Update: Since this article was first published Atari has reached out to Link-Cable to clarify that their pre-order launch on Indiegogo has been delayed as they work on the console behind the scenes. Here’s the full statement…
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
Original article follows
Let me get this out-of-the-way first, I have a hard time believing the Ataribox is a real thing. Announced in a vague and bare bones press release back in June the company promised ‘more’ details in the future in anticipation of the system’s release in the spring of 2018. Well preorders officially open tomorrow (on Indiegogo of all places) and we know virtually nothing about the Ataribox. No details on specs, games, controllers – nothing. All we have are a few vague details and the fact that it will come in two color variants, which when you are expecting gamers to not only drop serious cash on your device but also invest in a brand that has not been relevant since the 1980’s, well you have a recipe for a disaster.
A few months ago I wrote an article that asked if we, as gamers even wanted a new Atari console, and while I had some pretty big reservations at the time, I was cautiously optimistic that Atari might deliver something interesting. Sure the industry hasn’t been this competitive in nearly a decade and game production costs are soaring due to bleeding edge technology, but, like any good underdog story you wanted to believe that Atari could pull it off and re-assert themselves as a force in the industry. But now, as we try to dissect every cryptic message relating to the system we’re left with something that couldn’t possibly be appealing to any gamer with an understanding of what a quality product is.
So why am I in such a huff about the Ataribox? Well, here we are on the eve of when preorders begin and our understanding of what it is we will be asked to pay for is very limited. That being said here are some facts…
- The system runs on Linux architecture and is comparable in power to a ‘mid-range PC’
- It will feature a library consisting of Atari classics and new, modern games.
- The system was partially inspired by the success NES Classic Edition
- It will retail for somewhere between $250-$299 and be available in two variants (wood panel and red/black)
- It is being partially crowdfunded on Indiegogo
…and that’s about it!
While this list is definitely far from extensive it does give us an idea on some important factors related to the Ataribox design and the marketing strategy behind the system. Looking at each of these facts in detail though seems to leave us with more questions than answers. For starters, saying the system will be ‘comparable to a mid-ranged PC’ is an extremely vague metric to go, in fact it might be the vaguest possible way to define a system’s power and gives absolutely no indication as to the quality of games we will be getting on the Ataribox. The next point is that the system will feature both Atari ‘classics’ and modern games, which while not very surprising that the system will feature games from Atari’s past, these games have not aged well and would be at best a fun anecdote on gaming’s best and at worst a stark reminder that Atari’s best days are behind them. Modern games however are a more interesting prospect but begs the question – is this system designed to compete with the likes of the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch? I have a very hard time envisioning this scenario being a success for Atari since all three of these companies are taking an incredible amount of momentum into 2018 and are much better positioned to be competitive in the industry than Atari could possibly be.
The next point on the list comes from a quote from Atari CEO Fred Chesnais who said the decision to move forward with the Ataribox was inspired by the success of the NES Classic Edition. And that’s perfectly fine, I’ve mentioned it myself here multiple times that Nintendo struck gold with the concept of miniaturizing their past consoles, installing a collection of their greatest days and banking on our insatiable appetite for gaming nostalgia. However the Ataribox is not an equivalent to the NES Classic Edition. The ability to play ‘new’ games shows that the system is geared to both the modern gamer and the one with a nostalgic itch to scratch which, by default puts it on a level completely separate from the NES Classic. And then there’s the fact that the Ataribox retails for about 5X the cost of that system! To put that into perspective, the Ataribox MSRP is the same as the Nintendo Switch and Xbox One S and only $50 away from the PS4 Slim! There’s no way a ‘classic’ console could survive competing against those system and at that price point, not to mention that each of those systems has a lot more to offer than what we have seen so far from the Ataribox.
The last point that raised a red flag to me is this system’s development cycle and funding initiative. We already know the system was inspired by the NES Classic Edition, which released in late 2016. The Ataribox is scheduled for launch in ‘Spring 2018’ which would (assuming they began earnest development in November 2016) would, at most, gives Atari 19 months to have developed their newest console. That’s an absolutely minuscule amount of time where hardware development is concerned, never mind that Atari believes that the asking price should be comparable to every modern gaming console on the market. It realistically makes no sense for the Ataribox to be on par with those systems yet, here we are with an asking price that is nearly identical.
And then there’s Indiegogo. The crowdfunding platform which will be offering pre-order/funding for the Ataribox starting tomorrow. While I have no gripe with that platform in particular it is curious that Atari chose them as their partners for the Ataribox campaign, since Indiegogo traditionally has much looser regulations in terms of what projects are allowed on the platform than Kickstarter and definitely has a much smaller user base than them as well. Then there’s the fact that Indiegogo projects that fail to meet their goals are technically ineligible for refunds if the funds have been transferred to the issuer. Here’s a screenshot of a portion their refund policy…
I’m not pointing this out to accuse Atari or Indiegogo of misleading potential customers, but the web is full of testimonials of folks having poor experiences with projects that folks donated to projects that ended up failing. So having an entire pre-order / funding launch for a system that does not seem to be heading in the right direction on a platform with a very strict refund policy just adds to the curious nature of the Ataribox and has raised eyebrows with gamers and industry analysts alike.
The Ataribox is one of the strangest console’s I have ever looked into, simply because we know so little about it yet what we do know just ends up sounding alarm bells as soon as you start to dig deeper into its development history. And while, I have very little (if any) faith that this system can be a success in today’s gaming climate I would absolutely love to be proven wrong on it. I have a deep respect for Atari’s legacy and its contribution to gaming as a whole, but so far, everything I’ve seen that has to do with the Ataribox just confuses me and makes me think that Atari is heading for a pretty major crash with this newest system. And with pre-orders opening tomorrow, it can already be seen as a PR nightmare that Atari has done next to nothing to make gamers care about the Ataribox.