Almost everything you're used to today was directly influenced by both this console and it’s creator and mastermind, Trip Hawkins. The fact that this project was not successful is a clear indication of just how ahead of it’s time it was. During 1991 whilst being the founder and head of Electronic Arts Trip Hawkins had seen his idea of a licensed sports range starting to take hold on the gaming industry, if you had a great product that people wanted they why not use it to sell them something else was the foundation behind his thinking and it was making Electronic Arts a fortune.
As time was going by it was clear that the biggest selling games outside of Sega’s and Nintendo’s mascots were those that were coming from EA (Electronic Arts), people just couldn’t get enough of stuff like John Madden Football, Road Rash, EA Hockey and of course the game that would soon come to rule the world FIFA Football. On top of all this EA were starting to become a huge publisher for other companies games such as Bullfrog who’s catalogue of hits that included Syndicate, Populous and of course Theme Park meant that the early 90’s belonged to this powerhouse of a publisher.
At the end of 1991 before their dominance was assured Trip decided to form a new company he named THE 3DO COMPANY, as Sega and Nintendo sat around fumbling what would happen next with games consoles Mr Hawkins decided that he as the head of the largest 3RD party publisher would force everyone’s hand, he was going to give the world the next generation and then some.....
The simplified plan for all of this was in the production of a chipset that other manufacturers would actually build into consoles that they have designed the look of, as long as the insides were identical to the others across the range the outer shell could be whatever you wanted it to be, think VHS video recorder’s and you wont go far wrong. Sony and Philips had been sniffing around gaming for a couple of years already due to the huge popularity of things like the NES and especially the Sega Megadrive so if Trip could convince them to do all the hard work then how great would that be, plus also it would mean they wouldn’t be competitors at some point.
Suffice it to say that because of Nintendo Sony went in their own direction and Philips being Sony’s biggest rival at the time also decided to press on with their own unique system, however other players such as Sanyo and Goldstar were very interested as were another giant of electronics Panasonic. Of all the manufacturing partners involved in the whole project Panasonic were completely invested, Trip was a very powerful man of his era, had built EA up from nothing to being the largest 3rd party publisher in the world, had all the top games everyone played, people simply listened to everything he said, his word was gold.
During 1992 a new magazine was published called EDGE, it’s history and legacy in the video game world is that of legend, at some points it has caused outrage, it has caused controversy however even if you are like me and hate it as it currently stands (October 2013) you cannot understate it’s impact on everything. Upon it’s launch, it quickly became the industry bible and easily the most respected of all games publications the world over, again right from issue 1 and much like Trip Hawkins, what it said mattered and people listened as it stood all the ingredients were there, the game franchises through EA, the tech courtesy of a trio of industry manufacturers and now the games press itself was falling in love with it, this was going to be massive.
As a business model Panasonic, sanyo and goldstar would make money from every unit sold as would the parent 3DO company, 3DO however would also take a $3 royalty from every single individual game sold, this is a business model companies such as Sony and Microsoft copied when they entered the market place several years later although Sega and Nintendo already had a similar system in place for the current games systems but the royalty charge for them were massively higher.
3DO also had yet more aces up it’s sleeve one of which being in the format it would use for said games, the multi-media boom was now in full swing with Sega trying to sell their Mega-CD unit and Philips about to launch their own system too plus of course PC gaming leading the way. This was something people wanted but nobody could get it right. Sega couldn’t get software support and price right, Philips completely messed everything up with their CD-I machine, Nintendo and Sony fell out meaning their Add-on for the Snes was not going to happen and again PC gamers were proving this could be done right but from a console point of view nobody had really started the battle let alone won it, everything was there for the taking.
When the Panasonic FZ-1 launched in North America on October 4th 1993 it did so after a large and sustained advertising campaign targeted at both gamers and people who were tech hungry wanting a box that could not only play the latest games but play films using compact discs, a one stop shop for complete multi-media entertainment, consumers got absolutely everything they wanted in spades, this was a powerful console way ahead of its competitors in every single aspect.
The Panasonic FZ-1 (3DO) had a superb build quality, gave software developers everything they could dream of and more, allowed full screen FMV video in games of a vastly superior resolution quality to that of things such as the Mega-CD and the sound output was quite simply staggering. It also had it’s biggest trump card of all, it had EA making it’s flagship games for them, job done…Project completed, complete mission success, everyone else was blown out of the water.
Or at least that’s what should have happened…….
Trip Hawkins in his quest to produce something that would be the top of it’s field forgot one very important thing, price. In order for both 3DO as a parent company and the specific console manufacturer to both make money it could not be sold as a day one loss leader, something that companies before and since could do as they themselves designed, produced, manufactured the system and the games, i.e. Sega sold you your mega drive at a loss but made money from the sale of the games you got afterwards because they controlled every aspect of the process.
The 3DO launched for a then staggering amount of $599.99 with some retailers setting prices as high as $699.99 which although fair for what was contained inside was hundreds of dollars more expensive than anything else that was a console and played games, in one fell swoop it had priced itself outside the mass market category and into the tech geek bracket. Because of this botched launch Electronic Games Monthly (EGM) slated it from the start eventually giving it the award for worst launch of 1993.
The other problem was that the games that were due to launch with this system were not the ones used on the advertising campaign, there was no Road Rash, no John Madden football, no Fifa and where was that Need For Speed game everyone was talking about, instead customers got very weak ports of Wing Commander from the PC and games like Total Eclipse which were little better than glorified tech demo’s coupled with Crystal Dynamics other games such as the FMV heavy Shock Wave that as a game was quite frankly terrible, people felt lied to and the buzz that had been growing for more than 2 years died almost overnight.
Hindsight as they say is 20-20 but had this console been delayed in North America for 6 months or even a year to allow for the games to be ready for launch or very close to launch the initial HOW MUCH? price factor could have been put to one side because when the big games did arrive they were absolute class, works of genius every single one of them.
On paper launching something so ahead of it’s time that was in every sense a step or two up from what gamers had was the correct thing to do. The 3DO had a massive head start over companies like Sony and because Sega were far too busy self imploding with add-ons for old tech that simply were not selling at all (Mega-CD) and Nintendo were years behind after a failed attempt at a partnership with Sony. Everything was theirs for the taking, they came so close yet eventually fell way short. the 32-bit era was here alright however it was all bang and no buck, all show and no go, the machine was completely wasted on the software launched with it.
The Japanese and European launches for this console during 1994 were also marred by complete failure on the part of the parent company, again prices were massively high (this writer paid £499.99 for his day one Panasonic FZ-1) and the launch line up for games was abysmal, I went home with a golf game…..I rest my case! Sure Europe waited far less time wise to start getting the killer games compared to North American owners but the initial system price and impending launch of both the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation meant that any possible 3DO mania was killed before it began, even EDGE the magazine that told everyone the 3DO would change the world distanced itself from it, almost like it’s pride had been hurt.
Suffice it to say but the console never ever took off anywhere in the world, ultimately having multiple hardware manufacturers actually confused both retailers and potential consumers, game shops of the time simply could not get across the VHS player analogy to their custom base, the price was a real turn off for most people especially when a £500 system would be surrounded in all stores by consoles that people knew about at prices of around £150 - £250 and even when the top games were released the games magazines didn’t care anymore.
After selling less than 2 million units worldwide the project was abandoned on December 31st 1996 as the 3DO company having learnt from it’s mistakes tried one more time to get it all right with it’s new console codenamed M2. A chipset that again was way ahead of it’s time but because of the terrible reputation 3DO had by this point coupled with costs and the runaway success of the Sony Playstation meant it would never see the light of day. Eventually this tech would be sold to a massive electronics company and placed into Microwaves instead, yup what a fall from grace.
The 3DO Company would then go on to restructure itself to become a publisher and software developer, ultimately releasing it’s exclusives onto it’s rivals consoles in order to make back some of it’s huge losses. EA who Trip Hawkins had left during the early 90’s with a massive golden handshake had done it’s best to make the 3DO a hit as after all had it worked both companies would have made millions and allowed them to dominate and dictate the entire games industry, but now they also were releasing their 3DO exclusive games onto the Sony Playstation, the dream was over.
The world of retro can be a cruel mistress and the 3DO much like the Sega Mega-CD suffer from some of the worst and most harsh articles written by people who either never owned one of these magnificent beasts or were not of a sensible age to remember the scene in the early 90’s with real clarity. It was gaming wise absolutely fantastic, the tech inside was top notch and as stated earlier the exclusives were miles ahead of any then rival.
To put how good the 3DO was into real context I suggest anyone in doubt to load up either Road Rash or Need for speed on the 3DO then play the same games converted over to the Playstation and you will clearly see how much better, smoother and faster and even more colourful the 3DO versions were. Now realise that the 3DO versions came out around 1994 and the Playstation versions in 1996, 2 years of difference and the older machine wins, mind Blown!!!
Staying with games because after all that’s why we are all here the 3DO was home to such stunning titles as Starblade Alpha, Samurai Showdown, Gex, The Horde, Return Fire, Crash N Burn and an absolutely incredible conversion of Super Street Fighter X which is worth picking up a console on it’s own for.
Now on top of those games add all the sports titles I mentioned earlier like Fifa, Madden etc and add to that Foes Of Ali and Slam n Jam which are 2 brilliant Boxing and Basketball games.
However this article would be quite frankly rubbish if the following 3 console defining experiences were not mentioned, these are games that if you own a 3DO and don’t have then your logic just hurt my brain! I am of course talking about Wing Commander 3 & 4 and the completely un-touchable Star Control 2.
Wing commander 3 and it’s follow on game 4 are the prime examples of how you could make FMV and actual gaming experiences work together perfectly, they were both jaw dropping from a visual point of view, played a treat and were great to show friends who thought you had wasted your money getting this console, jokes on you Sucker’s! Star Control 2 which didn’t sell at all well because of it’s very 16-bit graphics and lousy advertising campaign is however the stand out game for the system according to pretty much all 3DO fans, well all the correct fans that is lol.
Set in the future it is a space sim mixed with resource management and RPG style gameplay, you have to mine planets for minerals, use the cash to build your ship up and get extra equipment, crew and tech upgrades then actually go around a massive galaxy finding other races and try to unit them all against an evil empire who have imprisoned Earth under a force field. This began life as a PC game however the 3DO version added a full CD soundtrack score and full speech for all characters, at the time it had quite good review scores however it is now looked back on in a much higher favour and rightly is mentioned as a stand out title in it’s genre. If anyone on here has ever played Starflight on the Megadrive then go get this now and see what the fuss is all about.
So what is the 3DO’s legacy, why should you bother to try something that less than 2 million people bought and most journalists would turn their noses up at from it’s mere mention in conversation? Well I shall tell you why my fellow Retro lovers.
It was a victim of price, that’s it, it’s simply that simple. Had this gone to market for $399.99 In north America on launch with just one or two of the big hitters then history absolutely would not read how it does now, of this I can absolutely promise you. Maybe you had to be there but there’s a reason EDGE and other magazines went nuts over it before it’s launch, why companies fell over themselves to sign up for the project and from a gaming point of view the 3DO delivered perfectly on it’s promise.
It was absolutely next gen in every possible way, no other console at the time came close to it, the only way to experience what the 3DO did was to buy a Pentium PC which at that time would have set you back around £1,200 - £1,500. It was a fair price for what it could do, for what Panasonic had whacked into this sexy black box however it just wasn’t affordable as a means of gaming for those times.
It’s legacy is that everything Trip Hawkins once said has been proved right, games would go on to be played on disc, films would also move from tape to disc format, people would want a box that was a central multi-media hub capable of playing not only games but movies and music, all this was true then and still is true now, the only difference is that people are now educated into knowing this, technology no longer scares most folk.
At RetroGameGeeks we like to look past the so called accepted norm and keep our minds open to the possibility that maybe history isn’t written by the winners, maybe this time the biggest loser was also the biggest winner, Trip Hawkins may at times have been a king turned clown, a success turned failure but the one thing he always was and still remains to this day is a man who saw what was coming first and had the vision to make it a reality and for that I personally am thankful.
The most amazing advertising campaign of it’s lifespan involved fake feathers being placed into an issue of EDGE magazine in order to promote their slogan, Don’t be a DODO buy a 3DO, for some reason people simply didn’t get the genius of this however 20 years on the message remains the same except slightly different in it’s wording, now it reads…
Don’t miss out on top quality Retro, play a 3DO.