumers opted to spend their mobile gaming time on multi-function devices, such as smart devices like the iPhone. The Wii, meanwhile, saw its commanding lead among consoles falter – with Microsoft very nearly taking the hardware sales crown with the Xbox 360. Wii sales in 2010 were 26 percent behind the 2009 numbers.

The curiosity factor surrounding the 3DS will certainly help initial sales, but analysts are more curious about the long-term stability of the platform. Few, if any, are expecting it to perform as strongly as the DS has over its lifespan.

The problem certainly isn’t with the quality of the games. The launch lineup alone features hefty franchises such as “Super Street Fighter IV” and “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D”. (Electronic Arts and Ubisoft also plan titles for the launch window.) The problem, ultimately, could come with the cost of those games.

Low-priced apps are training consumers to expect more for less with their gaming dollars. The average iDevice owner has downloaded over 60 apps, according to market intelligence firm Asymco. (While it’s impossible to determine how many of those apps were games, the category has historically dominated the most-downloaded list from Apple.)

The 3DS is the beginning of a new wave of portable game hardware that’s en route this year. Next week, Sony is expected to announce details of its second generation PSP – PlayStation Portable – device, which is rumored to have graphics on par with the PlayStation 3 console.

Like the 3DS, though, the PSP2 is likely to be a single function device, which could work against it.

"We're getting to the point where devices that are dedicated to playing games are going to be increasing challenged by convergent media devices," says Billy Pidgeon, senior analyst for M2 Research. "It's like while [game companies] are doing this, smart phones are doing pushups. They've got 3D. They've got Tegra. They're designed for upgrades on an 18-month cycle. We're just seeing a lot of innovation there."

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