The Scrambled Column: Need 3D?

   29/10/2010 at 19:36       Derek Littlewood       5 COMMENTS.
 - The Scrambled Column, Need 3D, Eggbox Interactive, Derek Littlewoord, 3D Gamin

There's a special feeling of pointlessness that comes from waiting for a console to download a firmware update that adds functionality you're not even going to use. It's like walking backwards up an escalator (although admittedly with less chance of getting beaten senseless by irate shoppers), or (if you're me) trying to become any good at all at Street Fighter; you can put in the time and effort, but it doesn't really get you anywhere.

The update in question was the addition of 3D support for my PS3. Not that I particularly blame Sony for this (especially given that it was a free update), although I do wish they would change the phrase "An update is required" to something more appropriate like "An update is available, although almost certainly useless in your case". But as a consumer electronics company, it's obviously in their interests to cater to consumer demand for new and exciting technologies. But does that demand exist in the first place?

Ever since the particularly enterprising caveman who found that escape from the local T-Rex population was made significantly easier with the addition of four roughly cylindrical rocks to a chassis and engine (I may, admittedly, be basing this story more on The Flintstones than actual scientific fact), there remains a fairly constant rule that mass market demand for something only comes when consumers can clearly see what it gives them that they didn't have before, whether this be 3D/motion control/a chance of avoiding being eaten that afternoon, that sort of thing.

But although announcements for 3D enabled games are now wheezing thick and fast from the collective wind pipes of marketers the world over, there still seems to be a lack of any effective demonstration of why 3D is a must-have piece of technology. Call of Duty: Black Ops in 3D appears to be an iterative improvement over Treyarch's previous Call of Duty titles, for instance, but doesn't seem to offer a genuinely new experience, and many of the 3DS titles in development show promise but by all reports fail to demonstrate a fundamental need for an update, beyond Nintendo's own need to fill several more warehouses with their spare cash.

Another problem faced by those marketing 3D technology is that the benefits are difficult - if not downright impossible - to communicate without use of the technology itself. Whilst examples such as this excellent effort from Samsung make for great viewing, they fail to truly give the consumer that vital taster of 'proper' 3D visuals, and as such are really little better than taking to the streets in a sandwich board proclaiming "Buy a 3D TV! They're great!".

The difference between this and, say, the advent of high def gaming, is that at least with HD games, it was possible to communicate the benefits by distributing higher-resolution-than-life (and more often than not, higher-resolution-than-the-game-itself, but that's another column entirely) screenshots of the game in question, on websites and in magazines. In the case of 3D, the only way to effectively demonstrate the technology is to sit the consumer down in front of an appropriate TV decked out in (no doubt extremely stylish) 3D glassess; something that is significantly harder to do.

You could argue, then, that the challenge is more one of marketing than game design, but as Dejobaan Games noted in their excellent post-mortem of Aaaaa! A reckless disregard for gravity! recently, game design is marketing, and marketing is game design. With a 3D killer app, that is simultaneously entertaining and unique to the technology, the marketing challenge would become significantly less pronounced. But without that app, creating a demand amongst consumers, many of whom will undoubtedly have only recently upgraded to a high def TV, is always going to be an uphill struggle.

[Derek Littlewood is an experienced videogame designer and producer, and runs Eggbox Interactive. See http://www.eggboxinteractive.com for more.]

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