Is the death knoll sounding for 3D?
A story caught my eye a few months back that made me think about which way 3D was heading, news that a major game publisher had decided not to bother with 3D anymore, and then just the other day the news came out about Sony removing the funding for 3D glasses.
Together these stories highlight a shift in thinking about 3D, and from people who create 3D games and films, and I wonder if this is going to represent the beginning of a change of pushing 3D onto audiences.
The biggest story is that Sony is the first studio to stop paying for the cost of supplying 3D glasses with a 3D film in the U.S. For big releases this can mean US $5 to $10 million additional cost, and for smaller releases something in the region of $1.5 to $2 million, and that's a lot of money.
For larger films it's a lot easier to absorb, but for smaller titles it might be a fair hit for a studio to take. The Hollywood Reporter, who have the story, say that the current cost of 3D glasses in the U.S. equates to about 50c for each ticket.
Sony has a fair point though, the current model is get your glasses for a screening and then return them afterwards, and that's not a good model these days. What is a good model is ownership and that's what Sony wants. They want the 3D audience go-ers to buy their own glasses and keep them. This is surely a much more sensible way as it means far less production and waste as well as cheaper cinema tickets, sure the glasses will be more expensive to start with, but a one off payment and cheaper tickets is surely more attractive than "renting" a pair each time you go to a screening and paying more for the ticket.
Of course that's not really what's happening. 3D tickets have gone up in price anyway as the theatre owners want to recoup the money they've spent upgrading to 3D projection systems, you usually pay an additional charge over the ticket to get your glasses, and I'm sure the 3D ticket surcharge will still apply.
I don't go to many 3D screenings but I have three glasses from the screenings I've been to and I never return them, I reuse them. Each time I go to a 3D screening I buy the ticket, refuse the glasses, and pull out my own. Easy.
The theatre owners won't be happy though, and it shows that the studios feel they are paying too much for 3D films at the moment, and let's not forget the cost of filming a decent 3D film is still an uncomfortable figure for a studio to agree to.
Then there's the story from a few months back that Electronic Arts, one of the biggest publishers of videogames, has said that they aren't developing for 3D anymore. They haven't seen the pickup in the home market for 3D televisions or 3D gaming, and the effort versus the return is not holding up. So they're off to develop other ventures.
Talking through Eurogamer the EA boss John Riccitiello said when comparing social and online gaming against 3D gaming:
"We see really high returns in these markets and very poor returns focusing on 3D, so we are allocating our resources toward new innovations...Frankly we have not seen a big uptake for 3D gaming. We have not seen a big uptake in 3DTVs in the home, at least not yet. We are not here trying to drive a market. We are here to react to what consumers are looking for."
Boom. For me that's the killer statement and something that Hollywood never does. Let me repeat those two key phrases:
"We are here to react to what consumers are looking for...We are not here trying to drive a market."
That's the problem right there. The film studios are shoving 3D at us like it or not whereas the gaming studios are looking to see what people are playing and what they want to play and reacting to that. If we like something and take to it, they'll produce more.
With 3D the studios saw a way to make money by forcing new cinema equipment, new ticket pricing models, forcing every audience member to buy glasses, and forcing a renewal of home cinema technology which had most definitely reached a plateau.
They've not reacted to the audience at all, they've seen a new revenue stream and tried to lock us all into it, like it or not.
What Sony had to say to this was interesting. Sony's 3D gaming head Mick Hocking also talked to Eurogamer and said:
"We've got 50 million PlayStation 3s that support 3D playback. 3DTVs are selling well. We've had great response from our fans out there at game shows and forums about the 3D games we've produced."
Now, look at that statement, they have forced 3D onto PlayStations, no one has asked for it, and they've forced 3D televisions on the marketplace because you can't buy a decent home cinema or gaming Sony television now without it including 3D, there are some models but they lack some of the higher end features that the latest are coming out with, believe me I know as I've been looking for a new one myself.
Then consider this fact, also from Sony research, only 2.5% of high-definition televisions, not all televisions, just high-definition televisions, are 3D. That means 97.5% of all high-definition televisions are not 3D. There's not consumer demand.
However he does point out that a lot of the recent games have been released with poor quality 3D and compares it to Avatar (Filmstalker review):
"As we've seen in some other industries, if you make great quality 3D, in film you could say Avatar - it's the most successful film of all time, it's the highest grossing film of all time - but since then that hasn't been followed up with the same degree of success...
...Only add 3D where it makes a difference to the gameplay experience. It must add something. Don't just add depth for the sake of it."
Isn't that the major problem? The cost to deliver high end 3D which really does the medium justice and doesn't take over from the rest of the property is just too high both financially and creatively. Avatar's budget was insane, and the restraint to use the most expensive part of the film as another aspect of film-making like set design has not been shown since, all the following films have made the 3D the core feature of the film, and that's where the quality fails.
I know I've said it before but it's a prime example of not following the demand. The demand would be for more Avatar quality 3D films, not more Clash of the Titans or My Bloody Valentine quality 3D films.
So with the consumer demand for 3D televisions just not there, the desire for studios not to pay for the 3D glasses anymore and Sony taking the lead on that, and one of the major publishers of videogames saying that 3D gaming just isn't worth it nor is there a demand out there for it, where does that leave 3D?