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Dark Glasses

The post-E3 war of words over 3D glasses reveals the true weakness of Sony's position.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

Published as part of our sister-site's widely-read weekly newsletter, the Editorial, is a weekly dissection of an issue weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to newsletter subscribers.

It was, perhaps, inevitable that Nintendo's unveiling of the 3DS was going to provoke an unseemly spat with Sony. The key advantage of Nintendo's 3D technology, after all, is that it requires no glasses - which means that in order for the company to blow its trumpet, it must by association knock the kind of glasses-required 3D on which Sony is presently making a very large wager.

The fairly apparent bitterness emanating from the Sony camp over this issue is entirely understandable. After all, it's not just the PlayStation division which is hoping for an upswing in its fortunes from the consumer adoption of 3D - the firm's television business, too, is hoping that 3D will be its white knight after many years of tough trading, and Sony Pictures would love to see Blu-Ray sales picking up as 3D versions of popular movies arrive at retail.

As such, for a big competitor like Nintendo to be making sniffy comments about 3D glasses is somewhat upsetting for Sony - and it stings all the more because of the sympathetic coverage which Nintendo's viewpoint has received, both from the press and from consumers.

The reality, however, is that Nintendo's comments make little difference to the uphill struggle which Sony faces in encouraging early adopters to make the leap to 3D. Everyone who has seen PS3 games running in 3D has been wowed by the experience - myself included. Games and 3D technology go together like a hand in a glove; it's a vastly better experience than any 3D movie thus far, and makes a serious difference to the level of immersion in the game world.

However, even after being amazed and impressed by the technology, everyone walks away acutely conscious of how difficult it's going to be to get consumers playing these games. The technology is vastly expensive, with the glasses themselves costing between £60 and £100 for a pair - arguably an even greater stumbling block than the price of the TV sets themselves.

Marketing 3D is incredibly difficult, too - how do you advertise something where the whole point is that normal TV sets can't display it? An enormous, vastly expensive campaign focused on widespread consumer sampling and demonstrations is Sony's only hope on that front, and even then, the expense of the technology means that it will remain the realm of early adopters for at least the next two or three years.

So, Sony faces enormous challenges with 3D, and Nintendo's mirthful mockery of 3D glasses isn't really helping, but is hardly the company's biggest headache, either. In fact, I'd argue that it isn't really Nintendo's comments on 3D that are really stinging Sony right now. No, the pain Sony feels in the wake of E3 is altogether simpler - it's the sense that they've been here before, and still haven't quite learned the lessons of the past.

Six years ago, Nintendo and Sony both turned up at E3 with new consoles in tow. Sony had a sleek, expensive and technologically brilliant system which essentially shoehorned the all-conquering PS2 console into a handheld, replete with advanced media functionality and a fantastic, bright, wide-format screen. Nintendo had a cheap and cheerful plastic toy, sporting peculiarities such as a pair of low-resolution screens and a stylus-driven touch-screen.