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.
Q:So how has the launch of 3D been for Sony?
Simon Benson:I think from our perspective, looking at it purely on PlayStation 3, were really pleased with where we are at the moment. Its one year in now, and you think in its first year its all new, and theres a lot to do in terms of getting a good understanding of it, people taking up the displays, were obviously critically bound by people having a 3D display, but from our perspective we think its been a really good success.
You look at the numbers and you think at the moment on PlayStation 3 theres pretty much 50 games, in the first year, that support stereoscopic 3D, which is an enormous number. Thats a lot of content, and a really good reason to think about getting a 3D display. And if its coming out at that sort of rate, and you think this is just the beginning, imagine where thats 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 its not like wed ever have a 100 per cent, because some games just dont lend themselves to 3D. If you think 33 per cent is our starting point, thats an amazing number. To be honest were surprised ourselves at the volume weve 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 were looking at this 3D monitor that we talked about - the PlayStation 3D monitor, and you think its sort of great timing for that now, we can confidently say that its 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 weve done a lot of work to ensure the content thats out there is a good quality of 3D experience, but again because were so early in the 3D life cycle, what we tend to see is the games that currently support 3D, its typically weve taken a 2D game, weve turned it into a 3D game, weve got it to a high level of quality in that, and what were seeing is that theres a very very good reaction from gamers.
Q:Do you know what percentage it is of PlayStation 3 owners have a 3D TV?
Simon Benson:To be honest Im 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 its certainly theres 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 were 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 its bringing even more people on board
Were hoping that with the 3D monitor releasing very soon that theyve something clear, "yes, we can go and get that and guarantee ourselves a good 3D experience."
Q:The statistics suggest its not taken off as quickly as predicted, is that a concern that people havent taken to it as fast as you would have liked?
Simon Benson:Its certainly not a concern for us on the game side, the major reason being its not like when were adding 3D features to a game, its not a significant overhead for us. Its not like we have to justify being able to sell millions millions more games because of it, its just another feature of the game.
In terms of uptake, certainly from our side, and its 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, theyre technically savvy, the fact that they can interact with it makes a lot of difference. Its not a passive experience of just watching a TV programme, theyre involved and theyre interacting with it, so I think weve seen much higher uptake of HDTVs for gamers in the first place which I think helped drive the HDTV market and were 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 youre 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 theyre such major games, you imagine if you dont 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 its got this other thing there, and no doubt youll hear other people talking about it in the 3D, and you just need the display. Thats such a strong driver for people to opt into 3D.
Q:Is there a cut off point internally where, if say in two or three years, 3D TVs still arent selling, where you stop adding 3D to games? How committed is Sony?
Simon Benson:Its 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 weve worked with adding 3D features to the games, its typically been done through passion of the development teams and interest of the designers to deliver new experiences. Its not often about the financial side of things. Because it isnt a huge overhead. Its 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 its a significant overhead, there you really have to look at the numbers.
What were talking about here is, in some cases weve 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 its the case of it doesnt even hit the radar of whether we should or shouldnt, it can just be done. So its 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 theyre 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 were seeing is that theres so many games where 3D adds a whole load of value to the title that its 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 itll help really sort of build this snowballing effect.
We could have been having this conversation 5 years ago about HDTV, saying what if HDTV didnt 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 weve 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 were 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 arent that different. Were not asking people to fork out twice as much here, and I think what probably going to happen over time is itll be the case like now, if you try and go out and buy an standard definition TV you probably just wouldnt be able to.
And I think thats 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 were actually asking of people is OK, maybe your parents have a bought a 3D ready TV, maybe theyre still watching Coronation Street on it and thats all they use it for, but for yourself as a gamer with your console, OK, youd have to go out and buy a pair of glasses. And theyre coming down in price again all the time. So youre talking game peripheral type territory. Youre literally saying to people for that whole experience of stereoscopic viewing, this high value experience, it is just like buying a peripheral.
Q:Do you know roughly how many Sony 3D TVs are out there? You must have some idea.
Simon Benson:No. I mean obviously were Sony Computer Entertainment, so obviously we work closely with the electronics division but it would be rude of us to ask, and even ruder for us to say if we did have those numbers. Its really down to them to say that.
Q:A lot of peoples first experiences of 3D are the films, and recently with Pirates of the Caribbean more people opted to see 2D instead of 3D, does that worry you?
Simon Benson:I think its the case that if everything anyone watched in 3D was totally awesome, then penetration of the market would be far quicker with 3D TVs, because people like my wife might be saying to me I want a 3D TV because I want to watch that movie, because shes not a gamer, and that helps me justify the 3D TV. But I dont think its really such a big issue for games. At the end of the day games are interactive, other things like movies, TV, are more passive, but I think were a very different industry really, very different medium.
Now we've got a good reliable quality bar we can start challenging people to push it further in the creative domain.
Going back to your question about whether itll fizzle out based on display uptake, I think itll go the opposite. I think its actually going to accelerate a lot quicker when more people start experiencing the benefits for themselves.
And it goes back to when you look at being 12 months in with 3D gaming and saying yes, weve got lots of high quality games out there already, a lot of our big hitter games that people waited eagerly for, out there and then in 3D, but this is just the beginning. As people do learn were going to see things really change.
The presentation we did later on today was all about art as a creative medium. Weve really focused a lot on making sure we get high quality, technically correct 3D so when people do add 3D to games its done well and already just adding 3D makes a hell of a difference, a real wow factor. But what were seeing now is we can start exploiting that. Now weve got a good reliable quality bar we can start challenging people to push it further in the creative domain.
What were going to start seeing is really new, different experiences. To give you an idea of what Im talking about, take a game like Resistance 3. So youve got these aliens attacking and one runs up towards you and maybe attacks your character. Imagine this in 3D and the way you could take this. Understanding the environment of the 3D allows you to do different things, so imagine if the edges of the screen were left with a black border top and bottom or something. So we can deliberately use that creatively and when an alien attacks you maybe his fingers come over that border. Now when youre looking at your TV, you wouldnt think that was a little black border thats rendered in the game, youd be thinking that is the edge of your TV and suddenly some aliens hands have just come into your room.
Q:Is that your main aim now, getting the word out to the development community?
Simon Benson:Not really. Thats where weve been doing for the last 12 months and because of the results weve already seen - so we have definitely been carrying that message to this point - but today was a bit of a change in direction for us. So until this point weve been saying this is how you do it, this is how you do it well, were here to support you, it doesnt necessarily cost a lot because actually that was one of the big fears at the beginning from the development teams, was cost. Because obviously when you read about 3D and movies and live broadcasts thats what they have, but for us its not the case.
So we were very keen to be open about our performance and get our internal teams, any teams that would be willing to allow us access to their statistics to be able to make it clear to people that this doesnt cost a lot, theres lot of ways of doing this, being as open as we possibly can with it.
But that was kind of the first year. Well still do that no doubt, but what were here for now is a change to this. Were basically saying because of the volume, weve seen a lot of games doing this well know, well still support new people coming along, well still support existing people with the basic technical side, but what were really doing now is challenging the creative side. Right, weve got a good, solid, technical base now, because typically weve done a lot of our presentations to programming tracks, making sure the render programmers are very familiar with the technology. Now what we want to do is challenge the artists and the creatives and the designers and say "think about what you could do with this. How you can exploit this and make something amazing, something thats never before been experienced?"
If we'd have gone too early on the creative side what we might have had is a little bit like when people first saw the early 1950's 3D movies.
Obviously in our industry this is just music to their ears, they just love this kind of thing. Theyre just going to embrace this and theyre going to start really pushing this now. But were also confident because the technical side of it is well understood, and were still there to support that as well. So if someone puts a creative challenge too far, theres a good buffer in place to make sure it still remains high quality, comfortable, all the rest of it
I think if wed have gone too early on the creative side what we might have had is a little bit like when people first saw the early 1950s 3D movies, where everyone just threw things out of the screen and it was all so in your face. And thats not where we wanted to start from, we wanted to start with technical correctness, because we know that just looking at good quality 3D is a fantastic wow experience moment. Lets start from there, lets add the creative thing when we know that thats safe and all moving nicely.
So I think opposite to the movies, if you think about the 3D cinema launch with Avatar, the big champagne cork effect, the best first, I think were probably going to be the other way round where well build to that. And when effectively the Avatar of 3D games comes out, not only have you got a good reason to buy it, but theres a whole host of other good content there as well. So its not that youll invest in a display and only have one game to play, you know youve got a catalogue of very good games to play in addition to that.