By Neil Schneider
Wow! When an earnings report goes out, it’s like gospel! Before I talk about Ubisoft’s earnings report, let me share a story.
At FMX 2010, I had the chance to sit down with the VP of Creative Development for a leading game developer that will remain unnamed. To put it bluntly, he was clearly unconvinced about stereoscopic 3D gaming. His concerns are that according to their data, HDTVs have a 50% saturation rate. This means the early adopters – the customers most likely to buy 3D HDTVs – are already taken care of. A more important issue for them is this: “will S-3D gaming bring me three to four million new customers?”
Then there are the costs for making S-3D gaming possible. On console, the expected additional expenses amounted to millions of dollars. How could they justify this? I’m unconvinced that this is accurate, but to them, it’s a real concern.
I was at a loss for words. His company really thought this through, and I just didn’t have the answers for him…yet.
The other side of the coin is Ubisoft. They have been pseudo burned by stereoscopic 3D gaming. While the Avatar movie was a huge success, Avatar: The Game was an earnings disappointment, even with James Cameron directly attached to it. If anyone were to question their interest in S-3D gaming, it would be Ubisoft. However, today our industry was blessed with these remarks during Ubisoft’s earnings report:
“We will see more and more product coming in 3D on 360 and PS3 but also on portable machines…We can count on substantial growth in the 3D market just because it’s more immersive, so it will be a good way for the industry to give even more emotion to the gamers,” said Yves Guillemot, CEO of Ubisoft.
More importantly, Ubisoft estimates that 15% to 20% of games will be 3D by next year, with half of all games going stereoscopic by the year 2012. So why the huge difference in opinion? Why is Ubisoft promoting this position versus the other developer’s 2D blast from the past?
While I can’t speak for Ubisoft, I think I can shed some light on this. First, it easily takes two to three years for a AAA game title to go to market, so that explains the 50% of games 2012 marker. With several 3D HDTVs hitting retail this year alone, game developers need to be prepared for the impending install base. EA has already gone on record via MTBS that they are actively working on a game in S-3D, and I’m certain many companies are doing the same in secret.
There have been a lot of reports about proposed 3D HDTV sales, and I take them with a grain of salt. Only a few select consultants can put out reports with credibility, and I’m never sure how these numbers are estimated – especially in this market. To date, I have only seen the modern Samsung 3D HDTVs on store shelves, so what do analysts really know?
For me, I like to get down and dirty. In my early career, I used to work in retail as a sales person. I will tell you from experience that if you want to know how well a product is going to sell, talk to the sales staff. Every few weeks, I drop by a Best Buy, Future Shop, and Sony Store to quiz the staff. I’ll ask about the HDMI version, content, customer response – everything. I have to say that I am really impressed with how much they know. Even when I got my Fuji 3D camera back in September, the Sony Store manager spotted it by name which spoke volumes…in September of 2009!
Most recently, I spoke with a sales rep at Future Shop about the Samsung 3D HDTV on display. When asked about the response from consumers, he explained that the younger customers were more enthusiastic about the 3D than the older customers, and that it was extremely positive. I’ll save this for another article, but he talked about the dynamics between 3D manufacturers, the race for 3D in the home, and more. He was clearly informed well beyond what version of HDMI the TV is using!
He was also proud of the fact that the new 3D HDTVs are going for about the same price as the high-end HDTVs from last year. It was after I heard this remark that I was hit by an epiphany. Pessimistic game developers and S-3D pundits are missing the point entirely. Who cares if people already own an HDTV? Similar to the original CRT boob tube, if people want a bigger screen, stereoscopic 3D, better sound – whatever – they will buy a second TV. Who wrote the rule that you can only have one HDTV in the house? If you have the means, who doesn’t want a second HDTV in their bedroom?!?
Given that premium 3D HDTVs are going for the same rate as the premium 2D televisions of yesteryear, the real question game developers need to ask themselves is this: “Is there any reason to believe that people will stop buying premium quality HDTVs this year?”
While this information is flawed because it doesn’t look at premium grade televisions alone, according to DisplaySearch, LCD TV sales saw a 50% increase in 2009. According to ISuppli, even during a recession, 2009 saw a first quarter flat panel sales increase of 7.8 million units, or 17 percent. This was attributed to cocooning, or cutting back on travel in favour of a great home entertainment system.
I know what you are thinking! If people just shelled out for an HDTV, why would they buy another one? These tail-end buyers aren’t the early adopters, they are the bargain hunters. If indeed people want the 3D benefits, and all the customer data we have to work with says they do, than it’s a brand new product cycle for the early adopters looking to upgrade their living room experience. It’s the beginning, not the end.
So my recommendation to pessimistic game developers reading this is to do as Ubisoft expects, and to prepare for 2012. Exciting times are ahead for S-3D gaming, and it would be a bad position to be in if customers turn titles down because they don’t support the new features they bought their new shiny television for.