The 3DO Interactive Multiplayer (commonly referred to as 3DO) was a line of video game consoles marketed by Panasonic, Sanyo and GoldStar between 1993 and 1994. The first iteration, the Panasonic FZ-1, was launched in the US in October 2013. The 3DO were built in accordance with hardware specifications established by ‘The 3DO Company’. This company was founded by the famous co-founder of Electronic Arts, Trip Hawkins. 3DO was met with a lot of enthusiasm. Large companies as AT&T, Time Warner and Universal Studios supported the idea. It was however Panasonic, the worlds biggest electronics company at the time, who was the first manufacturer of the 3DO. In short, the console seemed to be a serious player in the upcoming war with the anticipated Sony Playstation, Sega Saturn and Nintendo 64.
The idea behind the 3DO was like so many consoles introduced in the early 90’s. It wanted to overcome the limitations of using cartridges from previous generation consoles such as the SNES by introducing the gamer to the potential of CD technology. This technology brought longer loading times, but allowed for large save files and therefore richer game worlds and, supported by power-full hardware, more visual splendour in games. In addition, it was thought that the 3DO would appeal to a wide audience by letting the console not only play games, but also VIDEO- and photo CDs, making it a fully-fledged multimedia device for the living room. The digital hub for the whole family with both entertainment and edutainment. This made the idea comparable to other gaming console manufactures in the early 90’s like Philips with their limited success with the CD-i and Apple / Bandai with their totally flopped Pippin adventure.
Trip Hawkins also wanted to do away with the idea that developers, next to fee, also had to buy expensive cartridges from companies like Nintendo to publish their games on. He wanted to democratise the game industry and make the 3DO as attractive as possible for (new) developers to develop games for. The inexpensive CD-format was a godsent for developers because it was inexpensive and not an exclusive format like many cartridges. Furthermore, Hawkings deliberately kept the developer fees for the release of games on the 3DO very low. It was only a few dollars per game. The low fees and the lack of additional costs for developers and publishers to buy printable CD’s also opened up the possibility to lower the prices of the games for consumers. So by attracting many developers to the system to produces games and keep the costs low Hawkins hoped the console would get the necessary momentum. Essential for a totally new system in a very competitive marked.
Specifications and appearance
The 3DO had very powerful hardware for its time. It had a 32bit 12.5Mhz RISC processor, two graphics processors running at 25Mhz, a CD player with 300Kbyte / s and 2MB of DRAM. It could produces 3D games an was much more powerful than an other CD-based console, like the Philips CD-i. Furthermore, the console had two expansion slots for future peripherals and an additional Video Cartridge to display Video CD’s.
The console itself looks like a cross between a flat computer that you often saw in schools in the 90s (placed under your CRT screen) and a VCR. It has also some resemblance with the Apple/Bandai Pippin. From above it looks like a square, with a kind of rough top layer applied to the plastic. Combined with its antraciet/black colour, this gives the console a luxurious appearance.
The front panel is largely grooved by a retractable disc tray, on which the Panasonic logo is very prominently portrayed. Only one control port is placed under the tray. This is weird considering the ‘FZ-1 R · E · A · L 3DO Interactive Multiplayer’ even included the word ‘multiplayer’ in its name. The reason that only one controller port is available is that Panasonic has chosen to allow gamers to daisy-chain controllers. If you want to game with a friend, you plug a second controller into your own controller instead of the console.
For the sake of strength and stability, the Pippin stands on two pillars on either side. The power button and the eject button for the disk tray are placed on these pillars.
The 3DO concept
The company behind 3DO did not have the money or production facility to produce the 3DO hardware themselfs. Instead, hardware manufacures were licensed by The 3DO Company to produce the console. Panasonic was the first to act; Goldstar and Sanyo later followed with their own iterations. AT&T made prototypes and Samsung worked on them too, although they never saw the light of day.
The problem with The 3DO-monetising construction was that manufacturers themselves naturally also wanted to make money from their hardware sales, making the price of the 3DO at $ 699 relatively expensive compared to its competitors. Goldstar, Sanyo, and Panasonic’s later models were less expensive to manufacture than the FZ-1 and were sold for considerably lower prices. For example, the Goldstar model launched at $399. To boost its own sales, after just six months Panasonic decided also to drop the price of the FZ-1 to $499, leading some to contend that the 3DO’s cost was not as big a factor in its market failure as is usually claimed. Although it was not the only reason, the initial high price contributed for a large part in losing momentum for the 3DO. Subsequently, the console sold poorly. Only 2 million units have been sold from its launch in 1994 to its discontinuation in 1996. This is in stark contrast to the 104 million Playstations sold.
Limited hardware sales also meant that subsequently game sales where also lacking behind. This was certainly the case in the beginning of 3DO’s life time, because hardware changes were made by the 3DO company up to the last moment. As a result, developers were still working on their games at the launch of the console. The result was that the console had anything but a flying start. Although the fees for games where very low, the limited hardware sales deterred major developers and publishers from developing games for the console. In the end, only about 300 games were launched for the 3DO. Outside of EA’s games, these were mainly games from small developers who were drawn by the low fees per game sold. Due to the lack of experience and money of these developers, the majority of the games for the 3DO, with the exception of a few gems, are of a mediocre or even questionable quality level.
To add to the drama, due to the high losses of the 3DO company, Trip Hawkins decided in 1994 to introduce an extra imposition of 3 dollars per sold copy for software developers. That was twice the amount they had to pay before. This resulted in even less interest in development for the platform.
Many argue that the final blow for the 3DO was delivered by Sony’s overwhelmingly popular and affordable PlayStation, which not only forced other CD-based gaming systems like CD-i out of the market, but ultimately killed the Sega Saturn as well. Despite the strong promotion and the potential expansion possibilities of the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer, the support of external software parties was lacking and production was discontinued at the end of 1995.
A successor to the 3DO was than already in the works, It was named ‘M2’. The disappointing sales as well as the fierce competition from newcomers Sega Saturn and the immensely popular Playstation showed the 3DO company that a successor would not be viable. The M2 technology was sold to Panasonic for over 100 million dollars. Panasonic did monetise the M2 technology and it would take until the release of the Panasonic Q for the company to produce a new console.
After their disappointing adventure The 3DO company itself first wanted to produce their own gaming console, but decided to concentrate solely on developing software and sold of the hardware branch to the highest bidder, much like Sega would do later after the disappointing sales of their Dreamcast. Ultimately, it was Samsung who won the bid and took over the personnel and material remnants. The hardware team of the 3DO continued under the wing of Samsung with the development of gaming hardware based on the M2 under the name CagEnt.
The 3DO will go down in the history books as a highly anticipated gaming console, which could not live up its high expectations. In the early days of 3D gaming, the console was unable to acquire sufficient market share. The focus was insufficiently on the release of qualitative and exclusive games. This means that the 3DO belongs in the same list as the Philips CD-i, Atari Jaguar and Apple / Bandai Pippin. A lost generation of early 90s consoles whose limited success sometimes is described as the second Video Game Crash.
|FZ-1 R·E·A·L 3DO Interactive Multiplayer
|150 euro (boxed)
|Panasonic M2 (canceled)
|180 x 217 x 198 mm
|32-bit RISC CPU @ 12.5 MHz (ARM 60)
@ 162 MHz. (1.94 GFLOPS)
|2 MB of main RAM
1 MB of VRAM
|32 KB SRAM (Save)
-320×240 (actual) 60 Hz
-768×576 (interpolated) -384×288 (actual) 50 Hz for PAL version.
-Two video co-processors capable of producing 9–16 million pixels per second (36–64 megapix/s interpolated), distorted, scaled, rotated and texture mapped.
|CD (Double Speed)
|AC 100 V 50/60 HZ