Atari has announced that it will begin taking pre-orders for the upcoming Atari VCS on May 30 via an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign. It’s the latest step in a rather strange development cycle that began last July. The company was supposed to launch an IndieGoGo campaign last December before delaying it for unspecified reasons. Now the campaign is ready to kick off — but what, exactly, are you ordering?
Here’s what we do know. The Atari VCS (not the Ataribox, as it was originally called) can be ordered in either a faux wood or standard black model. Both are clear callbacks to the original Atari 2600. The system isn’t just a classic gaming platform, as it’s a Linux-based gaming PC — and that’s not exactly a system category that’s done well over the years. From the Android-based Ouya to Valve’s SteamOS, Linux-based living room gaming just hasn’t lit the world on fire.
We know that there’s AMD silicon powering the device and that it’ll be capable of 4K output at 60fps. But what does that mean in the context of games that are, in some cases, 40 years old? It’s not hard to drive 4K @ 60fps when the games you’re playing have single-digit polygon counts. We know the new VCS contains features like dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.0, USB 3.0, and some degree of on-board storage, along with a classic joystick and optional gamepad. Bundles and specific capabilities have not been detailed. But Atari is falling down when it comes to communicating anything about which titles will be available beyond 100 classic games that supposedly ship with the system. The system will contain the Atari Vault, including such titles as Asteroids, Breakout, Centipede, Gravitar, Missile Command and Yars’ Revenge. As Polygon notes, you can buy this collection on Steam already for $ 9.99.
But the Atari VCS isn’t selling for $ 9.99 or even $ 99.99. It’s got an estimated street price of $ 250 to $ 300, though crowdfunders will be able to buy in for $ 199.99. And for that price, there needs to be a killer feature far stronger than anything Atari has revealed thus far.
There’s No Market for This Thing
Let’s get one thing straight up front. Atari isn’t Atari anymore. This isn’t a rejuvenation of the classic company that built one of the most popular home consoles of all time. In fact, it’s not clear what this product is, or what it’s supposed to be, or why people are supposed to want to buy it. Given the collapse of Steam Machines, SteamOS, and microconsoles like the Ouya, there’s ample reason to question whether a $ 250 to $ 300 console that’s going up against original launch systems like the PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch can pull enough eyeballs or sales to be successful. Valve can say that it’s still dedicated to SteamOS and Steam Machines all it wants — and maybe it is, on some level — but there’s simply no evidence that PC gamers have migrated to these solutions in significant numbers.
Claims that the Atari VCS can do 4K @ 60Hz are going to raise the eyebrows of anyone who understands anything about console hardware precisely because even the $ 500 Xbox One X can’t pull that off. AMD’s modern Ryzen APUs like the 2400G are great budget gaming options, but they’re not going to push 60fps at that resolution in modern titles, and there’s been not a whisper of a sign that Atari actually ponied up for a semicustom APU the way MS and Sony have.
Atari seems to think that being vague is a substitute for a marketing and product launch strategy. Either that, or it doesn’t actually have any firm plans it can commit to regarding product capabilities and features. Neither is promising, and we can’t recommend anyone contribute to this project until Atari actually reveals concrete information on what it is, what it costs, and what it can do.