Think of the Electronic Entertainment Expo as a bellweather. Every major player in the industry rolls out their top-line products and sets the tone for the next 12 months, for better or worse. The constant bombardment of information gets so intense that sometimes, we're too busy concentrating on all the new stimuli to notice what's missing.
In 2011, Sony kicked off their E3 conference by instructing the audience to don 3D glasses. They announced triple-A releases and high-profile reissues built for 3D…in all, upwards of 100 games would arrive equipped for a full stereoscopic experience. A special 3D-ready Sony television even got a sustained shout-out. They made it absolutely clear that this represented the future of gaming.
One year later, at E3 2012, Sony didn't mention 3D even once, not even as a line item in a rapid-fire list of exclusive PlayStation 3 features. The very next day, Nintendo shunted the majority of their 3DS news to a sub-conference.
So yep, I'm calling it. June 6, 2012. 3D gaming is dead. And I'm good with that.
Why did Sony back away after two solid years pushing to make 3D the home-entertainment standard? Well, for one thing, relatively few consumers decided to upgrade their perfectly good HDTVs in the middle of a recession. Those who did were more likely to go with cheaper Samsung or LG models. And for all the money Sony wanted you to spend (which you possibly handed to their competition instead), 3D never added anything that justified the price tag. Sometimes, just the opposite.
Playing Killzone 3 in 3D pretty much destroyed that game's famously beautiful graphics, with jaggy Helghast enemies jumping around in blurry motion. Running a game in 3D forces you to double the framerate (adding a second virtual "camera" to create the depth effect), and that's a tough load to maintain from start to stop without any noticeable stutters. Gran Tursimo 5 pulled it off, but switching between the different cockpit views presented a host of other visual problems.
And that's just the PlayStation 3 exclusives. Cross-platform games like Call of Duty: Black Ops featured a bolted-on 3D option that looked exactly like the afterthought it was.
I played a number of games in 3D at various industry events. After throwing the glasses on and spending 20 minutes in SOCOM 4's campaign or a few hours in Crysis 2's multiplayer, I had a tough time picturing myself enduring 10, 20, or 50 hours of razor-to-the-eyes 3D. I didn't feel nauseous (some did, and had to stop early), but I did experience a palpable brain strain before too long. I can only surmise that the game wasn't the only thing working twice as hard to keep up with the increased depth of field. I played those games later in plain, boring old 2D, and I never once felt the same level of fatigue.
Nintendo's smarter solution — a lenticular 3D effect not unlike a holographic birthday card — on their handheld 3DS didn't find its footing in the marketplace until a significant price drop put it on par with the less fancy Nintendo DSi. The gimmick alone didn't draw much interest. Now that the 3DS stands as the base DS product, it's doing fine despite the inclusion of 3D, not because of it.
So consider me fairly pleased by 3D's diminished fortunes. It costs too much, doesn't add anything of merit, frequently reduces performance, doesn't improve sales, and causes physical pain. No thanks. Spend that horsepower making a game run at a buttery 60 frames per second, and leave 3D to movies like James Cameron's Avatar…shot, I hasten to add, on Sony HDC-F950 cameras.
But as far as gaming's concerned, 3D's a gimmick. A fad. And it's over.