A while back, Atari announced that they were working on their own retro console. Since that original announcement, they have drip fed those of us paying attention more information. Today, Atari finally announced when people can start preordering this console, May 30th. They also announced the preorder price of $199, if you get it when it goes live on IndieGogo.
The VCS seems really ambitious. Despite it coming out as a response to Nintendo’s massively successful NES and SNES Classic Editions, the VCS claims to be much more. While it does have a built in collection of retro Atari games, over 100 titles according to the latest email, Atari also claims “Many popular modern titles will be playable on Atari VCS”. That is certainly something Nintendo can’t claim. Yet, it is a claim that has yet to be qualified.
Despite the idea of the VCS being in competition with the SNES Classic, the price of the system lends it to be more in competition with the Switch and even Sony and Microsoft’s consoles. With a retail price of $250 and its claims of “support for 4K resolution, HDR and 60FPS content, onboard and expandable storage options, dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0, as well as USB 3.0 support,” it certainly doesn’t feel like it is in the same category of the SNES Classic and its respective $80 retail price. Yet its lack of physical games and unknown library of 3rd or even 1st party titles means it does not quite fit in with the rest of the major console world.
Many years back, another company made the attempt to enter the console market. The Ouya came out of nowhere, sparked widespread interest from indie developers and gamers. While it was also scorned pretty heavily, it managed to find overwhelming support to bring the idea to fruition. However, interest quickly faded in the Ouya and it was eventually forgotten. While Atari is doing something different from the Ouya, the concept seems to be the same. Yet its high price tag means it will have a hard time reaching the same interest levels. One of the draws of the Ouya was its low price brought about by a focus on existing and inexpensive technology. The VCS does not have that luxury. They are working with AMD to develop a custom chipset that means the hardware is going to be more expensive.
All this has me questioning the potential of this console pretty heavily, just from a market perspective. Atari has some other issues that erode what little confidence I have left. These are all over their official VCS website. While the website itself is pretty standard marketing flair, there are several elements that left me with an unsavory taste in my mouth. First up is the press outlet logos scattered throughout the page.
While this is often a standard practice for pages like this, usually there is some context for such logo inclusion. But there is none to be found on this page. These are just static images. They don’t link to any coverage or provide any indication for why these logos were chosen. If they actually linked to an article of some sort, it might make sense. When asked, Atari’s publicist said they are all sites that have written about the VCS and that doing a Google search for the VCS and the press outlet will return results. And to be fair, the press page of their site includes logos with links, some of which are for sites on the front page, but not all sites listed have links available anywhere on the site.
The other major issue about their site is the positive quotes listed. These quotes are provided without any context.
As far as the other first name quotes, those are quotes from the community through a wide range of sources, be it social media, article comments or even direct email interactions.
There is no indication at all that these are simply community impressions. In fact, the inclusion of press logos right under the quotes would lead the casual viewer of the site to believe these quotes came from one of those press outlets. That is really bad and misleading on Atari’s part there. Had those quotes been in their own section with a “Community Reactions” header, I would have had no problem. That isn’t what Atari did though.
There is one final thing I would like to address about this site. The only image on the site that isn’t a simple glamor shot of the system or its controller, is a single action shot of someone “playing” the VCS.
A couple of questions stand out in this image. First is the fact that the person “playing” the game is holding a XBox 360 controller and not the VCS controller as seen elsewhere on the site. Secondly, the game being “played” on the VCS is Terraria. I tried to find any confirmation that the VCS would support other controllers and if Terraria will be available at launch. I have reached out to both Atari and to Terraria’s developer Re-Logic for answers to these questions and will update when I get an answer.
While all of these issues may simply be down to marketing gaffes, the fact that they are so prevalent on their website is very off putting. I honestly have nothing against the VCS. I personally still love my Ouya and had a lot of fun with the system, and feel that I could have the same kind of interest in the VCS. However, Atari seems to be doing everything it can to make that difficult.
If you would like to help me get in on the preorder and force me to do some unboxing, tear downs, and live gaming if and when the VCS finally releases, I am running a GoFundMe campaign right now.