CHIBA, Japan – Nintendo slashed its earnings forecast by more than half Wednesday after announcing that its 3DS game machine, packed with glasses-free 3-D technology, won’t go on sale for Christmas.

Nintendo now expects $1 billion in profit for the year through March 2011, down from an initial projection of $2.4 billion.

The 3DS will go on sale in February in Japan, and March in Europe and the United States, missing the year-end shopping season — a critical time for all game makers to rake in profits.

Kyoto-based Nintendo Co. had promised the 3DS for sometime before April next year, and so the announcement is not technically a delay. But its forecasts had assumed the machine would on be on sale sooner.

Nintendo said the strong yen, which reduces profits from overseas sales when brought back to Japan, and the timing of the 3DS launch were behind its decision to lower projections for the fiscal year.

For the year through March 2011, Nintendo expects to sell 23.5 million DS machines, including 4 million 3DS units, down from its earlier forecast of 30 million. It sold 27 million DS units the previous fiscal year.

The latest revision shows that even Nintendo, which has stood up fairly well among Japanese exporters in hard times, is getting battered by the surging yen.

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata said the 3DS will cost $300 in Japan, where it will hit stores Feb. 26. Overseas prices and specific dates will be announced later.

Hirokazu Hamamura, president of Enterbrain Inc., a major Tokyo game-industry publisher, said he was surprised by the release date because of widespread rumors the 3DS would hit stores in time for the year-end period — a booming shopping time in Japan because children get cash gifts from relatives during the holidays.