Sony wants you to know that it's all about 3D. Speaking at the Develop conference in Brighton this week, Mick Hocking, director of Sony worldwide studios' 3D team, delivered a keynote exploring Sony's experience of 3D gaming in the last year.
But what, exactly, has Sony accomplished in this last year - and will it actually make a difference when 3DTVs are still at their current price levels? I asked Hocking to look back on what Sony had accomplished, but to also let us know what the company intends to do going forward.
Q: How has 3D gaming developed in the last year?
Mick Hocking: We've had a really good first year with 3D. We've launched more than 50 games supporting 3D, and obviously all of our 3D upgrades to PlayStation 3 are free - if you're connected then you've already got them all. We can play back games, 3D movies, 3D mp4s, and 3D photos with our PlayMemories app.
We've had a really great response from our gaming fans around the world to 3D. One of the most important things we've pushed this last 12 months - and we're going to continue to do - is the need for really high quality 3D. It's really important that all of our games are at the very highest quality of 3D so that people get a great 3D experience, it adds to the gameplay, it's comfortable to view, and they'll come back for more 3D games.
Q: Has 3D gaming had its first killer app?
MH: I've been asked this a few times - is there going to be an Avatar of 3D games? It's a good point, and we've worked really, really hard in the last 12 months with lots of our first and third party studios to not have a spike in quality like that.
Because we want all of our games - if you look at the first generation of 3D, like Killzone, Major League Baseball, MotorStorm Apocalypse, or the second generation now like Uncharted 3 and Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One - they're a consistently high quality of 3D throughout, and that's important because we don't want people to feel like there's a single game on PlayStation 3 that does 3D better than all the rest. They're all very, very well done.
Q: All the games you mentioned are first-party Sony titles. What about third-party support?
MH: We offer support to all third-parties, in fact we encourage all third-parties to come and talk to us. We would really like them to speak to our 3D team when they decide to put 3D into their games, because we've got dedicated experts to help them, we've got a large body of knowledge now - a large number of games converted - so we can shortcut a lot of the issues they're going to find with 3D, and we've got a large body of training resources.
One thing that's really important is that they get trained in 3D, because there's quite a lot to be done correctly, both technically and creatively. If they get in touch with us we can really, really help them implement it correctly - and check it - but also help them creatively.
We've seen with a number of games that there's not only technical and creative issues, but there's also genre-specific things you need to solve, like the crosshair in a first-person shooter, or we had an issue with camera shake in MotorStorm because the cars are moving so fast.
Q: It sounds like quite a lot to take in, like it's more than something you can dump in over an afternoon and then - bam - it's 3D.
MH: There's definitely knowledge that you need to acquire, but the good thing is that developers tend to be extremely good at learning new things and they can pick it up very, very quickly once we start training them.
In terms of the investment, it's actually a very low to put great 3D into your game. In the last twelve months we haven't seen a team go above 2% of their dev budget, and a lot of them are about half a percent.
It's important to get it right. It's a new creative medium - it's not just 'add depth' - and you have to implement it as a new creative medium and understand what you're doing. But doing that doesn't take that long.
Q: Is Sony at the forefront of 3D game development?
I think what's become clear over the last twelve months is that PlayStation 3 is by far the most versatile and powerful 3D content platform, not only games platform, that you can buy. We're unique as a business because we're the only company in the world that has the whole 3D hardware chain and creative chain within our core business. We deal with Sony Electronics on a regular basis, and Sony Pictures, and we talk to them about latest 3D techniques, sharing ideas and best practice.
It's absolutely a strategic focus for our company to be world leaders in 3D.
Q: You've obviously got quite a lot of faith in 3D, otherwise you wouldn't be doing what you do. But what do you think the public perception of 3D is right now?
MH: Our experience is that if you show people great quality 3D, and I've seen this many many many times, they think it's a fantastic feature, they can be amazed by it, they can see how it enhances the gameplay experience and would be very keen to go and buy a 3DTV or go and buy more 3D games.
But the opposite is also true. If people see poor quality 3D it can turn them off from the whole 3D experience - we've seen evidence of that in other mediums. Film is struggling a little bit at the moment, and TV's learnt a lot in the last twelve months about what people want to see in 3D and what they don't want to see in 3D.
Q: When is 3D going to hit the point where most people think the price is right?
MH: Many of the analysts are saying that in the next three to four years around 40-50 percent of all TV's sold will have 3D capability. That's because a lot of TV manufacturers are just building this into the production line now - they're just adding it as another feature.
I think over the next few years you're going to see price points be very similar to normal TVs, quality going up, accessibility improving, and 3DTV becoming much more widespread.
Another big driver is - if you saw at CES this year - there's been an explosion in new 3D devices. You've got 3D laptops, camcorders, cameras, bloggies, tablets - lots of these allow people to create 3D content. I was just on holiday last week in Italy with the new Sony camcorder filming in 3D.
Because we're creating more 3D content we want to view that content on, typically, a TV. So there's another huge driver for 3DTVs coming out, from these new devices.
Q: How important is it for the PlayStation brand to become synonymous with 3D?
MH: I think it already is!