In the world of consumer electronics the years of 1991-1996 where a time of tremendous innovation and change, and the impact of those five years can still be felt today. Intel introduced its first Pentium microprocessors, Microsoft introduced Windows 95′, the first DVD players came out, audio tapes disappeared from stores as CDs took over and CD-Roms claimed their title from 3.5 in. disks, all while Internet and electronic media became a new way of life. This is also the era of the Sega-CD, Atari Jaguar CD and super cartridge systems like the Jaguar, 32x, and NeoGeo AES. The world of video games was on the verge of great changes and “multimedia” became the buzzword of the day, as CD-ROM’s took center stage. The dream of internet connectivity was also interwoven into that, as was the concept of the “set-top box”, a device with similar features to modern DVRs, smart TV’s, and gaming consoles.

It was no surprise then that with the changes in technology to come, many companies wanted to be out on top when the dust had settled. Back then it was all about the CD, and many companies wanted to prove what they could do with the it, and things like video games were just part of it. Names that had never been associated with gaming consoles before suddenly began to pour out of the woodwork with systems. Names like Phillips, Sony, Commodore, Apple, Panasonic, Sanyo and Goldstar (LG) where just a few of the computer and/or consumer electronics makers trying to give us the next big thing to hook up to our living room TV’s. For the most part many of these systems would be very short lived, but some would have a legacy like what would evolve out of Sony, and Apples first entries.Those systems that didn’t survive would leave us with some interesting examples of early CD-ROM based gaming, as well as give us a look into what was coming, such as the world of DVD’s that would follow shortly after. One such system was the Phillips CD-i, which Nintendo had bailed on Sony for after the Nintendo-PlayStation (SNES-CD) deal of 1991. The Phillips CD-i in appearance looked very similar to the DVD players that follow in a few years, and it featured among other things some fully licensed and exclusive Nintendo games including two Legend of Zelda games. Despite this the system had a huge list of problems, and a small list of games.

Another interesting system, and one that was far more prolific was the 3DO, which was licensed to and manufactured by three different companies, Panasonic, Sanyo, and Goldstar (now LG). Essentially, the 3DO Company was nothing more then a glorified publisher, that develop their own titles, or licensed them from other developers. In the case of the 3DO licensed manufacturers, the 3DO Company would act as both a first and third party developer releasing exclusive 3DO titles, as well as porting others. In addition to this Panasonic had made it part of their licensing agreement with 3DO that the manufacturer would be allowed to develop their own titles, as well and release them system wide, which they did but with only a few games.

The 3DO company also had some say so as to the pricing and marketing of 3DO systems. EA founder Trip Hawkins, who also helped found 3DO, decided that he wanted systems at different price points to make the 3DO system appealing and semi-affordable to all. This would be part of the reason why the 3DO was licensed to three different manufacturers. Panasonic for instance was and is known for their high end electronics and therefore would be allowed to make the premier 3DO system the Panasonic FZ-1, while Sanyo would make the mid-level TRY, and Goldstar the low end GDO-101. Initially the Panasonic FZ-1 would launch at $699 in late 1993, while the Goldstar would launch at $399.

The Panasonic FZ-1 currently stands as the most popular of the 3DO systems with collectors. Not only because it was the first release of the system but because it, and the FZ-10 to follow, featured the best controllers and shortest load times of all the 3DO systems. Plus the FZ-1 looks like a million bucks to boot, and has been known for its reliability. As the owner of an FZ-1 I can tell you it’s definitely a beautiful system, and if I decided to I could easily hide it with my other Panasonic components without anyone telling its there. It’s also a very high quality unit, not only in its weight and construction, but in its operation as well. This system, which is now 22 years old, hooks up easily and plays as if it just came out of the box. Another interesting thing about the FZ-1, as well as other 3DO systems, is that you can play two player games despite there only being one controller port, since controllers can be daisy chained into each other. Another unique feature about the 3DO controllers are that the controller cords are roughly 7 1/2 feet in length, which allows you to distance yourself pretty far from the TV, and if you have a friend hooked in to your controller he could conceivably stand 15 feet away from the console.

As far as games and game-play this is where I feel the 3DO suffers. First of all 3DO games to me don’t look any different then what you could’ve played on the already existing Sega-CD. It was a mix of a lot of full motion video content coupled with fairly crude polygonal games, and control similar to what you see out of your DVD remote. The controls despite looking like game controllers, proved to be stiff and at times lagging or unresponsive, as well as sometimes being counter-intuitive, to which I can give Flying Nightmares as an example of the latter. With that said though the console did have some good titles that played well, like Gex,  and Super Wing Commander both of which I have in my own collection, as well as Road & Tracks: The Need for Speed, and the premium priced Super Street Fighter II which is said to be the consoles best game.

In addition to games the 3DO had other benefits that most other systems of the era didn’t have since, the 3DO offered non-gaming software titles as well, like a world atlas program, encyclopedia, and other reference, and non-gaming entertainment software. This combined with the component like looks of 3DO systems gave consumers a somewhat primitive version of a set-top box that, like modern gaming systems (the XBox One or PS4 for example), essentially turned their living room TV’s into makeshift pre-internet PC’s. The 3DO also had the capability to play VCD’s (Video Compact Disk’s) which essentially were a rudimentary form of DVD’s, however the library of English VCD’s was extremely small since the format was already on the way to being replaced by the massive storage capacity of the DVD format around the time the 3DO was released.

At its reception the 3DO looked promising as consumers showed interest in the new “multimedia” platform. However, the consumer market can be fickle, and the $699 price for the FZ-1, and $399 for the lower quality Goldstar GDO-101 were a massive turn off to consumers at launch in 1993. After six months of low sales each system would drop in price, with Panasonic moving to $499, and Goldstar to $299 with 3DO hoping price was the main issue for suffering sales. By the end of 1995 Panasonic had released the FZ-10 a cheaper to manufacture unit at the price of $399, while Goldstar would drop their price to $199 in an attempt to sell units and at least recover some of their costs, even though they would be selling the units at a loss. By that time systems like Sega’s Saturn and Sony’s PlayStation had been released, ultimately numbering the 3DO’s days, the 3DO now looked as outdated as the Saturn’s predecessor the Sega-CD. Despite that the console would remain on the market for most of 1996, and actually share some titles with the PS1 and/or Saturn like Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels, Star Fighter, and Wing Commander 3. By the end of 1996 the 3DO would finally be discontinued as a system, but the software company would remain until 2003 publishing such franchises as Army Men, and High Heat Baseball.

To this day the failure of the 3DO is still a hotly debated topic, as many point to the systems high price at release for being the biggest issue. True, $699 for Panasonic’s top model was roughly equivalent to $1150 in 1993 money, while the cheapest unit Goldstar’s GDO-101 at $399 was equal to about $660. In comparison, the PlayStation launched at $299, and the Sega-CD sold for $229 at the time of the 3DO’s release. Another factor often seen as part of 3DO’s demise was their business model, which was extremely unorthodox for the industry. Essentially the 3DO company’s concept was to develop gaming titles that could be exclusively distributed on proprietorially licensed machines. In theory it was a win-win scenario whereby Panasonic, Sanyo, and Goldstar could focus on building and selling machines, while the 3DO company focused on developing and licensing games and software, relieving all parties of the burden or doing both tasks as with traditional console makers. However, companies such as Nintendo, Sega, and even Atari at that time based their business models around selling their machines at cost or even at a loss, and making it up on the back-end selling games, and development licenses. To put that into a modern perspective think about how a new game sells for about $60 and will be going for $20-$30 a year from now, proving that $30+ extra at release is all profit. It’s also comparable to the razor blade model whereby the producer sends the handle and first razor cartridge out for free making it up on the back-end in overpriced replacement razor cartridges. In the case of 3DO the separation of machine maker and developer kept this from happening, meaning manufacturers couldn’t cut their sales price and make it up on the back-end since, with the exception of a limited Panasonic, the back-end belonged all to the 3DO Company.

Last but not least, some also point out the 3DO’s failure being tied to some controversy around titles released on the system, since the 3DO in-time became notorious for it’s adult titles. For instance the Angry Video Game Nerd, covered the softcore “romantic comedy” (that was ironically neither) Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties, which allowed players to choose whether or not to allow nudity in the game, but even with the nudity filter on, the game was still packed with adult innuendo. Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties, however was just a softcore title, while other more hardcore titles existed such as the notorious The Coven, or Blonde Justice both of which have been the subject of ridicule on more than a few YouTube shows. In Japan there where many titles that pushed limits even further, leading many to question the family friendliness of the system.

Ultimately though you have to look at the 3DO as you do many of the other innovations of its era, as an experiment, and an attempt to grab for the brass ring on the next big thing. Over time the concept of the “set-top box” would come to fruition in various forms, but most of the modern examples prove to be successful due to WiFi internet connections. As for what caused it’s failure I have no doubt it was a mixture of the 3 circumstances above, but I suspect the business model behind the 3DO concept played a huge part in the high prices of the system, as well as the somewhat questionable games released on it later.

To me the 3DO is another oddball system that didn’t fit into a particular generation, having been too advanced for the forth generation, and outdated by the fifth. Like the Atari Jaguar, and Sega 32x it was another console entered into generation 4.5, at a time of huge changes. Also, like the Atari Jaguar, and Sega 32x, its not really a bad console and somewhat ahead of its time. Considering it went toe to toe with the PS1 and Saturn in late 1995 and into 1996 it must have had some potential, but just not enough to evolve with the Saturn and PS1 out of the blockey see through polygonal era, or in price.

Headphone jacks on the bottom of the controller, something common in modern controllers

If your interested in a 3DO for your own collection keep in mind that they go for a little more than an average system on eBay. A system with a working console, controllers, and perhaps a few games could run you between $140 and $170. As stated above your best bet on getting a working console is to look for either the Panasonic FZ-1 or FZ-10, since these systems were generally made with higher quality standards. As far as games and prices the 3DO had a fairly sizable library even scoring a Madden title, and the games run from regular video games to FMV messes and beyond. For the most part price wise they are equivalent in price to what you’d find games on its contemporary’s like the PS1, Saturn, or N64, going for. Of course like any system it has some games that are common and others that are rarer, for instance like the above mentioned Star Fighter is a more common title that usually ranges around $10-$12, while the rarer Super Street Fighter II goes from around $40 in the jewel case, to $90 in the tall box.

If you have as 3DO, lets drink a toast to it this weekend, and then write me back and let me know what your favorite title is.