3D advocates talk obstacles, opportunities

GDC Online 2010: Convention's Stereoscopic Games Summit wraps up with reps from SCEA, Nvidia, Blitz Games, and more sharing their takes on where the market is headed and how long it will take to get there.

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Who was there: Blitz Games CTO Andrew Oliver, moderating a panel of 3D evangelists including Stereoscopic 3D Gaming Alliance's Neil Schneider, Nvidia's Andrew Fear, SCEA's David Coombes, and Schell Games' Keith Leonard.

Glasses-free works fine for the 3DS, but the panel was a bit skeptical about using it for a full-sized TV screen.
Glasses-free works fine for the 3DS, but the panel was a bit skeptical about using it for a full-sized TV screen.

What they talked about: Given that every member of the panel has a vested interest in 3D gaming, the primary question of the session--Is Stereoscopic 3D Gaming Here to Stay?--was never in much doubt. Be that as it may, Oliver started the session by making a devil's advocate argument based on some recent stats surrounding 3D movies. Going from Avatar to How to Train Your Dragon to more recent 3D fare like Despicable Me, Oliver said that the percentage of people who went to see the movie in 3D versus 2D has been dropping consistently with each release.

Schneider called that data misleading, as Avatar was essentially the only 3D film out at the time of its release and had placement in essentially all 3D-capable theaters. As the 3D trend grew, competition for those screens grew in step, and the numbers don't take into account how many screens the 2D versions of those films played on. Fear was less dismissive of that data than Schneider but said that the demographic for 3D games is different from the one for 3D movies and that all the data on games indicates a healthy interest.

Oliver touched on the news today that Activision is bringing Call of Duty: Black Ops out in 3D and asked why publishers should spend the extra time and money making games in 3D. Oliver noted that it makes sense for Sony considering it's also selling 3D Blu-ray players and 3D TV sets. Coombes acknowledged that some publishers have been a little bit hesitant to jump on board, but said 3D adds something to games that warrants the added cost.

Schneider said it's a business liability for publishers not to make their games in 3D. As 3D TV sets penetrate the market, more gamers will be going to the store specifically looking for games that show off their new hardware. So given the choice between a 2D game and a 3D game, customers have indicated a preference for purchasing the 3D-capable game.

Oliver asked what the biggest hurdles are to 3D gaming going mainstream, and Leonard brought up the obvious issue of hardware saturation. Incorporating 3D into a game does put certain limits on the visuals so they can be rendered in stereo, he said, so there need to be enough 3D-capable monitors and TVs in the market to make "dumbing down" the graphics for 3D worth it.

Oliver's Blitz Games already jumped on board 3D gaming with Invincible Tiger: The Legend of Han Tao.
Oliver's Blitz Games already jumped on board 3D gaming with Invincible Tiger: The Legend of Han Tao.

Coombes brought up the issue of content and how certain movies like Avatar are available for home in 3D only with the purchase of a Panasonic TV. Oliver referenced a point from Michael Cai's panel earlier in the day, the fact that customers don't understand basic issues like the lack of cross-compatible glasses for different brands' 3D TV sets.

Fear echoed the call for education about 3D technology. Not everyone is going to buy a Nintendo 3DS, but Fear said it will get people comfortable with the technology and create demand for glasses-free mobile handsets and other 3D devices. While the press latched onto the "glasses free" aspect of the 3DS, Schneider suggested the biggest win for the system is not the lack of glasses but how viral the system could be. Namely, people playing it in public can show it to friends easily, and they'll grasp the advantages of the experience instantly.

Fear addressed concerns about the possible negative effects of prolonged exposure to stereoscopic 3D, saying most of the research shows that there's no long-term damage. He likened it to people who would wear headphones all day long with the volume cranked and then sue Sony for hearing damage. Fear also pointed to an ophthalmologist who used stereoscopic 3D to treat ailments because the focus shifting worked specific muscles in the eye. Oliver said whenever something is successful, there's always going to be a group of people looking to find the negative side of things.

When asked about glasses-free technology, Fear said it makes sense for individual viewing like the 3DS or mobile phone because there's a limited viewing angle. Fear acknowledged Toshiba's announcement of glasses-free TV, but Fear said filmmakers would need to shoot movies with nine cameras from different angles in order to have it work as well with a glasses-free 3D TV set. And in terms of games, he said rendering the same scene nine different times would create a significant burden on the hardware, considering current 3D games that render a scene twice already require developers to take a slight hit.

Oliver wrapped up by asking the panelists what they hope to see within five years in the 3D gaming world. Schneider said he'd like to see consistency. Nobody's on the same page right now as to what to expect from a 3D game, and he thinks it will be a mass-market technology once those concerns are sorted out. Leonard said that within five years he hopes his games will be designed from the ground up to be in 3D. For his part, Fear hopes that the need for a conference track like this to encourage 3D gaming development is no longer necessary. His ideal scenario for five years' time is to be able to play whatever game of his choosing in 3D, one echoed by Coombes.

Takeaway: There are still some hurdles regarding consumer education and getting 3D-capable hardware into people's homes, but the panelists are all convinced that 3D gaming is here to stay.

Quote: "I don't think anybody's happy with the glasses situation right now."--Coombes, acknowledging complaints about the lack of stereoscopic 3D glasses compatible with TVs from multiple manufacturers.

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