I'd Be Worried If I Was An Atari VCS Backer

Atari's crowdfunding campaign for the Atari VCS, so far, has gone pretty well. But the company has run into a bit of a PR nightmare of sorts, after attempting to discredit a scathing article.

The article in question was originally posted in March by The Register. Kieren McCarthy attended a briefing at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, interviewing Atari chief operating officer Michael Arzt and spending some time with the hardware.

The main problem, as far as The Register outlined: only the joystick worked, with Atari showcasing a mockup of the Atari VCS rather than a working prototype.

There's only one problem: it doesn't work. And by "not work" we don't mean it crashed or is having teething troubles, we mean it literally does not work.

When Atari's chief operating officer Michael Arzt suggested we take a look at the ports in the back, we're surprised to find it actually weighs something: Atari knows how to mock up products.

Wind the clock forward by a couple of months. The Atari VCS crowdfunding campaign has begun, and by all accounts is widely successful. It's just surpassed $US2.9 million, well beyond the $US100,000 set for the original funding goal. The campaign has just over a week left to go.

On the Atari VCS Facebook page, a user posts the link to The Register's article. "I beg of you be as brutally honest as possible and explain this article? If I should give you more time and wait for the VCS to be perfected I gladly will," they wrote.

The AtariVCS account responded in nuclear-like fashion:

Shots fired, then.

When you get called out like that, there's really only two ways to respond: admit you cocked up, or post the full interview online and let people be the judge.

Have a guess what The Register did.

The Register: Does Atari have the funds to create enough boxes, or do you need funds to build the boxes?

Atari COO Michael Arzt: That is something that I'm not going to talk about because I'm not a finance guy, but yes, the launch is going forward.

Register: OK. You understand that if you launch again with an Indiegogo, people typically are a little hesitant about it, because they need the money in order to make it.

Atari COO Michael Arzt: There are business discussions underway with major partners who would have an impact on how its distributed, where it's sold. There's so many moving parts that — again, until things are locked, if we start talking about all of our hopes and dreams, that's worse. So I'd rather not tell you something that I'm not sure about.

In another clip from the interview, which The Register posted in full, Arzt said Atari wasn't "so far down the road" that they couldn't consider taking up an offer from AMD to use a newer chipset.

He also tried to draw an analogy to NASA's space shuttle when pressed on the delay of the Atari VCS, saying that the problems central to the delay had been resolved.

"So what was the issue, and has it been resolved," McCarthy asked.

"Yes, so the issue — I'm not going to get into the specifics of what the issue was — there were some things we felt could be better, and we've since made them better," Arzt said. When pressed, he said that the modern controller wasn't up to scratch "at that point", and that some of the partnerships with developers "weren't locked down".

It sounds reasonable, until you dig through history and compare Artz's answers against what was on the public record. When the Atari VCS's launch in December last year was delayed, Atari said it was due to "one key element on our checklist".

"It is taking more time to create the platform and ecosystem the Atari community deserves," Atari said in a statement.

Ahead of the Atari VCS's showing to press at GDC, it was also already known that the box would run on Linux using "an AMD customised processor" with "Radeon Grahpics technology". Because Atari said as much in a newsletter to users in September 2017. Why, then, couldn't Arzt just openly say they had partnered with AMD for the project in an interview?

The crux of The Register's take was that they wanted hard answers about the Atari VCS — why was it delayed the day it was supposed to launch, what developers were partnering with the console, when was it launching, was the hardware locked down — and Atari couldn't provide them.

"I hope we have some stuff to show and talk about when we get to E3," Arzt said in the audio. "That's our hope, when we have our suite at E3, we're showing people."

The Register weren't the only ones to walk away without answers. PC World's Hayden Dingman recorded a video from GDC, saying that they didn't know how much it would cost, what games it would play, or anything about the internals at all.

Put simply: if you're going to call out someone for making stuff up in an interview, you'd better be damn sure they didn't record the conversation. Because if they did, you end up looking hyperdefensive to criticism. And if I was a backer, and my money was going towards a company that responded so defensively to fair and reasonable concerns, I'd be very worried.

To listen to the 32 minute interview in full, head over to The Register.


Comments

    I'm usually one who throws cash at these sorts of things on Kickstarter, but even I ran the hell away from this. Between the price and aenemic specs, it really isn't worth it.

      I honestly can't believe they have gotten 2.9 mil. for this mysterious 'box'. The idea that they could crowd-fund a next-gen console that is competitive with the holy trinity is pure insanity, even with that amount. What has Atari done to earn people's trust in this? What has possessed this army of baby boomers to throw fistfuls of their disposable income, grown ripe from their 3rd consecutive investment property, at Atari? I loved River Raid as much as the next person, but c'mon guys... There's better ways to throw away a buck. Why not take up gambling instead? Or buy some loot boxes?

      Alright... I think I'm done...

        Yes, scamming people by revealing the specs of the hardware, publicly releasing which companies are creating the components of it, then listing the companies who've already contracted to release games for the console, as well as providing a variety of price points and options for the consumer. Yes, it's all just a shady scam. The Tempest 4000 issue was a joke as well. They are the creator and publisher of the game with a system that will clearly play it without a hitch at all. They are still developing the system and ran the computer version, which will be identical to theirs, and then publicly stated a disclaimer that it was for display purposes only. This happens constantly in the video game industry with Skyrim for the Switch being a significant example. This is ALL fake news.

        Do they have all of the information as we type? No. Why? Because the console is not scheduled to be released for between 6-8 months. It's irrational to believe that they would have all of the information right now, or especially when the interview took place, which was months ago. Not to mention that anyone who wants to listen to the interview can hear that it did not play out the way that the tabloid magazine has stated that it did.

          You misunderstand me. I don't believe that Atari is perpetrating a scam. I believe that they, and their investors, are being naive. All of what your saying may be true, and does little to change the essence of my point - Atari doesn't really have anything to offer the current console market other than a gaming pc with an Atari logo on it. The reason Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony have such a firm foothold on their market share is specifically because they are established as console makers. With hundreds of millions of dollars backing these companies and a proven track record, game developers know that they can confidently produce games for these platforms and that the platform's user base will buy copies of their game. Atari does not have the financial backing or market share to convince game developers to specifically produce games for their platform, which means their best bet is making their platform open source - essentially a lounge-room gaming pc. So essentially, you will either end up with a) a closed source box that can't convince 3rd parties to back it or b) an open source box that plays PC games. And the reason b) is unlikely to succeed is because, to date, no developer has been able to produce a mass market gaming pc for cheaper than what it costs to build it yourself. Look at Alienware or Steam Boxes.
          It looks to me like this Atari box is gearing towards playing classic games and indie games. In which case, what exactly are you expecting to get out of this, other than a low end console with no 3rd party support that can do everything an entry level pc can do?

    Having a non-functional design prototype isn't a red flag on its own: that's usually the next step after CAD models for a device when you want to see the design in real life. It's even common to weight the prototype so you can see what it feels like, although this is more important for handheld devices liker phones than something that will be sitting on a shelf like a console.

    Given that the Atari box is basically just a glorified PC, so it is the kind of thing a Chinese ODM could handle most of the design for, while Atari focuses on developing the software using regular PCs as a dev platform.

    Now it is shady to try and pass off a design prototype as real hardware. You'd also hope that they could at least show off some of the software running on a PC with similar specifications (using their functional joysticks, even!).

    I think if I were an Atari backer I'd probably still be in the same little dreamworld today as I was when I first threw my cash at Ouya 2.0 (if it even gets that far). Why would I be worried?

    No mention of the big hoohah with certain youtubers like RGT85 and how Atari responded to them at all? This has gone a lot further than that initial interview with The Register.

    I backed this out of a "eh, this thing looks cool" kind of mentality, but I pulled my backing when this came up. Screw that

    I did order one of the joystick controllers for my gameplay. (it did appear in demo reels to be working), but I avoided the VCS as I didn't need it.

    I think the big difference from many other Kickstarters is Atari has put their company name behind this, it means if they mess up their is a reduce risk as they ain't going to suddenly go bankrupt or disappear.

      As opposed to the last time Atari went bankrupt?

      The VCS is made by Atari. The brand name has changed hands dozens of times in the last few decades.
      VCS is made by Infogames entertainment SA who own Atari SA.

    Honestly, I can't figure out the point of this thing. $400 to play emulated Atari games you can run on a calculator at this point? Streaming things virtually every TV can do already?

      It's a Atari computer basically, Play what you want on it like a open ecosystem console.

        Or it's just a scam, It's probably a scam or a dream by out of touch ppl. Unfortunately .

        Ohhhhhh, so they don't even have content for it beyond 38 year old emulated games, and they expect you to figure out your own use for their otherwise incredibly overpriced linux box?

          Idk dude, Atari isn't the "Atari", These are just ppl plundering Atari's vault, My first console was my mum's Atari, This Atari VCS is just a shame really. It could have been something special if it wasn't being created by the hacks chasing a easy buck.

    I'm definitely in the minority, but quite frankly, I don't buy what The Registry is saying. I read through it and also listened to the audio clips he trimmed, as well as the full 30-minute interview. The author cleverly trimmed out important information in his short audio clips, making it seem like Atari didn't give as much information vs. what was actually given. He thankfully includes the full unedited interview, but it's at the very bottom of the article, and he knew full well that not everyone is going to take the time to listen to the full 30 minute version.

    The fact of the matter is, Atari is at an extreme disadvantage because the studio behind the VCS is really small. They're not Nintendo, Sony or even Sega for that matter. The Atari brand is basically a relic of gaming history at this point, and nothing more. So the team behind this project has an extremely daunting task of trying to bring the brand back in a major way. Because of this disadvantage though, it's incredibly easy for journalists and naysayers to pick on Atari.

    I strongly recommend people listen to the 30 minutes version of the interview and make their own judgments instead of letting some journalist make it for them.

      Or just wait til it comes out and see what its really like. Its far exceeded its finance goals, so if you arent a backer already, theres minimal reason to become one now (if you still can), so all this is just a story, nothing more.

      Getting worried (or not) serves no purpose, other than to confirm you arent going to put any money into it. Which you would have by now. So, wait til it comes out. It either works, or doesnt, and if it doesnt, you know there will be a story or 20 about it. No loss either way.

    I don’t get it. What does this thing do exactly? Why are Atari trying to compete with the big three? Seems futile.
    One of their seeking points is access to 30 year old games that no one in their right mind would play.

    I feel that people over estimate Atari’s legacy and importance in gaming. Yeah, they were pioneers, but they also single-handedly crashed the market via ET and left way for Sega and Nintendo to absorb their niche.

    Just let Atari die. If they need crowdfunding to get back in the game, they’re not a corporation that can compete. Stable business’s with a 49 year legacy shouldn’t need UNICEF style support.

    This was literally just 2.9 million going straight to the people that still run Atari's product. People are fooled if they expect anything to come from this.

    The guy answering the interviewer should be fired immediately and apologies given, that's the only solution really. Sounds like he was on P or something.

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