PopCap has just announced that Bejeweled 3, the first true sequel to its flagship gem-swapping Bejeweled franchise in more than six years, will launch on Dec. 7.

In addition to expanding the four original game modes from Bejeweled 2, Bejeweled 3 will feature four new secret games including Ice Storm and Poker. Quest mode will feature 11 mini-games that blend Bejeweled gameplay with other popular game mechanics for a total of 40 quests.

“Casual video games have been popular going back to the 1980s, but the introduction of Bejeweled 10 years ago launched an entire industry,” explained David Cole, founder and president of DFC Intelligence, the oldest research firm focused entirely on the video game market. “No other casual game comes close to the success of Bejeweled in terms of popularity and influence.”

New and expanded features in Bejeweled 3 will include:

  • Classic: Play the most popular puzzle game of the century, with powerful new gems and new ultra-smooth gameplay
  • Quest: Journey through 40 magical puzzles in this multifaceted Bejeweled challenge!
  • Zen: Personalize your experience with ambient sounds and binaural beats — a revolutionary new way to relax!
  • Lightning: Charge up with a heart-pounding, beat-the-clock bout of gem-blasting fun!
  • Secret Games: Unlock 4 all-new games including Butterflies and Ice Storm
  • Badges: Earn up to 65 badges to prove your skills
  • High-definition graphics and high-fidelity audio: Bejeweled is now more dazzling than ever before!
  • Ultra-smooth gameplay: Make multiple matches while new gems fall into place

Since its introduction 10 years ago, Bejeweled has become one of the top 10 video game franchises in history. More than half a billion people worldwide have played the game, and over 50 million units have been sold across 17 platforms. An estimated 7.5 billion hours have been spent playing Bejeweled, and the game continues to sell at the rate of one copy every 4.3 seconds.

Bejeweled 3 will launch on December 7, 2010 via PopCap.com and other major portals in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific as well as at leading retail outlets throughout North America at a suggested retail price of US$19.95.

Editor’s Note: Games.com has a good interview withJason Kapalka, PopCap co-founder and Chief Creative Director about more of the features coming soon in Bejeweled 3.