Sony Embarks on a New Crusade With 3-D Gaming

The auditorium darkens, the audience members put on their 3-D glasses, and a screen fills up with point-of-view images of sci-fi warfare — futuristic soldiers leaping from one military platform to another in special weaponized jetpacks, raining death and destruction.

A scene from a potential sequel to James Cameron’s “Avatar?” No, just another attempt to take that blockbuster film’s success and translate it into another medium — this time video games. The sequence from the forthcoming “Killzone 3” game was used to highlight Sony’s 3-D strategy for its PlayStation 3 console during the company’s Tuesday keynote presentation at the E3 conference in Los Angeles.

Indeed, Sony Computer Executive CEO Kaz Hirai told the crowd that 2010 would be looked upon as the year that his company was able to bring a compelling “Avatar”-style 3-D experience to the gaming industry. However, the question remains: Will consumers have the real-world bucks to spend on a suite of products that has to include a US$3,000-6,000 3-D-capable television? Will those same consumers have the patience for wearing stereoscopic glasses, also required for the full experience?

3-D is Sony’s biggest bet and one of the more surprising (and audience-pleasing) aspects of its E3 keynote. The company also announced pricing and availability for its motion-control PlayStation Move system: $50 starting Sept. 19 in North America. A Navigation controller adds $30 to the cost, but consumers are being offered two bundles — $100 for a Playstation Eye camera (vital to the Move platform), the Move wand, Navigation controller and a sports-themed game. $400 bucks gets you all that and a PS3.

Enough 3-D Content?

“Killzone 3” won’t be coming out until early 2011, but Hirai announced the names of a few 3-D titles that will be available in time for this year’s holiday shopping season. There is some consolation on the hardware side: Fans won’t have to buy any special peripherals for their existing PS3 units — a software upgrade will make all existing PlayStation 3s ready for 3-D gaming.

Sony’s 3D strategy reminds Michael Goodman, senior director of research and analytics for Mercury Media, of the first time the public was shown the PlayStation 3 itself half a decade ago. “It was a $600 unit that did everything but sit up and chew gum,” Goodman told TechNewsWorld. “The problem was, they designed it for 2010 and launched it in 2006. Given the marketplace and penetration of HDTVs and broadband and over-the-box content, the PS3 is a wonderful product for this time. But in 2005, it was way ahead of the game.”

Clearly 3-D gaming is a long-term play dependent on whether 3-D-ready TVs can come down enough in price. “Having that 3-D gaming perspective may help drive sales of 3-D TVs, but the reality is it’s going to be quite some time, maybe five years, before there’s any kind of installed base that makes it worthwhile. Sony thinks big — you have to give them credit for that. But 3-D gaming is not about holiday 2010. It’s about securing a place in the future.”

3-D Gaming for the Industry

Perhaps “Killzone 3” can be the killer-app 3-D game, the “Halo” type of product that helps drive adoption of hardware, much as Microsoft’s futuristic first-person shooter did for the original Xbox.

“They’re trying to create some solid examples of high-quality games that really illustrate the technology’s potential,” Scott Steinberg, CEO of video game consulting firm TechSavvy Global told TechNewsWorld. “They’re creating what they hope are killer apps that allow players to experience what they think is compelling about 3-D.”

However, without a “triple-A blockbuster” title to push people into consumer electronics stores, the current cost of 3-D gaming remains one of the higher obstacles for enthusiasts. Both Steinberg and Goodman used the “chicken-and-egg” metaphor to illustrate the concerns analysts have with 3-D and the gaming world. “There’s not a massive range of compelling gaming content at this point. Manufacturers are hoping to drive sales of TV sets but they don’t have the financial incentive to produce large investments in blockbuster-quality games, because there’s not a potentially large enough audience to buy them,” Steinberg said. “And you have shoppers who are saying, without content, why should we make the upgrade, especially when times are tight?”

Nintendo, Steinberg added, stands poised to reap better, immediate benefits of the 3-D craze in entertainment with its Nintendo 3DS, also introduced Tuesday in Los Angeles. The upgrade to the company’s bestselling line of handheld gaming devices doesn’t need glasses or a wallet-shredding 3-D TV to enjoy. It also doesn’t put you in the driver’s seat of a 22nd-century military jetpack, but “it’s very portable, and while you’re not going to have the same level of graphic fidelity or advancement, it may very well be the more compelling of the choices out there,” he said.

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