January 1993 saw Californian company 3DO announce its new multimedia and games CD system. At the Consumer Electronics Show held in Chicago that June, 3DO promised players by October, with a launch in Europe and Japan to follow the next year.
Investors had already chipped in $48.5 million. Americans, resentful of Japanese Sega and Nintendo for blowing away local games companies like Atari, welcomed a home-grown product. But 3DO was relying on another Japanese giant, Panasonic, to make the players and back the launch. Until then Panasonic had been a supporter of Philips’ interactive games system, CD-i.
At the CES show everyone marvelled at the progress made in just five months. “Working model” players were playing games. 3DO’s CEO, Trip Hawkins, gave a charismatic performance at a packed press conference. Even the player’s name, REAL, inspired confidence.
In reality, the players were not all they seemed. Some of were connected to powerful Apple Quadra computers hidden out of sight. Others could only perform limited tasks. At a conference held in London later that year, 3DO failed to show up with a player. At another event, the 3DO player refused to work. But Panasonic UK still promised to “shock the pants off Philips”.
Panasonic did get some players into American shops by Christmas, but 3DO’s software was disappointing. At the January CES in Las Vegas, Hawkins was still gung ho, describing the 30% licence fees charged by Sega and Nintendo as “fascistic”. Steven Spielberg turned up on Panasonic’s stand to play with a player.
3DO limped onto the market in Europe but sales were slow. So slow in fact that in 1996 the Virgin Megastore flogged of its remaining stock, with £50 games going for a fiver. REAL was dead and Sega’s Saturn and Sony’s Playstation ruled the roost. The 3DO company announced “record revenues” but this came from a generous payment of $100 million dollars from Panasonic.