An Interview with Envizions Founder Derrick Samuels
You would certainly be forgiven if this were your first encounter with the name Derrick Samuels. After all, the desire to dig through the proverbial halls of history in effort to track down those entrepreneurs brave enough to roll the dice and try to unseat corporate giants Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo is an affliction limited to your author and a few contributors to Wikipedia.
However, in the David versus Goliath struggle of small companies going up against global conglomerates in the video game sector, a firm out of Anniston, AL has certainly been giving fans of the underdog cause to rally.
Envizions was incorporated on August 04, 2004 with the goal of creating and sustaining a competitive advantage in the video game industry by satisfying consumer needs through efficiency, innovation, quality, and ingenuity. In other words, Envisions wanted a piece of the video game console market and wouldn’t be content standing on the shoulders of those who preceded them.
The EVO Smart Console (known as the Evo: Phase One prior to release) is a Media PC and game console marketed in the seventh generation home console era produced by Envizions. The EVO Smart Console was released in limited numbers in 2009 at a then current price of $399.
The system ran Linux software, which was built upon the Fedora operating system kernel. The console came bundled with two games: SuperTux and Kobo Deluxe. It also featured high definition (HD) output, Internet access, and the capability of running Windows-specific software. Rounding out the hardware spec was an internal 120GB hard drive, 2GB RAM, AMD Athlon 64 x 2 5600 + 2.90 GHz processors and an ATI HD 3200 graphics card.
When the initial production run of Smart Consoles failed to meet consumer demand, Envizions didn’t simply put in an order with their offshore suppliers for more. Rather they went back to the drawing board and developed an even more powerful console to better compete with ever-advancing PC hardware (one of few advantages the big corporations are unable to match).
Set for a release this fall, the next Envizions console will make the move away from Linux to make use of the fashionable Android platform. Calling this one the EVO 2, specs are still tentative but appear to center on a modified Android 2.2 OS build, Samsung 1.2GHz processor and a few new tricks like motion control compatibility.
Their history of hardware alone places Envizions in exclusive company as to date they are the only privately held hardware producer to have released a console to market where demand surpassed supply and then followed up the effort by designing a second system from the ground up with which to give it another go.
To gain some insight on how Envizions has been able to defy the odds in such a competitive arena, I recently sat down with the company’s CEO and Chairman. Here’s what Mr. Samuels had to say.
Hi Derrick. Believe it or not, you and I talked briefly on the phone back in 2006 or so regarding the development of the Phase-1, since then Envizions has been quite busy! How did the Phase-1 release go?
DS: Jason, glad to see the interest in EVO is still strong. Thanks! As far as the EVO Phase-1 we changed the name to the EVO Smart Console around 2008-2009. We did release the system to a very limited base of beta testers, collectors and earlier adopters. The units sold out and the demand for this model exceeded our supply. As such, we no longer have any units for sale. That beta unit was an amazing learning curve, one with lessons we were able to apply to our current unit (EVO 2) as well as to a very, very top secret “system” we have in the works.
We actually offered two variations of the EVO Smart Console: A Windows and Linux version and to our surprise, the Linux version sold more units. We are on the cusp of releasing a new EVO website that will highlight much of the insight and work that went into system development. We’re also in the latter phases of assembling a new social network called Qquip.com that will, of course, support EVO 2 and in addition we are still working with our game storage service called GameBox. We really have been busy!
I, like a lot of gamers, am really excited about the Evo 2 Gamebox- how far along are you on this and when do you anticipate release?
Our goal is to release this year so we can remain on schedule for our very top-secret “system” mentioned above, codename Genesis Project. I tried my best to get all of my ideas and concepts into this forthcoming EVO 2 but due to time and development milestones I was forced to postpone my full vision for this new project that is several years away. I saw something that no one else was doing and wanted the EVO 2 to make use of these new features. At this point the EVO 2 requires FCC approval and some software tweaks. We built the EVO 2 on top of existing hardware technologies but overall everything looks good on our end.
When we first announced EVO 2 we wanted to call it “The GameBox” but discovered that our core supporters didn’t realize it was simply the EVO Console, Part 2. So we changed the system’s name to EVO 2 in the hopes of better identifying the brand. We hope by October or November we can at least get the EVO 2 XL version out to the masses for $129 with a business product package with the unit.
While the Phase-1 was unique for featuring an operating system based on Linux, the EVO 2 is making the move to the popular Android platform. What were some reasons for making the switch?
We felt the market was changing and we had to change with it. Android is open and that played off our general idea for EVO to be an open media device.
How has 3rdparty software support for the Gamebox (now being called EVO 2) been coming along?
We have a few opportunities and a few developers on board and expect to get more in the future. It’s a challenge for sure but I think we will have success with more developers once they are exposed to the finished product.
A common theme in my column is the fact that many smaller consoles fail on account of poor distribution and hence brand awareness; how does Envizions plan to get the EVO 2 out there and onto the collective tongues of gamers considering offerings from Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony?
Great question! It’s a challenge but certainly one we are up to taking. We work hard and keep fighting! Media outlets like your site keep us alive and we appreciate it. Players always want change but are not always ready to embrace it. So as a company we have to work to help players understand our overall goals and what they can expect from our system. We have our work cut out for us but have a few strategies on the drawing board. I learned and studied a lot from Sun Tzu on not trying to take out your opponent directly but rather to focus attack on their weak points.
What would you consider the most difficult aspect of designing a video game console from scratch?
I started Envizions with weekly $5 dollar investments and the best funding is a requisite to move forward. Investors are afraid of putting up funds in gaming hardware because of the big dogs. It’s all a real challenge.
There was rumor back in 2004 that the Phase-1 was heavily inspired by one of the biggest vaporware schemes in recent history, Infinium Labs’ Phantom. Did the Phantom serve in any way as inspiration for the Phase-1 concept?
From an “I can do it” sort of inspiration…yes! I must have been out of my mind at the time…but for some reason it popped into my head that I could build such a game console.
Competing with the corporate juggernauts is often compared to swimming in shark-infested waters and yet Envizions has proven resilient with their resolve time and time again. What inspires you to regroup and throw your hat into such a competitive arena?
I love business, I love challenge, and I love giving people what they want. Being an ex-Marine (Infantry/Mortars), I have the desire to continue to fight and win even in insurmountable odds. Plus, we have such a strong support unit with family, friends and few media partners that really support us. They make it a battle worth fighting.
Derrick, you are known as an avid gamer aside from an active businessman, what game(s) are you currently playing in your spare time these days and on what platforms?
Right now… I spend so much time with the business, strategy, development and working with investors, I have very little time to game the old fashion way. The last hardcore games I played were Gears of War and Mortal Kombat (with the DC Comics characters). Recent games vying for my free time have all been games on the EVO 2 like football, baseball and Angry Birds!
What are three websites you try to visit daily?
Outside of our sites…Twitter, TechCrunch and Spill.com. Overall there are about ten sites I check daily but these are the top three.
If you weren’t CEO of Envizions, what would you want to do career wise?
A brain surgeon or an ER doctor. I have always had a real strong interest in the medical field. We play video games and watch television to get our adrenaline rushes but these people are like the real life versions of the character Jack Bauer from the TV show 24. Right on the spot they jump into action with the goal of saving lives with nerves of steel!
What is your favorite video gaming memory?
No favorite but a fan of anything that gets the job done.
What would you consider the most worn-out console in your collection (past or present)?
It has to be the original Nintendo Entertainment System. With over 30-plus games defeated on that system that’s my choice all day long.
If you were stranded on a desert-island with just one video game, which would it be?
Give me any Legend of Zelda game, the harder the better!