Kevin Bachus: The Phantom Interview
Detailed interview with Kevin Bachus, newly crowned boss at Infinium Labs, and the man with the mission of making Phantom a real winner.
The last time we sat down with Kevin Bachus was almost exactly a year ago, when Kikizo first launched and things looked exciting for Kevin Bachus's latest venture. But now, the Capital Entertainment Group is no more and Mr Bachus, one of the original visionaries behind Xbox, is now the front man at Infinium Labs - the company behind the ever enigmatic Phantom 'PC console' which debuted at the recent CES in Las Vegas.
This interview is conducted by Daniel Boutros, Kikizo contributor and owner of private industry trade newsletter, Noooz.
Kikizo: Hi Kevin. Firstly, congratulations on your new job. What was it about the position that attracted you and how are you finding it thus far?
I guess there were really two things that attracted me to the company.
|Bachus is confident Phantom will impress - but admits he has his work cut out.|
Think about the life of a "true gamer". If you're anything like me, you probably read all the web sites and mags, talk to other gamers constantly about games months before they're released, haunt the local game stores and comb through the stacks of new releases. You probably have also customized your system and think nothing of tweaking it to get the best possible performance out of the hardware and software. But most gamers aren't like us. They love to play a fantastic game as much as we do, but they can't make the investment to join the community. Should they be excluded? If video gaming is to grow into the powerhouse entertainment industry that we all expect it to, we need to embrace those customers and make it as easy for them to play the latest games as it is to switch on their television.
So, that's the dream of the Phantom Gaming Service. To become, essentially, the "cable television" of gaming.
The second thing that attracted me to the company was the sheer guts required to do something this ambitious. I've never been one to follow the simple life and I think one of the main reasons why people had initially been so skeptical about Infinium Labs is that the dream is terribly audacious, particularly for a new start-up company. But the history of technology shows that over and over, it's not the large multinational companies that usher in the big leaps forward -- it's the smaller, more nimble start-ups. It's not often that someone gets the chance to lead a company of the brightest and most motivated industry stars who all share a common dream of pulling off something that's truly revolutionary.
Kikizo: It's no secret that Phantom hasn't been welcomed with open arms by the media. What do you feel is directly responsible for this?
I've had a lot of time to read all the press about the company, starting with the earliest articles, and I wouldn't say that the Phantom hasn't been welcomed by the media. I think the media has -- quite rightly -- been skeptical about the company's ability to do something that, as I say, is terribly ambitious. I think they've felt frustrated when they've felt that the company wasn't able to back up a particular claim or when certain aspects of the project changed over time.
Infinium Labs is one of the first companies in a long, long time to come out of nowhere and raise the money to do something like this. The trade-off is that it had to get out much earlier than other companies have, with a plan that wasn't -- shall we say -- fully baked. That's the nature of raising money. Things change as you develop your plan and you can't wait for everything to come together. But that time is over.
I have already seen a dramatic change in the tone the press has taken. What will happen from this point forward is that the media (and, by extension, gamers themselves) will see and hear specific goals backed up by hard evidence that will support what we're saying. I've had the chance to talk to a lot of terrific journalists, gamers, industry folks -- lots of people -- over the past few weeks and I find that they really want to believe that the Phantom Gaming Service is real and that it will exceed their expectations, but they're also worried that those hopes won't be realized -- that the company won't live up to its promises. And while I can't speak for the sins of the past, I can tell you that from this point forward when we say something concrete you can expect that it won't change.
Kikizo: It's probably fair to say that the negative press directed toward the Phantom project could be cause of rumours spawned from some of the following speculative theories:
- One of the Phantom project execs who apparently has a reputation for shady dealings, is trying to use the project as a scam of securing VC money so he can live the high life and then make the company bankrupt, leaving investors in the lurch.
- The Phantom is a spyware machine that will transmit data about the user back to Infinium and Infinium will sell the personal info to marketeers for plenty cash
- Phantom is currently vapourware due to lack of visual proof - joypad, plus game, running at a show - since it was announced last year
Could you please address these rumours and speculations and let us know the truth?
Wow, I thought I'd heard all the rumors and speculation but some of those are new even to me...
Look, we gamers are like citizens of a very small town where everyone knows each other and everyone talks to each other, so word travels very quickly, whether right or wrong. I think it took a lot of people by surprise when a company, made up almost entirely by outsiders, showed up on the scene and started boasting that it was going to do what most of us would consider one of the most challenging efforts in our industry: namely, building and launching a new gaming platform. All of us have had the terrible experience of being burned in the past by outlandish claims. All of us have bought into a dream or purchased a system only to have it disappear overnight.
All I can tell you is two things. First, you have every right to be skeptical. You should demand proof for everything that's said, every claim that's made, every promise that's offered. But at the same time you should also keep an open mind because YOU NEVER KNOW. The claims just might all be true and the promises might all be kept.
Nearly every rumor I've heard comes back to one common theme: gamers have come to expect that successful new platforms must come from huge, rich, multinational companies. They've forgotten a time when there were companies like Atari, Coleco and Commodore. Or maybe they just assume that those times are long gone and we now live in a world where you can't come up with a new idea or build a new platform unless you're part of a giant corporation.
So those gamers are constantly on the lookout for anything that will support their hypothesis that the claims are bunk and the company is a sham. Those are the poor cynics who insist that a company is pulling a fast one while conveniently overlooking the fact that it's publicly traded and subject to intense shareholder scrutiny. Those are the unfortunate individuals who are always looking for the hidden catch, the secret angle that will make it all make sense to them, since things can't possibly be as they seem on the surface.
To some of those folks all I can say is that there's a lot coming over the next several months that will be ever harder to dismiss. But of course there are some who will continue to insist despite mounting evidence to the contrary that their initial fears will still be born out and the conspiracy will ultimately be revealed. And there's nothing I can say or do to dissuade those individuals.
Kikizo: Are there any other rumours or speculations you've heard that you would like to take the opportunity to clear up right now?
Nope. People will believe what they want to believe.
Kikizo: To absolutely and finally clarify what the Phantom is and what it aims to do, could you please describe what the machine is, aims to be and who it aims to please?
The Phantom Gaming Service is, as its name implies, a service that will allow players to get and play full retail games, day or night, from the comfort of their living rooms or bedrooms over a broadband Internet connection. As I said, think of this as "cable television for video games". Rather than running out to the store to find and buy all the latest games, you will be able to switch on the Phantom box and start playing within minutes. The games we offer will include the latest and greatest hits drawn from the PC world, as well as a wide breadth of other titles that you probably can't find in your typical games retailer.
Like satellite television or mobile phones, the service will require you to have a dedicated box that connects to your television. This device will be packed with state-of-the-art graphics and audio technology that will enable us to deliver an entertainment experience that exceeds our customers' expectations, while ensuring the security, reliability and simplicity that gamers and developers alike insist on.
Kikizo: Some people have speculated that Phantom is essentially aiming at drawing inspiration from the Digital TV model, whereby players will pay a monthly subscription and have access to 'channels' that contain selections of games, demos and so on. Is there any truth in this? If so, do you think that this is the way the industry will evolve - future Playstations and Xboxes for instance - whereby retail is cut out and content is accessed more affordably on a rental basis?
That's absolutely correct. We've all been conditioned to focus on the console model: the hardware, the discs -- all the tangible stuff -- when we really should have all been concentrating on the games. I guess what I'm saying is, it's time to stop thinking about the box and start thinking about the entertainment experience, not how it gets to you. But I wouldn't start counting out retail just yet. I expect retailers to be around for quite some time to come. There is an important and vital role for retail purchase of entertainment and just as cable television hasn't replaced movie theaters or video rentals and purchases, the Phantom Gaming Service won't replace retail -- or consoles or PCs for that matter. It's yet another way to get your entertainment, although for some people it may be the primary or only way they play games. Which is good because otherwise those people won't be playing at all.
Kikizo: I noticed that the recent released roster list included Street Fighter Alpha 2. I find this relevant, because I'm wondering whether this will be a dedicated conversion or an emulated one via specifically created emulator software provided for Phantom by Capcom. Also if this is the case, does this present the possibility of Phantom becoming a legal MAME-like environment for Arcade game developers where localisation is affordably shortcut with simple ROM and emulation licensing and players have a wealth of classics and newly released Arcade titles to play on demand? Is this what the 'thousands of games at release' claim was referring to?
We will have access to thousands of games at release because we are able to draw from the enormous library of games that have been and will be developed for Windows. These games will run unmodified on our service, which is a fantastic incentive for developers and publishers -- with no extra cost or effort on their part, they can get access to a whole new audience and a whole new stream of revenue. As I've said a number of times over the past few weeks, we already have thousands of Phantom developers: they just don't know it yet. They think they're building PC games. Imagine their delight when they find that their audience has just multiplied.
Kikizo: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add, get off your chest, etc...?
Look, I know that we have something of an uphill battle to prove that we can do what we say we're going to do. I take that responsibility very, very seriously. I appreciate the opportunity to answer your questions. Every day we know more about our plan and the tasks that lie ahead than we did the day before. And every day I look forward to coming into work and seeing something completely new and amazing. I have the best job in the world, and I can't wait to share the enthusiasm I feel for what we're about to embark on with the rest of the world.
Stay tuned. You (literally) ain't seen nothing yet!
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Infinium Labs unveil their new games console.