3DO is keenly aware of its recent shortcomings and is working to repair the damage done to its brand and franchises, according to Bill Dully, COO at the publisher, who spoke frankly to Rob Fahey about the new direction of the company.
Business veteran Dully, a gravel-voiced Irish-American, was in London for ECTS late last week, on a mission to spread the word about the reinvention of 3DO. He spoke openly about the lack of quality that has afflicted 3DO titles in recent years, describing the accusation that the Army Men titles in particular have been low-quality shovelware as a fair statement.
The company has gone through dramatic changes, he told GI.biz. Trip (Hawkins, CEO of 3DO) decided that 3DO was going to be more in this industry than just Army Men That franchise has taken some very heavy damage critically and in the eyes of the public. We knew that we had to take a step back and look at how we could improve our product timelines, giving games longer in development and more resources so we could produce high-quality titles.
This move resulted in many titles which had originally been envisaged on short-term timelines being given many more months in development in order to realise their full potential, a strategy which although likely to pay off in the long term has caused a release drought for the company of six months so far, with another six months to go before it begins to bear fruit. In fiscal terms, a year without new product launches certainly doesn’t help a publisher’s bottom line.
Financially, yes, that has been the most painful thing I have ever experienced in business, Dully admits, but from it we’ve created a whole new 3DO. It will cost a lot, but it’s a necessary cost if we’re going to reinvent the company. We’ve looked at every single aspect of how we do business and rebuilt from the ground up not just development, we’ve even looked at things like our legal department and how we handle licenses, we’ve looked at our offices and premises everything, no stone was left unturned.
As part of this restructuring, the three worldwide sales teams which the company operated were integrated into one a move which led to reports that the publisher had shut down it’s UK operation. This was just consolidation, according to Dully, but I think we handled the PR on that one badly, we gave people the wrong impression of what we were doing.
It’s not just business practices which have been changed, either; some strongly held convictions have been reversed, most notably concerning Microsoft’s Xbox. Trip Hawkins was a vocal critic of the Xbox right through its development, and claimed that the company would not be developing for the platform; now its baseball title is bound for the new console. Dully pragmatically points out that the company didn’t want to miss out on a slice of any market, and claims that after extensive discussions with Microsoft, it was decided that High Heat Baseball would be one of the three key baseball franchises invited onto the Xbox.
Already 3DO’s new approach appears to be bearing fruit, with critical response to the mature apocalyptic shoot’em’up Four Horsemen at ECTS being very good and often of the form a good mature game from 3DO, well who’d have thunk it. All of which leaves one question where to now for the much maligned Army Men? Are they to be consigned to the dusty toy-box of history?
Apparently not. We’re not abandoning Army Men, says Dully, but we are improving it. The new Sarge’s Heroes game is going to be the first of the new Army Men games out, and it’s totally different to what’s gone before. We’ve given Sarge a totally new look and completely new gameplay we’re really pushing to have this seen as a quality title.
He has no delusions about the difficulty of getting consumers interested in Army Men titles, though. We’re doing the regular press campaign, but I think we need to do more we need to improve the interaction, to get the game out there in front of people. Once they actually play it, get their hands on it, and then I think we’ve got them.
And all it takes is one really great game to restore the brand, the confidence in the games and in the publisher just one game.