Poor, poor Trip Hawkins. The man had been wildly successful as the head of Electronic Arts but by the early 1990s, it was clear he had greater ambitions than leading a software company to prominence. With the idea of combining cutting edge video gaming with multi-media add-ons, he recruited individuals (Dave Needle, RJ Mical) with high pedigrees and visions that matched his own. After the announcement of the creation of the 3DO company, there was a lot of industry buzz thanks to the success rate of those in charge of the company. Nevertheless, questions began to pop up as details of what was being worked on emerged. Nintendo was for kids. Sega was for teens and young adults. Who was the target audience for the 3DO console? Families? Adult gamers? I believe the intent was for the console to appeal to everyone thanks to its unrealized versatility but that is only my best guest. The print ads that I saw tended to lean towards the “radical and extreme” concepts so prevalent in the 1990s. However, unless you had a very well paying pizza delivery or drug dealing job, the 3DO was a bit out of the average “radical” and “extreme” gamer’s price range at launch. $699 in 1993….ouch. In 1993-1994, I was a college freshman and spending ANY money on video games was basically a non-thought so unsurprisingly, the 3DO passed me by. In retrospect, Mr. Hawkins has gone on record to admit that outsourcing initial console production to Panasonic was probably the biggest mistake the 3DO Company made. Outsourcing console production meant that Panasonic, Goldstar and Sanyo (in Japan only) needed to sell it at a profit (after 3DO’s cut) since they couldn’t take a loss on console sales with the assumption they would make up the difference with software sales, which was done through 3DO Co and other third party manufacturers. By the time the second iteration of the Panasonic manufactured 3DO console, the FZ-10, and the Goldstar manufactured version were released in 1995 at a significantly reduced cost, it was too late. Sony and Sega had already either released or were about to release their own CD-ROM dedicated consoles and Nintendo’s Project Reality was close to becoming a reality in stores. In the minds of consumers, the 3DO didn’t have enough must own exclusives to warrant taking the risk on buying their pricey console.
On paper, the 3DO should have been successful, however. It was a cutting edge disc based system, the only one readily available at the time as other disc based systems were console add-ons. CD-ROMs could offer amazing music and in game sounds, full motion video, 3D graphics, cut scenes and any other bells and whistles that you could dream up. The original FZ-1 model had a very clean, solid look and feel, as if it would fit right in on an owner’s multi-media TV stand right next to, or on top of or under the family VCR. The 3DO Company had visions of being more than just a toy, instead wanting to be an all-encompassing form of family entertainment. The game library contained family friendly games meant to replace the old board games sitting on your shelf. It contained high concept shooters and futuristic titles that were intended to appeal to a more sophisticated gaming audience. They had an early partnership with Electronic Arts to provide top notch sports and racing titles. 3DO really wanted to be everything to everyone….which in my opinion, was also to their detriment. Was it just a console? If so, why was it so expensive compared to other consoles available? Was it not only a console, but also a CD player and multi-media receiver? Was all the stuff that they wanted to be the reason why it was so expensive? If so, I certainly wasn’t the target audience. I already had a CD player. I had no use for CD-ROM based learning discs. I didn’t recognize many of the games that were available for the system. I was the wrong gamer at the wrong age with the wrong socio-economic status and I don’t believe I was alone.
Today, the 3DO is considered one of those widely derided odd-ball consoles (see Phillips CD-I and Atari Jaguar) from the early 90s when everyone seemed to be throwing their hat into the video gaming arena. There doesn’t appear to be a widespread documented community of 3DO archivists, fans or game reviewers, which is a shame. I am avid listener of retro gaming related podcasts and there is ZERO 3DO presence out there that is either dedicated to talking about the 3DO or at least covering it part time. I think the general thought of the retro gaming community is that the 3DO’s game library is a bit daunting (over 200 worldwide titles) and there are a lot of junk titles available thanks to the relative ease of making a game for the system. There are a few titles available for the 3DO that are widely considered the best or one of the best versions (Road Rash, Out of This World, Flashback, Need for Speed, Samurai Showdown, Super Street Fighter 2, etc.), which can be considered reason enough to pick up one of the console iterations. For many years, I only had the launch version of the console, the FZ-1, but I recently picked up a FZ-10 simply because I like owning different versions of the same console and I also wanted a back-up 3DO with a top loading design in case my front loading tray version decides to take fail someday. I also added four games to my 3DO library this month including the launch title Crash n’ Burn, the 2D platformer Soccer Kid, the golf title PGA Tour ’96 and the popular early exclusive Return Fire. I feel like I have a pretty decent library of games for my 3DO systems with only maybe a few titles on my wish list at this point. I don’t see myself adding a ton of titles to my collection as I am a fan of collecting for other odd-ball consoles (Jaguar, Vectrex, Atari 7800, TG-16) more than I am for the 3DO. I think the controllers work perfectly fine as it is basically a reskinned SNES controller, which is one of my favorite 90s controller designs. Unfortunately, because there is so little information out there on some of the more obscure 3DO titles, this is one of the few consoles out there when someone will say the words “hidden gem”, there’s a decent chance it will actually fit that definition. There just aren’t enough compelling reasons to own a 3DO over a PlayStation or Saturn (its closest competitors) and that is largely the basis for my final grade.