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Key Points

  • The CD-i (Compact-Disc Interactive) resulted from a partnership between Sony and Philips to develop the CD-ROM.
  • The player was released in 1990 and was meant to serve as an all-in-one entertainment and double up as a media device for the living room.
  • CD-i ultimately failed due to many reasons, among them being high pricing and poor marketing.

What comes to mind when you think of Philips? Razors, toothbrushes, and cheap electronics. The company was at the top of its game in the 1990s and even had plans to release a home game console. As you can guess, the console’s release was a major fail, becoming one of the most ridiculed game consoles of all time. Of course, there are no shortages of reasons the CD-i failed, but was it that bad, or was it just another product ahead of its time?

What was the CD-i

Black CD-i 910 console with a controller
Developed by Philips, the CD-i was a digital optical storage device that run on CD-RTOS OS.

©Evan-Amos, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons – License

The CD-i (Compact-Disc Interactive) resulted from a partnership between Sony and Philips to develop the CD-ROM. The joint venture created the disc media in the 1980s primarily for audio listening. However, Philips believed that the technology had much more potential.

Quick Facts

Original price
$1,000
Units Sold
N/A

They were right, as CDs could hold videos, images, and even video game files. So, Philips decided to make a CD player for multiple uses. The player was to serve as an all-in-one entertainment and double up as a media device for the living room.

A deal with Nintendo

Eventually, Sony and Philips decided to part ways, and Sony announced plans to release their Playstation console. Around this time, Sony also had a deal with Nintendo to produce a disc system for the Super Nintendo console. Unfortunately, this deal also soured. Nintendo would later approach Philips to build them a disc player.

Nintendo finally abandoned the idea of making a disc add-on for the Super Nintendo. However, the existing contract allowed Philips to use Nintendo’s intellectual property. Philips would go on to create several Mario and Zelda games to help increase sales of the CD-i.

Philips Enters the Game Market

Philips launched the CD-i in 1990 as an all-in-one entertainment device with educational content such as encyclopedias. Part of the reason the CD-i failed is it did not master anything it intended to.

With a slow release as an all-in-one interactive device, Philips began heavily marketing the CD-i as a gaming console. This was partly due to their former partners’ success with the Playstation and Super Nintendo.

Reasons the CD-i Failed

It is hard to pinpoint a single reason why the CD-i failed. A myriad of problems contributed to the console’s failure. First, an inundated market of new, high-priced consoles came when the American video game market was rebounding.

Many companies were trying to figure out what they would do next. They also saw the success of Nintendo’s NES and wanted to get a piece of the video game market. But these consoles were also not getting high-quality games as Nintendo forced most of their developers to sign exclusivity agreements.

Pricing

The CD-i joined the fray when Nintendo and Sega were battling for the top spot in the video game market. But less popular consoles such as the 3DO, Neo Geo, and Lynx were also fighting for market share.

Most of these failed consoles had the same problem; they could not get their prices as low as Sega and Nintendo. The CD-i had many iterations, but the first consumer CD-i built by Philips cost an astounding $799 at launch. This was four times more than the Super Nintendo, which cost a mere $199.

The Neo Geo and 3DO consoles launched around the same time with similar pricing to the CD-i and saw a similar fate. However, Philips would quickly drop the price of the CD-i down to $599, which was still well beyond what most gamers and parents were willing to pay for a video game console.

In the years after the CD-i’s release, its price dropped continuously. Companies like Magnavox also developed more affordable units. But consumers still needed to purchase the FMV cartridge, which was $250, to play games with video content.

Marketing

The CD-i cause was lost as Philips could not figure out what the device was from the start. It was initially sold as a living room multimedia device, but at that time, no one knew what that meant.

The decision to advertise the console in late-night infomercials almost exclusively was even more perplexing. This certainly was not the target market of a video game console, but Philips decided not to advertise via traditional means.

This also included not marketing their games which may have helped boost sales since it would help consumers understand what they are purchasing. Unlike today, most companies rely on print and video ads to sell their products, including games.

Controller

Philips CD-i gaming console controller like the one shown minus the “joystick” attachment on the directional pad.

The included controller resembled an Intellivision controller combined with a tv remote more than a modern game controller. Even more confusing was the wide range of controllers offered by both Philips and other manufacturers.

Some controllers used D-pads, while others had awkwardly sized joysticks. Then there were computer mice and other remote-shaped controllers. But possibly the weirdest was the Roller Controller designed for kids with its giant trackball and three buttons.

Game Library

With only 208 games officially released, CD-i had a small library. However, a small library does not necessarily mean bad games, but the CD-i certainly had very few good games.

Remember, Philips designed the CD-i as a multipurpose device. However, they did not begin heavily marketing the video game aspect until a few years after its release. Nearly all of the games released for CD-i were published by Philips Interactive Media, despite the company offering to license to other companies.

Most gamers’ biggest complaint with the CD-i is its games. The quality of most games was poor. But certain games required an add-on called FMV (full motion video) to play. This cartridge allowed a CD-i to play video cutscenes on the disc. These cutscenes simply attempted to mask poor gameplay.

Was the CD-i a Good Console?

Whether CD-i was a good console depends on your nostalgia for the device. The ’90s kids likely remember watching infomercials or gaming with one.

However, most would argue that the CD-i was flawed from the start and destined to fail. With that said, some of CD-I’s redeeming qualities were truly futuristic. The CD-i shipped with a wireless controller, and although they, too, had many flaws, the truth is that Philips was a decade ahead of its time. Another thing Philips did right was making the technology available to competitors.

Many different companies sold the CD-i, including Magnavox and LG. This was possible because Philips licensed the CD-i to other electronics manufacturers. Hardware licensing as a concept was somewhat common in earlier years, as Atari had similar deals.

Unfortunately, the CD-i could not overcome its high price and the growing number of video game consoles. But would solidify the CD-i as a bad console has to be its abysmal library of games.

Lasting Legacy of the CD-i

Even though the CD-i may not be the most endearing system, the reasons the CD-i failed are plenty. However, it did have some features that left a lasting legacy on the video game industry.

Philips offered an internet add-on for the CD-i, called CD-Online, which used a CD much like the Sega Dreamcast to boot up. It also required a modem add-on which cost $150. The idea was to let users access the internet from the comfort of their sofa, just like WebTV.

But the groundbreaking aspect was a goal to have online multiplayer. Although this never really materialized as only one game supported functionality. This was a forward-thinking idea, but it would be many years before internet speeds would get fast enough for a quality online multiplayer experience.

The CD-i will be forever remembered for having Mario and Zelda games not made by Nintendo. While there are a few other instances of Nintendo games on other consoles, they were mostly made by Nintendo.

The real problem is not that Nintendo did not make the games. Instead, it is a fact they were an unmitigated disaster. The gameplay was terrible in most of the games, but the awkward videos of Linka and Zelda were even worse.

NEXT UP…

Reasons The CD-i Failed Spectacularly FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Did Philips every make another game console?

Before the CD-i Philips made the Tele-Game series which were similar to later Plug n’ Play games.

What became of the deal with Nintendo?

Nintendo gave up on creating a disc drive for the Super Nintendo but later went on to use a magnetic disc system on the Nintendo 64 in partnership with Alps Electric.

Did the CD-i Zelda games ever get re-released?

The infamous Zelda and Mario games on the CD-i were never released on any console other than the CD-i.

Was the CD-i 16 or 32 bit?

The CD-i was a 16-bit console, but its Motorolla 68070 processor was capable of both 16 and 32-bit.

Did the CD-i accept cartridges?

The CD-i did accept cartridges expansion cartridges designed for internet capabilities or enhanced video. But it did not support video game cartridges.

About the Author

More from History-Computer

  • Wikipedia Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CD-i
  • Centre for Computing History Available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNNkO7qrOXQ&ab_channel=TheCentreforComputingHistory
  • The 8-Bit Guy Available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxSCNhblC3g&vl=en&ab_channel=The8-BitGuy
  • Atlas Obscura Available here: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-history-of-the-philips-cdi-failed-playstation-ancestor
  • RetroRGB Available here: https://www.retrorgb.com/philips-cdi-usb-controller-adapter.html