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Nintendo launches new handheld

A generation of children grew up playing Nintendo's Game Boy handheld video game system, and now that they've grown up, Nintendo has a new toy for them.
Nintendo DS
Andreas Mateus, 25, from Burbank, Calif., was one of the first to buy the new Nintendo DS at 12:01 a.m. in Los Angeles on Sunday.Bob Riha, Jr. / Nintendo via AP
/ Source: Reuters

A generation of children grew up playing Nintendo Co. Ltd.'s Game Boy handheld video game system, and now that they've grown up, Nintendo has a new toy for them.

The Nintendo DS handheld launches Sunday and is like no other portable gaming system before it -- two screens (one of them touch-sensitive), two slots for different types of game cartridges, two kinds of wireless connections, and a number of other bells and whistles that distinguish it from the crowd.

The target market is the more sophisticated game player, who has a bit more disposable income and a bit more interest in complex play than the younger children who have made the Game Boy line a global success.

Those in the industry who have tested the DS are generally positive on both the technology and its potential for new kinds of games, but say it will be a few months at least before there are actually games on the market that use the new technology.

"Right now it seems like more of a bundle of good ideas rather than actual, practical 'Yeah I have to own this to play this particular game,"' said Mark MacDonald, executive editor of Electronic Gaming Monthly.

"It's got all these really neat ideas (but) I don't think so far any of the games have really pulled all this together."

Fans do not seem to care much about the details - they want the new 'new thing' -- now. Nintendo expects to sell about 1 million units between the Sunday launch and the end of the year throughout the Americas.

"We do expect there to be some spot shortages," said Reggie Fils-Amie, executive vice president for marketing at Nintendo of America. "We know quite frankly if we had double that we could sell all of it."

Nintendo has already said it will fall well short of demand in Japan as well, where the DS launches early next month.

Early advantage?
Nintendo defeated all comers over the last 15 years who tried to challenge it in the handheld market, even well-known names like Sega (the Game Gear), Atari (Lynx) and NEC (the TurboGrafx Express).

But in early 2005 Nintendo will face its most formidable challenge yet, Sony Corp.'s PlayStation Portable, or PSP. Designed to play movies and music as well as games, the PSP is Sony's bet it can take over the handheld market the way the PlayStation did for home consoles almost 10 years ago.

"When PSP comes we'll deal with it," Fils-Amie said succinctly. "Our focus right now is maximizing the penetration for DS."

With expectations that the PSP will sell for around the same price as the $149.99 DS, and with much the same potential audience, many think the two will end up competing head-to-head for some buyers once the PSP debuts in March.

"My sense is that they are different markets but not to the extent that either company would have you believe," EGM's MacDonald said.

Industry wins
Despite the added expense of new development for a new platform, publishers embraced the DS. There will be eight titles available at launch, up to 12 by the end of the year and as many as 25 by the end of the first quarter of 2005.

Analysts said the most likely beneficiaries of the DS launch in terms of software sales were the third parties who made aggressive commitments to support the the device from the outset, like Electronic Arts Inc. and Activision Inc. .

Nintendo has relatively fewer of its own games at the launch compared to outside publishers, something of a reversal from its past hardware releases.

"They're really trying to embrace third-party publishers and skew older with this launch," said P.J. McNealy, an analyst at American Technology Research.