Trip Hawkins’ flopped game console 3DO came out in Europe 25 years ago

The first Playstation, the Nintendo 64, the Sega Saturn. Gamers may fondly remember the ‘good old days’, without microtransactions and DLC. But a console that no one really talks about anymore? The 3DO. It was released in Europe exactly 25 years ago today.

“If you think you’ve seen graphics, wait until you’ve seen the jaw-dropping footage of the 3DO.” Normally an advertising pitch you see in a press release, but in 1993 Time used it to describe their Product of the Year. The company of EA founder Trip Hawkins was very successful at the time. AT&T supported the project, as did Time Warner and Universal Studios subsidiary MCA. Panasonic was the first manufacturer of the 3DO. In short, it seemed to become a serious player in the upcoming Playstation and Nintendo 64 era.

The 3DO was released in Europe on June 11, 1994. The console had a 32bit 12.5Mhz RISC processor, two graphics processors running at 25Mhz, a CD player with 300Kbyte/s and 2MB of DRAM. The idea, according to Classic Gaming, was that the system would combine a game console with a set-top box, in order to provide a complete device. The device had to become as common as a video player and as fun as a TV and thus basically bring all the peripherals and a computer together.

There was no money to produce the 3DO itself, so 3DO Company came up with another plan. Manufacturers could license to produce the console. Panasonic snapped first; Goldstar and Sanyo later followed with their consoles. AT&T made prototypes and Samsung worked on them too. The only problem with this construction was that manufacturers themselves naturally also wanted to earn money from their consoles. For example, Sony or Nintendo don’t have to do that in the same way; they also get income from the sale of games.

The 3DO from Panasonic. Source: Evan Amos, under a Creative Commons license.

As a result, the 3DO was expensive. In 1994 the Leidsch Dagblad talks about a release price of about 1300 guilders, which is about 590 euros converted. For comparison, the Nintendo 64 was 499 guilders at launch; the first Playstation 899 guilders. Whoever bought the 3DO therefore had less money left for games. The latter was not a huge problem, by the way: when the 3DO came out in the United States at the end of 1993, there was only one game left: Crash ‘n Burn, a futuristic racing and shooter game.

The fact that there was only one release game had everything to do with the way the console was designed. In other words, through which the console was continuously designed. According to the December 1993 Electronic Gaming Monthly, the hardware was changed almost continuously until it was released. As a result, developers were unable to test the games enough and release them on time. A month after release, there were still only four games available for the console.

Still, it’s not that the software is the reason why we don’t talk about the 3DO anymore. Take the arcade racing game The Need for Speed. In 1994 the first part was the first to be released on the 3DO. It wasn’t until later that it came to Windows and other consoles. The best-selling game was Gex, which sold over a million copies. In this platform game, players had to control a green television-obsessed gecko who had been sucked into a television dimension. The creator of Gex is Crystal Dynamics, now best known for the Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider games.

However, the high price and limited range of games gave the 3DO such a bad release that the company was unable to recover. The company behind the console pulled the plug from the project after just 2.5 years. Hawkins told Next Generation magazine in late 1996 that the console’s business model wasn’t enough, because multiple parties promoted the console and the games and there wasn’t one central company doing all of that, as is the case with Nintendo and Sony. In the same interview, Hawkins says he wants to do better with the successor to the 3DO. This console, the M2, should have been released as an upgrade module for the 3DO in the first place. Ultimately, this console was also canceled in 1997. The company behind the consoles then withdrew from the hardware market to focus on game development. However, this was also to no avail; The 3DO Company went bankrupt in 2003.