To Infinium and beyond: Kevin Bachus talks Phantom
E3 outing - official
Interview Following his surprise appointment as the president of Infinium Labs, Kevin Bachus spoke candidly with GamesIndustry.biz in this exclusive interview about the controversial company and its plans for the Phantom game service.
Launching a videogame console into the market for the first time is a fraught process for any company, no matter how large or how small. From the tough job of convincing investors or senior management to give the green light, through to the even tougher job of persuading publishers that you're for real, and finally to the toughest job of all - persuading consumers to part with hundreds of pounds of their hard earned cash for your system - it's not a task for the faint hearted.
Kevin Bachus is a man who's been through this process once already. He was a key figure right from the genesis of Xbox project and helped to turn the fantasy of a few "renegades" within Microsoft into the reality which has become a serious challenger in the console market. The experience can't have been that bad, though - because now he's preparing to do it all over again.
Earlier this week it was announced that Bachus has joined Infinium Labs, a Florida-based start-up which announced its intentions in the game console market, in the form of a broadband-reliant system called the Phantom, last year. Bachus is the first major figure from the games industry to be appointed by Infinium - and indeed, for many people, his appointment at the company is the first sign that the Phantom might actually be a serious prospect.
Phantom in the Night
Infinium, after all, has a somewhat tarnished record within the industry as a whole, and with the media in particular. From "unveilings" which actually unveiled little or nothing, to unanswered allegations about irregularities regarding the company's premises, the company has had what might be described kindly as a tempestuous relationship with the media - and until Bachus' appointment was announced, prevailing opinion suggested that Phantom was vapourware at best, a hoax or a scam at worst. Even now, with Bachus at the helm, there's much doubt over the company's ability to deliver on its promises.
"There has been a tremendous amount of miscommunication," acknowledges Bachus, "and the company isn't entirely blameless in that." Up until now, he explains, Infinium has been focused on convincing investors to back the Phantom and it's that that process which he believes has led to the difficulties in the company's relationship with the media.
"Infinium is a company at a crossroads," he says. "It has been enormously successful in creating a vision for a product and generating some real excitement around that idea, and most importantly in getting the resources into the company to start working on that vision... I've been through startups before, and I can tell you that in order to secure investment you have to position yourself as a going concern, and make statements with the best information you have at the time. Nobody was being deceptive, but things change."
He compares the situation at Infinium with the challenges faced by Microsoft when it brought the Xbox to publishers and the media for the first time. "Some of the conversations we had when we were thinking about launching Xbox showed tremendous scepticism about our ability to deliver a console, and this was coming from the strongest company in the world."
"The only way to overcome that was by being delivered and consistent and backing up everything we said we were going to do; Infinium has not been able to do that up until now," he acknowledges. However, Bachus doesn't believe that this is an "unrecoverable position". "These guys have come in and have articulated a vision, and convinced the investment community to back their plan. We now have an opportunity to go and deal with these misperceptions."
Company at a Crossroads
Bachus believes that January has marked a turning point for Infinium, with a number of developments, including the listing of the company on the stock exchange (through the acquisition of a publicly quoted shell company) and the securing of fresh investment, culminating in his own appointment as president this week.
The Infinium we're going to see from now on, he contends, is a rather different beast to the one that we've seen up until now. "It's the difference between a start-up positioning itself for success, and an operating company that has a team, a vision and capital and is now executing to deliver a product for launch."
In terms of the management team, Bachus claims to be only the first major announcement of several which will be forthcoming over the coming weeks and months. "A lot of great people are coming in behind me in different roles, doing all the things that are required to build [Phantom]... We're building an all-star team of people to get this delivered, because time is short and the challenge is great."
Changing the way that Infinium operates and managing the about face from a start-up company whose main objective is to obtain funding to a funded company with the path to a product launch ahead of it is not necessarily going to be an easy process, and the need to repair the public image of the Phantom won't make it any easier. However, there's a real sense of energy and determination about Bachus' vision of the task ahead of the company, with less than five months to go before a potential make-or-break milestone - the E3 trade show in Los Angeles this May, which Bachus confirms will be a public outing for the Phantom.
Before Infinium can go to E3, however, there are several fundamental questions that need to be answered about Phantom, and it's here that we hit a stumbling block: right now, Bachus doesn't have the answers to many key questions. "I was very reluctant to talk to the press at this point in my association with the company," he admits. "I'm not the kind of guy who likes to come to the table without answers to every question, and we're not there yet."
What we do know about Phantom is that it's not so much a game console