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3D End-Game? No. It’s a New Game! (Gamasutra Reprint)

By Neil Schneider

There are days I wish everyone was an entrepreneur.  Imagine how wonderful the world would be!  Every day, people would aggressively try new things, and the glass would always be seen as half full for the next adventure!

I was really baffled by today’s Gamasutra article entitled “Report: 3DTV Active Usage On The Decline”.  Informa Telecoms & Media released a report featuring the following key points:

  • It’s expected that “…fewer than half of the 11 million UK homes expected to have a 3D-enabled TV in 2016 will be active users of the technology.”
  • This is “in sharp contrast to 2010 trends the company observed, where 90 percent of 3DTV-enabled homes actively used the technology.”
  • "Irrespective of existing public demand for 3D, major set manufacturers (Samsung, LG, Panasonic, et al) increasingly see 3D capability as a feature that they must include in their sets, or the perception will be that rival manufacturers are producing a technically-superior product (with 3D included)" according to analyst Adam Thomas.
  • According to (Adam) Thomas, 3DTV sets will have long-term market penetration because of this, but the 3D content itself will ultimately be a novelty.
  • “…but 3DTV is less of an enhancement and rather more a new type of viewing experience – one that many people will enjoy, but some way from becoming ubiquitous." – Adam Thomas

I’ve been at this for over four years, and back when modern commercialized stereoscopic 3D technology was just getting started, the biggest debate was the chicken or the egg.  What would come first: the content or the displays?  Until this question was answered, 3D would be at a standstill in the home.

As I have publicly stated for years now, stereoscopic 3D is getting included as default technology in modern displays – this is nothing new.  While this was hinted in the article, it’s a no brainer that the proportion of actual 3D usage will decline against the number of standardized 3D HDTVs sold because customers aren’t necessarily buying the HDTVs with 3D HDTV in mind – the same way customers aren’t necessarily buying an HDTV with Connected-TV in mind, or cloud computing in mind, or USB or network connector ports in mind, etc.  It’s not to say that these technologies are declining in use, it’s just that this is a portion of a much larger audience that will grow independently of the display hardware sales.

I don’t know the source of the 11 million 3D HDTV UK homes in the report.  DisplaySearch expects 100 million 3D HDTVs to be sold worldwide by 2014 (representing 50% of HDTV revenues overall), so this 3D adoption may be happening faster that Informa Telecoms & Media suggests.

I will make an educated guess that the 11 million 3D HDTV customers reported will purchase their HDTVs irrespective of the 3D functionality, and it’s not market specific (i.e. gamers, non-gamers, etc.).  If this is correct, I think it’s a major 3D victory that nearly half are expected to use their display’s 3D functionality.  That’s a starting point of five million active 3D customers out of 11 million brand new HDTV units sold in the UK.

Here is another statistic for you: according to the Entertainment Software Association, 72% of adults play video games.  72% of households play video games, 50% of living rooms expected to use the 3D functionality in their new HDTV… entrepreneurs, are you starting to see a pattern?  Maybe an opportunity?

If game developers play their cards right, they can really win from this.  Yes, existing titles can be successfully amped up to stereoscopic 3D and benefit from superior immersion and in turn become more memorable.  According to U-Decide 2011, 3D display owners will give purchase priority to 3D compliant titles.  With an anticipated five million active 3D HDTVs in the UK alone, I think that’s very significant.

However, another opportunity that is getting missed are video games that make stereoscopic 3D part of the fabric of the game.  For example, can 3D cues play a role in the game itself?  Can the ability to accurately judge distance be an added component to the game itself?  The Wii was originally successful because it added a new class of game play – can stereoscopic 3D make a similar contribution to video games?  This is something worth planning for.

The article concludes with the criticism that the Nintendo 3DS hasn’t sold as well as expected.  We have to remember that the 3DS has been plagued with a modest title lineup, simplified games that have been rushed to market (and in some cases, poorly received), and some of Nintendo’s passive download initiatives haven’t progressed as fast as expected.

However, what the article really failed to mention is that the Nintendo 3DS hardware just jumped to the top of the sales heap after twelve weeks thanks to the release of “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D”.  Clearly there is a relationship between good content and hardware sales, and you can’t have one without the other.

Let me conclude by saying that I don’t know what Adam Thomas is complaining about.  Their report isn’t describing a 3D failure or a decline – it’s describing a golden opportunity for the video game market!  I think reports like these would be much more useful if they were written with more entrepreneurial vision and spirit.  Not rose colored eyes, mind you – just vision.  Stereoscopic 3D vision?  Definitely!