First came Japan, then long queues in Britain. Now the U.S. is bracing for the launch of Nintendo (OTC BB: NTDOY.PK) 3DS. The revolutionary, portable 3-D game player that doesn't require 3D glasses has people lining up in anticipation.
Britain officially launched the Nintendo 3DS just days ago, enticing gamers with a free game and an in-person appearance from Yoshinori Ono, a top game producer. Fans attracted by the promotional event were lined up at HMV on Oxford Street in London at midnight hoping to be one of the first to get their hands on the 3-D-at-your-fingertips device. Games for the 3DS are hot off the griddle, too.
The mob scene itself is becoming a marketing tool of the consumer-technology industry. Apple revels in the media coverage that results from the "I gotta have it first" crowds. Launches of the latest iPhone or iPad draw throngs as if they were a religious revival. No one wants to be left behind during the Rapture, nor during a new product launch.
The iWhatever fanatics have even been called Steve Jobs groupies. And the media isn't far behind. Writers, bloggers, and critics are almost forced to get in line to stay abreast of the latest news and to garner comments from consumers ready to drink the Kool-Aid.
Nintendo is encouraging its followers to march in lockstep with Apple junkies, and sellers are taking notice. The British HMV event saw other retailers jump on the bandwagon. Many U.K. stores also opened their doors at midnight on Thursday hoping to draw customers. Game, a British-based video-game retail company listed on the London Stock Exchange, sells games for all the popular consoles. Hoping to build a customer base for its games, each of its 482 stores in the U.K. gave away a free 3DS.
GameStop (NYSE: GME ) in the U.S. planned to be open late Saturday night to celebrate the release at 12:01 a.m. (Check the website for participating stores.) The company has already taken pre-orders, listing the device at $249.99. If you go into a brick-and-mortar GameStop, the company says you can trade your DSi XL and get $100 of in-store credit toward the reservation of a 3DS or trade in your DSi and get $75, or trade in your DS lite and get $50.
If you aren't driven by immediate gratification and are willing to take a chance, you could wait and win. If you attend a demo of the product and write a review, you could win one of 60 grand-prize packages, which include the Nintendo 3DS. GameStop is also promising 250 first-place prizes. Attending the demo is akin to a "puppy dog sale": For those hesitant buyers, once you get your hands on it, you won't want to let go. Demos are scheduled for April 2 at selected stores. GameStop's Events site lets you enter your ZIP code to find a location.
So what's all the excitement about? Three-dimensional play in the palm of your hand. 3D on the Nintendo isn't like that in the movie theater. Things don't jump out at you. Instead, the screen no longer appears flat; it takes on depth. Characters seem to move about in space. You can control the depth of field, the 3-D effect, by using the Depth Slider, for parents concerned about the effect on their children's eyes.
The built-in motion sensor and gyro sensor lets you play sitting, lying down, or even standing on your head. The 2GB SD memory card (expandable to a larger 8GB+ SDHC) stores downloaded games, sound, and photos made by the Nintendo 3DS system. The photos taken will be in 3-D but can only be viewed as such on the device.
The new 3DS is backwards-compatible with current DS and DSi games, although they will still be restricted to 2-D display. Not to fear, though: 3-D games are ready now for playing. Nintendo has its own games as well as many from third parties, such as Ubisoft's Combat of Giants: Dinosaurs 3D, which plunges you into a prehistoric setting. Nintendo offers, among others, the aerial adventure game Pilotwings Resort and the virtual-pets offering Nintendogs + Cats.
Capcom brings Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition to the table with new features. The Sims 3 and Madden NFL Football titles are ready from Electronic Arts, as is Pro Evolution Soccer 2011 3D from Konami, Ridge Racer 3D from Namco Bandai, and Super Monkey Ball 3D from Sega. Ono wants to bring Street Fighter X Tekken to the portable console as well.
Best Buy (NYSE: BBY ) is holding midnight sales events at many of its stores. However, the big event starts at noon in New York City on Union Square, where the store will prepare attendees for big midnight sales with live entertainment, refreshments, and a chance for players to test-drive some games. Starting at 9 p.m. and running to 2 a.m., the launch will feature an appearance by a Nintendo president, Reggie Fils-Aime, and a Best Buy president, Michael Vitelli.
And the beat goes on. Toys "R" Us is offering a buy-one, get-one-half-off deal to all customers who pick up Nintendo 3DS games this Sunday. The children's store is also accepting hardware trade-ins, promising up to $75 on working Nintendo DS units. You might even be able to take part in a hands-on demo Sunday afternoon at some stores. Even Kmart offers $25 toward the purchase of one 3DS game if you buy a 3DS from one of its stores on Sunday.
Andrew McCormick, deputy editor of Marketing magazine, says, "The gaming industry's marketing machine is actually an incredibly efficient one." The hype is probably justified. The New York Times says, "In an age of technical wonders, Nintendo's only competition in innovating personal electronics is Apple."
See a video of the 3-D game lineup.
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