Eager Nintendo fans waited in the bitter cold last night outside of the Best Buy store in New York City's Union Square to be some of the first in the country to buy the company's latest bid to dominate the portable gaming market, the Nintendo 3DS.
While the Gamasutra-attended midnight launch was perhaps not as jam-packed as expected -- much of the area cordoned off by Nintendo was sparsely populated -- the company still claimed that "hundreds" of consumers were in attendance, ready to shell out $250 for the device, which boasts a glasses-free 3D stereoscopic effect.
The glacial weather was apparently no deterrent to the crowd. Chairs, blankets and extensive amounts of fluffy winter clothing were in ample supply everywhere, and Nintendo provided music and 3DS demo kiosks to keep attendees entertained.
Fans -- some of whom were in cosplay -- were particularly excited about the attendance of Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime, who personally met with many of the gamers.
It's these dedicated, hardcore fans, willing to brave hours in the cold for the latest Nintendo platform, that the company will rely on in the 3DS' early days.
One fan, a 20-year-old college student named Desmond told us, "My body has been ready
for Reggie for a long time. ... The 3DS launch is ... an incredible event. I mean, look at the people here! This is so electric."
"I'm only 20 but I've been to over 50 events related to Nintendo releases; this is honestly the best one!" he added.
But Nintendo fans are an easy sell for the 3DS -- the real test is going to come in the months and years ahead. While the 3DS predecessor, the Nintendo DS, is the world's best-selling dedicated handheld gaming console with around 145 million units sold worldwide, today's market is vastly different from when that device launched in 2004.
Now, Nintendo is not just up against Sony's next handheld gaming platform, the codenamed Next Generation Portable, but also increasingly-powerful mobile phones and tablets that offer thousands of digitally-downloaded games that can cost a dollar or two, or sometimes nothing at all. That's compared to around $40 for a 3DS game.
Confronted by new lower-barrier business models coming out of the mobile and social space, top brass at Nintendo have said
the company wants to maintain portable games' "value." The project lead on the 3DS also told us recently that Nintendo doesn't plan to compete
with mobile games' prices.
But Nintendo is hoping that the glasses-free 3D effect will set the 3DS apart from other devices. As midnight approached at the launch, from a stage Fils-Aime instructed the crowd to toss into the air 3D glasses that had been distributed to those in attendance, a symbolic rejection of the eyewear.
Nintendo realizes that it is relying on these hardcore fans to evangelize the 3DS, and introduce the platform to the masses. "I've never seen an event where the fans have been taken so much into the consideration," Nintendo fan Desmond added.