3D's Place In Gaming

By Jordan Douglas on May 18, 2010, 12:10PM EDT

Recently, the entertainment world has witnessed the rise in popularity of 3D technology. This phenomenon is demonstrated by blockbuster films such as Avatar and Alice In Wonderland, making 3D viewing an integral part of the experience. Interest outside the box office has also grown. Major television manufacturing companies like Samsung and Sony have begun to incorporate expensive, 3D enabled TVs into their product offerings. This trend has also started to make its mark on the gaming industry. All three platform makers have announced 3D initiatives - Sony and Microsoft with 3D enabled consoles, and Nintendo's new 3DS handheld. While there is room for 3D content in games, the emphasis many companies are placing on it feels like an opportunistic attempt to push expensive products on consumers, as opposed to creating substantive game content.

Of the big three, Sony, in particular, seems to have the greatest incentive to see 3D hardware thrive. The company's TV division has been looking for new ways to introduce products into the market, since consumers have become increasingly indifferent to advances in traditional 2D resolution. Therefore, Sony, and its competitors, have been eager to brand 3D as the "next big thing" in home entertainment, so they can continue to sell TVs at a premium price point. How does this affect gaming? Well, another Sony product, PlayStation 3, was recently updated (via firmware) to make it more 3D friendly. By combining Blu-rays and games that support 3D on PS3, Sony can effectively promote their game, movie, and home entertainment divisions all-in-one. From their perspective, 3D is a godsend.

Without any TV department to take into account, Microsoft hasn't been so hasty to jump on the 3D bandwagon. While the company did enter an agreement with LG to promote 3D TVs alongside the Xbox 360, the deal is limited in scope and appears to be a response to Sony rather than an aggressive push. So far the company's position has been to "˜wait and see' - emphasizing Xbox is capable of 3D, however, motion control is their immediate focus. This seems like the right approach for the time being, as there isn't much 3D content available, making consumer interest difficult to guage.

In typical fashion, Nintendo have taken an alternate route from their competition. They announced the 3DS, a handheld device that will employ 3D technology without requiring special glasses, but it's unclear how they will implement it. Nintendo's track record make them the most likely of the three platform holders to pioneer fun, creative 3D games. The real problem is that while console makers and third-party publishers can all agree 3D is the future, they haven't given any indication of the gameplay benefits it will provide. In my mind, 3D must provide more than a marginal improvement in presentation. If anyone can do it, my money's on Nintendo.

Ultimately, despite the tone of this article, there is a place for 3D in gaming. However, the onus is on the companies pushing for its mass market adoption to show its more than a gimmick, more than another overpriced peripheral. We'll have to wait at least until E3, likely longer, before getting an idea of what's to come.

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