Last year, newslines were all excited about the teasing to come out of Atari regarding plans for a new Atari 2600 themed microconsole called the Ataribox (now, rechristened as the Atari VCS). Since then, very little has come along about this machine which they want to charge $300 for. Next to no information on the games, just a little on features such as four USB ports, a re-designed CX-40 joystick and that it would run on Linux. They were supposed to begin a crowdfunding campaign for it back on Dec. 14th 2017 but when that date arrived, some lame excuse was offered up online and it was quietly put on the backburner. But hey, they still have an Indiegogo placeholder page…
That is until now, where the company is supposedly going to be showing it off at GDC 2018, along with some of the other items they’ve been working on such as a VR roller coaster (FYI Atari, many, many companies have already been there and done that and no one cares).
Now, I have a variety of doubts that this is going to end up being a legit product. For one, the history of crowdfunded game consoles has been a big bust, especially with the Ouya. Atari also has a history of wandering from one crowdsourced project to another without producing the goods. The most recent one to cause an uproar was an investment crowdfunding scheme for Rollercoaster Tycoon on the Switch which had some incredibly dubious language attached to the fine print. It seems that they read that small part of Atari corporate history of the Mindlink and the Cosmos and said “hey, let’s revamp that business model with the modern scam!” and have run with it. Unfortunately due to rose-colored nostalgia and lack of info, people keep on giving them money, as opposed to giving them money for developing a good product that people actually want.
Speaking of that, the only thing I see on the horizon that has any potential is Jeff Minter’s Tempest 4000, an enhancement of TxK for the PC/PS4/XB1 (not sure why they don’t have the Switch on there). If they were smart, they’d get Jeff to work on enhancing some other games, otherwise you end up with that dismal Night Driver reboot.
Assuming that Atari eventually follows through on their Atari VCS crowdfunding,I would point out another reason why it is wise to think twice before sending your money along to the project. One other recent example of them gathering together over a half million dollars and never producing the said product was the Atari Gameband, supposedly the most powerful smartwatch ever created (that’s always until the next one comes along a short time later). As that Kickstarter campaign claimed, the Chinese-made, Atari-branded watches would begin shipping by October 2017. It’s now March 2018 and no watch has shipped as they blame things like USB-C not working out.
I get wanting to create the best possible product you can but when it comes to game hardware, you need to be Scrooge McDuck to be able to finance that instead of the pauper on the street begging for loose change. It just rubs me the wrong way – not sure about the rest of you. There is no vision at Atari – it’s simply throw everything possible at the wall and pray with all your might that something sticks. The problem is that nostalgia is incredibly finnicky – you cannot build a long lasting business model off of hoping nostalgia works out. “But Nintendo” you might say? Well, Nintendo injects their old IP with fresh, fun ideas and a level of polish that the rest of the industry envies. They are an exception to the rule (looking at every company with classic IP out there – Sega, Capcom, Konami, and so on), showing that you need creative visionaries to refresh the old while coming up with fantastic new ideas.
Resurrecting Atari hardware might be a noble goal but the company doing it needs to be an established powerhouse with billions of dollars to spend on such endeavors, finding those creative coding visionaries to do such a thing. But with the constant jumping to crowdfunding to make these projects work, I don’t really see that panning out for them until they finally get someone to buy the Atari name and IP from them (which seems to be the goal).
What do you think?