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Sony's 3D Dream: One Year On

SCEE's Simon Benson on the launch and uptake of home 3D gaming

Sony has been at the head of the 3D revolution, integrating it into its range of Bravia TVs, producing the cameras used by 3D filmmakers and creating video game content via its first party studios. But Sony has also been shy about releasing any sales figures for 3D televisions, and analysts suggest uptake has been slower than originally predicted.

We spoke to Simon Benson, SCEE's senior development manager and 3D evangelist, who's been working on 3D for two years. At Develop last month he presented the latest developments to the industry, including Sony's new PlayStation branded 3D monitor. He gave GamesIndustry.biz his thoughts on the launch of 3D, his team's plans for the future, and why he's not worried about sales figures.

GamesIndustry.bizSo how has the launch of 3D been for Sony?
Simon Benson

I think from our perspective, looking at it purely on PlayStation 3, we’re really pleased with where we are at the moment. It’s one year in now, and you think in its first year it’s all new, and there’s a lot to do in terms of getting a good understanding of it, people taking up the displays, we’re obviously critically bound by people having a 3D display, but from our perspective we think it’s been a really good success.

You look at the numbers and you think at the moment on PlayStation 3 there’s pretty much 50 games, in the first year, that support stereoscopic 3D, which is an enormous number. That’s a lot of content, and a really good reason to think about getting a 3D display. And if it’s coming out at that sort of rate, and you think this is just the beginning, imagine where that’s going to go.

We're obviously critically bound by people having a 3D display, but from our perspective we think it's been a really good success.

If you look at our internal studios last year, 33 per cent of our games supported stereoscopic 3D. Again, so you think a third in the first year. But it’s not like we’d ever have a 100 per cent, because some games just don’t lend themselves to 3D. If you think 33 per cent is our starting point, that’s an amazing number. To be honest we’re surprised ourselves at the volume we’ve managed to achieve, you look at the number of games out there and you think it makes it a really strong proposition - obviously at the moment we’re looking at this 3D monitor that we talked about - the PlayStation 3D monitor, and you think it’s sort of great timing for that now, we can confidently say that it’s worth getting one of these displays, there is plenty of content for it.

As we mentioned in the keynote this morning, quality is absolutely key, and we’ve done a lot of work to ensure the content that’s out there is a good quality of 3D experience, but again because we’re so early in the 3D life cycle, what we tend to see is the games that currently support 3D, it’s typically we’ve taken a 2D game, we’ve turned it into a 3D game, we’ve got it to a high level of quality in that, and what we’re seeing is that there’s a very very good reaction from gamers.

GamesIndustry.bizDo you know what percentage it is of PlayStation 3 owners have a 3D TV?
Simon Benson

To be honest I’m not aware of the statistics, all I can say is that, certainly on our forums, we see a lot of activity of people discussing the 3D games, so it’s certainly there’s a lot of people on the forums talking about it, have experienced it, and our very very vocal about the advantages of it. And what we’re seeing from that is people listening in to those forums, seeing those kind of expressions by people who have clearly been amazed by their experience, and it’s bringing even more people on board

We’re hoping that with the 3D monitor releasing very soon that they’ve something clear, "yes, we can go and get that and guarantee ourselves a good 3D experience."

GamesIndustry.bizThe statistics suggest it’s not taken off as quickly as predicted, is that a concern that people haven’t taken to it as fast as you would have liked?
Simon Benson

It’s certainly not a concern for us on the game side, the major reason being it’s not like when we’re adding 3D features to a game, it’s not a significant overhead for us. It’s not like we have to justify being able to sell millions millions more games because of it, it’s just another feature of the game.

In terms of uptake, certainly from our side, and it’s typically the way, probably the same happened with HDTVs, they say that HDTV was primarily driven from gamers. Because obviously gamers know what they want, they want this new experience, they’re technically savvy, the fact that they can interact with it makes a lot of difference. It’s not a passive experience of just watching a TV programme, they’re involved and they’re interacting with it, so I think we’ve seen much higher uptake of HDTVs for gamers in the first place which I think helped drive the HDTV market and we’re seeing the same sort of thing on the 3D TV side where a lot of people, certainly people I talk to, bought their 3D TV to play 3D games.

And when you’re looking at games like Gran Turismo 5 and Killzone 3, these kinds of games, and with the likes of Uncharted 3 on the horizon, because they’re such major games, you imagine if you don’t have a 3D display, and you end up with that disc in your hand, rushing home to play it, you get the 2D experience, but you know it’s got this other thing there, and no doubt you’ll hear other people talking about it in the 3D, and you just need the display. That’s such a strong driver for people to opt into 3D.

GamesIndustry.bizIs there a cut off point internally where, if say in two or three years, 3D TVs still aren’t selling, where you stop adding 3D to games? How committed is Sony?
Simon Benson

It’s not really for me to comment on the business side of things, but certainly from my experience what I could say is the developers that we’ve worked with adding 3D features to the games, it’s typically been done through passion of the development teams and interest of the designers to deliver new experiences. It’s not often about the financial side of things. Because it isn’t a huge overhead. It’s not like in 3D live production where someone has got to make the decision about hiring cameras that cost twice as much and doing post processing that costs ten times more and it’s a significant overhead, there you really have to look at the numbers.

What we’re talking about here is, in some cases we’ve had titles where 3D has been half a per cent of overhead. It can literally be the render programmer spending a couple of weeks manipulating it. Particularly if a game already has split screen in it, just take that mode of the game and reauthor it to deliver really high quality 3D. So often it’s the case of it doesn’t even hit the radar of whether we should or shouldn’t, it can just be done. So it’s now of the same magnitude as it is with say movies or live productions and having to make that decision. It really comes down to do the game teams that are making these titles think that the experience they’re putting together is compelling enough and the title lends itself enough to this technology to add that feature in.

We could have been having this conversation 5 years ago about HDTV, saying what if HDTV didn't take off?

And what we’re seeing is that there’s so many games where 3D adds a whole load of value to the title that it’s a very very easy decision. And even if initially, as the market grows, you only targeting a very small portion of gamers, those people that get this experience shout about that experience to others, and no doubt it’ll help really sort of build this snowballing effect.

We could have been having this conversation 5 years ago about HDTV, saying what if HDTV didn’t take off? Would you still make games in HD? Because to be honest, making games in HD was probably a far more expensive thing to do than making games in 3D. But as we’ve seen, technically now you could say that HD has been a huge success. And 3D has so many differences to that transition to HD, and we’re seeing now with displays, 3D functions can be added to a TV not necessarily with a huge overhead. You think of the difference initially with the price of an HDTV, it was quite significantly different, where as you look it now and a non-3D TV to a 3D TV and in similar sort of model line, the margins aren’t that different. We’re not asking people to fork out twice as much here, and I think what probably going to happen over time is it’ll be the case like now, if you try and go out and buy an standard definition TV you probably just wouldn’t be able to.

And I think that’s where 3D is going. It may be that some displays are sold 3D ready, maybe you go out and buy the glasses if you want 3D, but in which case what we’re actually asking of people is OK, maybe your parents have a bought a 3D ready TV, maybe they’re still watching Coronation Street on it and that’s all they use it for, but for yourself as a gamer with your console, OK, you’d have to go out and buy a pair of glasses. And they’re coming down in price again all the time. So you’re talking game peripheral type territory. You’re literally saying to people for that whole experience of stereoscopic viewing, this high value experience, it is just like buying a peripheral.

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Rachel Weber

Senior Editor

Rachel Weber has been with GamesIndustry since 2011 and specialises in news-writing and investigative journalism. She has more than five years of consumer experience, having previously worked for Future Publishing in the UK.

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