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Monday, June 17, 2024

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Ryan’s Corner: Atari, What Are You Doing?

Last year, Atari quietly announced the Ataribox. This was to be a brand new video game console and I don’t mean as a plug ‘n play system you find on toy store shelves. Atari intended to be right back up there with Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony as a leading console manufacturer. So I originally thought, anyway. I know Atari hasn’t had the greatest reputation these past few decades, but I thought that the Ataribox announcement was intriguing in of itself. As an indie developer, I thought it’d be possible for this to at least be the next PS Vita in the best way: as a platform indies could thrive on. And given that the Playstation 4 and Xbox One have blurred the lines of hardware competition, I was curious to see how Atari would shake things up on that spectrum.

Then Atari went to indiegogo.

I know Atari’s not a big deal anymore, but are you kidding me? I don’t mean this as a dis to crowdfunding – after all, I myself have utilized Kickstarter to get some necessary payments out of the way for a game of mine. There’s a difference, however, between a solo developer like me and a legacy company like freakin’ Atari. Imagine if SEGA went to a crowdfunding platform to get money to make the Dreamcast 2. Sirens have been activated from the get-go! I’m no console manufacturer, but how does crowdfunding help even if the financial goal is reached? There would definitely have to be more expenses than just designing the console.

They probably realized this later because eventually they halted the indiegogo campaign. The following is the last PR email I ever received for Ataribox:

“The countdown to the Ataribox launch on Indiegogo has been officially paused. Because of one key element on our checklist, it is taking more time to create the platform and ecosystem the Atari community deserves. Building Ataribox is incredibly important to us and we will do whatever it takes to be sure it is worth the wait.

An updated launch plan is underway and more detailed information will be available soon. 

We will be keeping you, our community, informed every step of the way. Thank you again for your support of Ataribox.

-The Ataribox Team”

This was in December 2017. And I never received anymore emails detailing any new plans for Ataribox. I feel like the folks at Atari should have been careful enough to properly convey they aren’t being shady about anything, but all of their actions seem to make a beeline towards otherwise.

Any other news I’ve heard about from this point onward were from news sites like Nintendolife. Why Nintendolife? Because apparently in January Atari launched another crowdfunding campaign for a RollerCoaster Tycoon game on the Nintendo Switch. This time it’s on StartEngine; the minimum amount you can pledge is $250, and the campaign duration is so long that it’s still going on at the time of this writing.

This time, Atari has succeeded in raising enough money for the game. But what about Ataribox? Why the actual crap did they decide to be tight-lipped about that and then move on to fund an unrelated project altogether? You can’t say you’re going to come back to make a new console and then chicken out far after the fact. Focus on getting the Ataribox to be a real thing before you go on with raising funds for other projects! It was almost a surprise to me that they didn’t set up a third campaign to kickstart the Switch release of the Atari Flashback compilations that came out on PS4 and Xbox One.

While we’re on the subject of Atari Flashback, I have to admit: I’m feeling rather worn out by the Atari 2600 pandering. I’m not saying I won’t give the Switch releases a shot when they come out; I’m saying I don’t understand why Atari feels the need to pretend none of their other eras exist. It’s not like they were perfect during the early ’80s. I don’t recall the 7800 or the Jaguar being responsible for the North American video game crash. It’d actually be refreshing to see some games from those periods of time make a comeback in compilations of their own. It would have been a much more interesting decision than renaming the Ataribox as “Atari VCS”, that’s for freakin’ sure.

Atari, we never liked the fact the new Xbox is called the Xbox One (let alone the new model being called “Xbox One X”). There’s a reason why. That name could easily be associated with the first Xbox. So why on Earth would you purposefully invoke that for the Ataribox and Atari 2600? Heck, why do any of this in the first place? Just to get reactions out of people? Nothing of substance has yet to come out from Atari throughout any of this. The closest thing there is to such is that they showcased a hollow “prototype” of the console at GDC 2018. A “prototype” that doesn’t function at all and is merely there to attract eyeballs. Not with games, but with the possibility of how the console may look. Oy vey.

It’s just so frustrating to watch this happen. I wanted to be optimistic but it’s as if Atari has been busy filling a checklist of ways to diminish trust with the public as soon as possible. When all is said and done, what happens if they do actually make that console? At this rate, I can’t imagine it being even a modest success. I think at its best, it will go the same fashion as the Ouya; it would be that one system that, if people remember it, would only be remembered for the hype that fell by the wayside. But let’s remember this: the Ouya was a Kickstarter success with controversies only nearing its release. The Ataribox/VCS has yet to have a successful campaign, and Atari is already getting the wrong kinds of attention.

At least RollerCoaster Tycoon will come out for the Switch. Right, Atari?

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