A mere two years ago, 3D technology was the hottest trend in entertainment. Every theatre-bound movie boasted about the characters jumping out at you. The Nintendo 3DS was unveiled at E3 2010 to much fanfare and excitement. And Sony promised us the most immersive gaming experience ever engineered, courtesy of a PlayStation 3 software update that enabled 3D support for its games.
Here we are in 2011, and there’s no denying that the 3D hype has cooled a little (to the accompaniment of some moaning about headaches and blurry vision). Is the grand 3D experiment over, at least as far as games are concerned?
The initial burst of excitement surrounding the technology’s revival has certainly rushed by us, and if game companies want to keep us interested in 3D, they’ll have to start proving to us that it is in fact capable of enhancing our gaming experience beyond merely looking like a digital pop-up book. Last July, Game Theory’s own Scott Steinberg wrote an article for CNN that outlined the reasons for 3D’s latest decline, and many of the reasons he cites hold true: The technology is expensive, and every Hollywood movie that uses 3D to its maximum potential (James Cameron’s Avatar) is countered by dozens of movies that essentially charge viewers extra for a shoddy tack-on technology. Also, game developers who are already stretched to the limit trying to cover consoles, mobile tech, and handheld game systems have enough on their plates without taking the time and money that’s necessary to successfully implement 3D into their games. Not surprisingly, developer apathy towards 3D games does nothing to improve the technology and make it more appealing for consumers.
But Sony believes 3D technology hasn’t run its course in the games industry. In fact, according to Sony London Studios’ Mick Hocking, its potential has barely been tapped.
“Looking at the future of 3D, I think we’ve really only just begun to realize its potential as a creative medium,” Hocking told IndustryGamers. “With the combination of 3D and motion control gaming with PlayStation Move, I think titles like Resistance 3 are just scratching the surface of what’s possible.”
Hocking added that we’re living in “one of the most thrilling eras to be a gamer,” and that “3D screen resolution are creating virtual spaces that are more realistic than ever.”
In the ’80s and ’90s, every gamer harbored the “virtual reality” dream. Could Sony be nudging us in that direction? Obviously, such a drastic change to the games we play won’t happen overnight, so to reach that point, we’ll have to wait patiently for Sony to tinker with 3D technology and layer one improvement on top of another. The question is, how many of us will stick with 3D for that long?
There might be more interest in 3D than we give the industry credit for. There certainly isn’t an outright rejection of the technology going on: the Nintendo 3DS price cut promoted a huge sales boost, which indicates the biggest issue with 3D gaming isn’t disinterest, but cost. Further, the Nintendo 3DS does a great thing by letting us choose the depth of our 3D experience–and we can turn it off entirely, too.
That’s where Sony is going to run into a problem. It wants to blow our minds with bigger and better 3D experiences that may someday transition to virtual reality, and arguably the best way to do that is to tell the consumer over and over, “Look at this! Try it! You’ll love it! Drop your old game for just a second and give it a go!” However, 3D gaming is not something you can force on the masses, because a considerable chunk of the population has vision problems. There are people who are unable to really “see” 3D, or else they get headaches and/or nausea.
With the Nintendo 3DS that’s not a big problem: Just turn off the 3D effect. In fact, even gamers without vision problems are more likely to opt for 2D over 3D, as the 3D effect on the 3DS drains the system’s battery, and viewing the glasses-free 3D effect takes some “work,” even for a strong pair of eyes. Realistically, we can envision a Nintendo 3DS game market with a handful of titles (likely from Nintendo itself) that will make full use of the handheld’s 3D capabilities, while most third-party devs will be happy enough to utilize the 3DS’s processing power and touch screen.
In other words, the Nintendo 3DS will probably remain a strong seller, but because of its games, not is technology. The system won’t pioneer the Great 3D Gaming Revolution that Sony envisions–which is undoubtedly fine with Sony, as it wants to be the one to blaze that trail. Its resolve is admirable, and if it perseveres, we’re going to see some really nice 3D games from the business. However, it’s going to have some difficulty proving to its audience that 3D is really the future of gaming. If its 3D games give gamers the option to turn back to 2D, said gamers will inevitably revert to the old ways. But if Sony is more forceful about making us adopt 3D, it’ll alienate the portion of its user base that is physically incapable of handling 3D technology.