Atari is in an odd position. It is struggling to remain relevant. With each new announcement, it seems more and more clear that endeavor is failing. The latest is the Atari VCS, the official name for the Ataribox. This is the supposed microconsole that will bring the company back into the console market. Except with each new development and revelation, this dream seems more like a nightmare. Frankly, it sounds like the Atari VCS is the next Ouya. Or maybe even worse, because at least the Ouya did have a successful Kickstarter, launch and enjoyed a moment before it crashed and burned.
Let’s start with the history of the Atari VCS, which is a good way to show how unsteady this “system’s” foundation is. Back in 2017, Atari said that its system, then known as the Ataribox, would be a crowdfunded console. No information about the technical specifications, game support, hardware, or pricing was known. All that was certain was that some endeavor would be held. An IndieGoGo page was even created. Except as 2017 ended, Atari said it was halted because one “key element” missing from a checklist. We had a whole year of an alleged crowdfunded console with no concrete information on it and a stopped crowdfunding campaign for an unknown reason. This happened on December 14, 2017, the same day pre-orders were supposed to begin, but were suddenly canceled.
Fast forward to GDC 2018. Remember how I just said that in December 2017, Atari said there was only one “key element” missing before the Atari VCS would be ready to be crowdfunded and pre-ordered. Well, at GDC 2018 that was pretty much shown to be a lie as Atari told CNET that the system’s Linux OS and AMD processor were “still coming together.” All the company even had at GDC 2018 was an empty shell. There was a prototype system and joystick, but nothing actually working. The one thing that was confirmed is that over 100 classic Atari games, some reimagined games and an Ubuntu Linux desktop computer.
Here is what is disappointing about that. Okay. So this Atari VCS is still this uncertain thing, is probably going to be around $100, and hinges on the idea of playing classic games as a main draw. Do you know what you can do right now, at this very moment? You can get an AtGames Atari Flashback console. There are multiple varieties! The Atari Flashback Gold has 120 games on it, though not all are Atari games. The Atari Flashback Gold’s Activision Edition has 130 games. Each of these will probably run you around $60 to $70, though older models with fewer games are much cheaper. It is here now, you can start playing the old games that really matter, and you do not have to worry about any shadiness that can come from this Atari VCS business.
There is also the general credibility issues surrounding Atari at this time. Think about what Atari did in 2017 and early 2018. One of its biggest 2017 announcement was the Atari Speakerhat. What is that? It is a $129.99 baseball cap with two Bluetooth speakers in the bill. It is as ridiculous as it sounds. (As an aside, I have seen non-Atari beanies with speakers in them for $20 or less, so… yeah.) Remember RollerCoaster Tycoon? Atari decided in January 2018 to turn to crowdfunding to possibly create a Nintendo Switch version of the game via StartEngine, one of the lesser known funding platforms. Which really sounds a little off. And in February 2018, the Atari Token and Pong Token cryptocurrencies announcement was the icing on the cake. Atari decided to make its own “money” which it hopes to use with digital gaming (Atari Token) and online casinos (Pong Token). It is hard to look at that and not think something is seriously wrong.
It is difficult to trust Atari with everything that is going on. The company is coming from an environment where it is pushing things like ridiculously priced hats with speakers in them, cryptocurrencies, and crowdfunding a game it probably should have just done without outside input. The early Atari VCS foundation is incredibly shaky, with us still not knowing what will go into it or what games will be on it. It might even be generous to go ahead and call the Atari VCS the next Ouya, especially since the AtGames plug-and-play consoles already available do a portion of what this hypothetical console apparently will.