It’s hard to find much 3-D programming on television beyond ESPN 3D and the new 3net venture from Sony, Discovery and Imax. But a flood of soon-to-be-released 3-D video games could boost adoption of pricey, high-tech 3-D television sets.
Video games serve as perfect 3-D bait because gamers are not only early technology adopters but also are constantly searching for new ways to dive deeper into rich game environments.
Sony, for one, has a vested interest in seeing 3-D television succeed. The electronics maker sells 3-D Bravia LCD TVs, as well as PlayStation 3 video game systems.
Its game studios also have several 3-D-compatible video games in the works.
The latest, Killzone 3 in 3-D, comes out today on PS3 for $60. This space combat game pits the player as part of a squad of humans combating an alien force called the Helghast.
Killzone 3 in 3-D “gives you the illusion that you are literally there, on the front line and in the middle of the fight,” says Hermen Hulst, co-founder of the game’s development studio, Guerrilla Games, based in Amsterdam.
“For a developer like us that is always trying to make experiences as immersive as possible, it’s very much a natural extension,” he says.
Will it work?
But can the proliferation of 3-D games really spur 3-D TV sales? There are encouraging signs. Nearly a quarter of consumers surveyed last year by Magid Advisors said they were considering buying a 3-D TV in the next 12 months. Young men ages 12 to 34 wanted a 3-D TV the most.
“Many of the people most wanting 3-D TVs are core console gamers,” says Mike Vorhaus, president of Magid Advisors.
In the second year of 3-D TV availability, fewer than 6% of all TVs headed to stores this year will be 3-D sets, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. However, the number of 3-D sets shipped will increase from 1.1 million to 1.9 million.
So far, about 1 million consumers have a 3-D set, says DisplaySearch analyst Paul Gagnon.
TV makers and retailers had hoped that 3-D TV would get off to a better start in 2010. But 3-D TVs can cost as much as 50% more than the standard set, he says.
“While it was disappointing, I don’t think the (2010 3-D) rollout can be looked at as being weak or tepid,” Gagnon says. “Gaming is certainly one of those key content areas that will help the 3-D industry.”
Sony isn’t the only TV maker betting on 3-D games.
Mitsubishi, which makes 3-D rear-projection sets that range in size from 60 inches to a new 92-inch set due this summer at nearly $6,000, has been promoting the cartoonish paint-as-a-weapon video game de Blob 2, out today for $50, which is playable in 3-D on the PS3 and Xbox 360.
“I don’t think anybody would disagree that sports (programming) is going to be the key driver,” of 3-D TV sales, says Nick Norton, senior manager of brand marketing for Mitsubishi. “But I think we are going to see a real push on 3-D gaming. You are not going to get a better 3-D gaming experience, feeling like you are really part of the action, than with our gigantic TVs.”
While Microsoft hasn’t been playing up that its Xbox 360 can also play 3-D games, the system is 3-D-compatible. Call of Duty: Black Ops and Avatar The Game, released in 2010, are playable in 3-D on the Xbox 360 and PS3.
“Our strategy has been to have 3-D capability in the box,” says David Dennis, Microsoft’s Xbox group product manager. “As consumer adoption grows, we are there to support it. 3-D can add to experiences, but it can also distract from them. We want to make sure it enhances the experience. The real accelerant to this is when someone cracks the nut of glasses-free TV. That’s when you see it become … mainstream.”
Still a fun time
“If you are going to buy a 3-D TV for other purposes, it’s certainly nice that some games can be displayed in 3-D, but I don’t see it as a killer app for gaming,” he says. “You can certainly sit there and marvel at it. But with games, when you play them, you sort of immerse yourself so much in the world that you are thinking in 3-D. You almost feel like you are in 3-D when you are not.”
Nintendo is bringing to market next month a handheld game system called the Nintendo 3DS, available March 27 for $250, that does not require 3-D glasses. “I think that potentially has more impact,” Keighley says.
Still, those who already have a PS3 — or are considering the purchase of one — can better justify their investment in a game system that continually evolves.
Sony’s consumer electronics and game divisions collectively “felt like we could make a big splash by updating the (PS3′s operating system) to handle 3-D and making sure that we have a bunch of gaming content lined up to sync with the launch of 3-D TVs,” said Sony’s Scott Rohde.
Other upcoming Sony PS3 games in 3-D include Motorstorm Apocalypse, available April 12, SOCOM 4 due April 19 and Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception on Nov. 1. Already out in 3-D: Gran Turismo 5 for $60.
Crysis 2 comes out March 22 for $60 and is another much-anticipated first-person shooter game that can be played in 3-D on the PS3 and Xbox 360. In 3-D, the game plays “much more natural and organic,” says Cevat Yerli, CEO of the game’s Frankfurt-based developer, Crytek.
“I believe (3-D) can work for many other games, too. First-person games are ideal candidates because of how our eyes are designed,” Yerli says. “Sports games and racing games are a great application for it, too. But not all games need to be in 3-D.”
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