The Atari VCS is the legendary gaming company’s first foray back into the console space in decades – but do they even know what they’re doing? There has been a lot of excitement around retro consoles these days, with Nintendo releasing miniature versions of their old school platforms like clockwork. Then, the company Retro Games went as far as to announce a miniature version of the Commodore 64 to compete directly with Nintendo’s SNES Classic and the rumored N64 Mini that is presumably on the way.
It wasn’t long after the SNES Classic released that Atari announced plans to develop their own retro-inspired console, called the Atari VCS. While the aforementioned platforms are all about giving modern gamers a way to play classic games from the 1980s and 1990s, the VCS differs because it’s meant to be a modern gaming console – with modern functions, such as streaming and voice control – but that’s not all; it’s also meant to play both old (classic) and new games, hence being “retro-inspired.” The entire concept is being folded into the notion that it’s an open platform, but that may not necessarily be the case as there is a controversy brewing around the console’s crowdfunding campaign right now.
At the Game Developers Conference in March, Atari gave a handful of outlets, including The Register, an early look at the Atari VCS. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to show… at all. Apparently, the outlet only saw mockups of what the console would look like, and when they asked Atari’s chief operating officer Michael Arzt about specifics, such as hardware and features, they weren’t given any answers. All Artz knew about the platform was that it would eventually cost $250, have an AMD chipset, support 4K video capability, run Linux, and look like a laptop – that’s it. Atari took issue with the report and recently responded on their Facebook page, saying:
“We honestly can’t explain that article either. Our executives sat with that reporter for half an hour and he wrote what he wanted instead of what was discussed with him. Sadly there are even irresponsible trolls in ‘professional’ positions I guess. We clearly said that we were bringing engineering design models to GDC and lots of people clearly don’t understand what that means. Hunks of plastic? Well, yeah, that’s how you finalize the designs and confirm that you can get the look and feel you want for the finished products. Sad.”
Atari’s response came one week before their crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo is supposed to conclude. And, as a rebuttal to being labeled professional trolls, The Register has since released the full audio of their interview with Artz, thus proving that they never misconstrued their information. And although they are just days away from ending their campaign and walking away with more than $2.9 million in cash, it’s possible that they don’t even have a functioning prototype at this stage. Even now, their IndieGoGo campaign page fails to provide any specifics on the platform, which is expected to release in summer 2019. The only proof Atari has that the VCS works are two 34-second videos that they uploaded on YouTube at the end of May, when they opened up preorders for the VCS.
Interestingly, Intellivision Entertainment president Tommy Tallarico mentioned to IGN during E3 2018: “On Kickstarter, you had to have hardware in order to kickstart it. So Indiegogo, you can crowdfund something, a piece of hardware, never come out with it, and keep 3 million dollars.” It’s a haunting thought, that a company like Atari can promise the world to their fans, potentially not deliver, and still keep all the money. Tallarico compared the situation to the 2016 crowdfunding campaign for the Retro Chameleon console, in which Coleco held a campaign on IndieGoGo but failed to produce a prototype. While it’s entirely possible that Atari will deliver on their VCS promises next year, it’s also possible that it may go the way of the Chameleon. Until the company can produce a prototype to their backers, who knows what’s really happening behind the scenes.