One of the great philosophical debates regards whether time is cyclical or linear, flowing like a river or lapping back and forth like the waves of the ocean. While we don’t yet know the answer to this great mystery, one thing we do know is that when it comes to 3D media, the public’s lust for and subsequent disdain of the technology comes and goes indeed. Hollywood directors have been trying to woo moviegoers with 3D for over a half-century, and every time the gimmick has fallen out of favor just about as quickly as it arrived. The industry’s most recent tryst centers around Avatar and a handful of other 3D films which brought in big bucks, sending studios around the globe into a frenzy to convert their films into those which required special glasses for viewing. In the midst of the hype Sony announced it would upgrade the PS3 to support stereoscopic display, and Nintendo created a whole handheld, the 3DS, in the hopes of cashing in on the frenzy. Unfortunately, it seems that 3D is set to die off yet again, and this time Nintendo will be left stranded high and dry.
Today a study was released which found that 28 percent of those who owned a 3DS believed the 3D effect actually hindered gameplay. This is a rather shocking statistic, as it would be akin to saying that Xbox Live was ruining Microsoft’s console or that Sony shouldn’t be using Blu-Rays as the storage medium of choice. It’s one thing to be turned off by a tertiary feature (how many people outside of Japan are regularly using StreetPass?), but the 3D effect is meant to be the bread and butter of the 3DS, it’s right there in the name! If nearly a third of those playing your console don’t like its primary selling point, how long are they going to stick around?
Of course, the pushback against 3D isn’t limited to Nintendo’s handheld, as all forms of entertainment have struggled to find a place for the format. 3D televisions, which were supposed to be the driving force behind mass adoption, have sold incredibly poorly, and have only a five percent penetration rate in the US. The numbers are even worse in other nations, as consumers who just recently upgraded to HD sets seem to have no interest in shelling out several thousand dollars for a feature they’re not even sure they want.
And why should they, when there’s nothing in 3D worth watching? The only major outlet to embrace 3D broadcasting is ESPN, and even they only show select content in the format. Looking at the current list of 3D channels you’d be hard pressed to find stations worth viewing in 3D for any length of time. Until the major broadcast stations are putting their top-tier shows in 3D the incentive to upgrade is low, but the executives don’t want to make a move into 3D until the adoption rates are higher. See the conundrum? And until prices of the sets come down and people need to buy a new television to replace their old set there’s even less desire to upgrade. ZDNet predicts it will take 10 years for 3DTVs to become the norm, but even that number seems optimistic right about now.
And what of the movies, the very industry that started this “revolution” in the first place? They’re finding out that a bad movie is still a bad movie, and theatergoers won’t pay more to see the same awful films in 3D. Titles like Clash of the Titans, Glee 3D and Gnomeo and Juliet proved that point with gusto, and suddenly the rush to film and distribute pictures in 3D seems to have died down considerably. Even in a major franchise like Harry Potter fans have opted for the 2D version instead of the fancier stereoscopic treatment.
For movies and television the movement away from 3D is a painful, but not lethal, blow. Television sets have other great features aside from 3D, so it goes from being the defining feature to just another marketing bullet on the box. Movie studios will also survive the return to two dimensions, as it’s cheaper to shoot films that way anyway. For Nintendo however, the story is different. The company based the entire 3DS around the 3D gimmick, and without that the handheld is little more than a more expensive version of the original DS. The company has already struggled with controversy surrounding adding a second analog stick, as well as outrage from early adopters for dropping the price of the machine a mere six months after launch due to poor sales. Though the price cut has goosed sales figures, it remains to be seen how long people stay interested in Nintendo’s device, or if they would rather play games on the Vita, iPhone or iPad.
In any case it seems as though this most recent era of 3D was just as fickle and short-lived as all the others. I guess we can all meet back up here and try again in 20 years like we always do, but maybe next time around console manufacturers should be a little slower on the draw.