Intellivision’s E3 Presentation Broke My Brain

Intellivision’s E3 Presentation Broke My Brain
Image: YouTube (Intellivision)

In the same show where we got a look at StarfieldForza Horizon 5, new 2D Metroid titles and all types of fascinating indies, Intellivision made sure to give us the … Cookie Monster.

In a world where you’ve got publishers talking about bringing AAA games to MacBooks, phones and tablets through livestreaming, there’s a unique brand of dissonance to see gaming’s annual conference stop for 10 minutes to talk about a new Intellivision console.

Called the Amico, it’s a small console that almost looks reminiscent of a Roomba. It comes equipped with two Bluetooth controllers that each have their own screen. It’s almost like a miniaturised take on the same idea the Wii U had, although there’s extra directional input from the dial on the controller.

Of course, the Wii U could at least offer Mario Kart 8 or New Super Mario Bros. U. Even the “bad” Zelda games on the Wii U are about a million times better than most other franchises.

The Intellivision … doesn’t have that.

Watching Tommy Tallarico sell the Amico, a $US249 console that’s barely cheaper than the Nintendo Switch, is like falling down a well and landing in an alternate dimension. Tallarico begins the presentation (after mentioning that he’s the voice behind Roblox‘s oof sound, which was a whole legal drama) by talking about the old times, when people used to get together in a room to play video games.

“When I was growing up, we didn’t have the internet to play video games,” Tallarico argued. “I bet if you’re a hardcore gamer, you’re probably like me, and I bet your fondest memories of playing video games was when you were playing with other people in the same room together.”

That’s a totally fair point to make. But also: times change. The internet has made games better, not worse. It hasn’t killed couch co-op. People grew up with it, and designers created new ways to make different types of games that couldn’t have existed otherwise.

But Intellivision isn’t living in that world. At the end of the presentation, Tallarico announced that 3 signed Earthworm Jim prints would be given away — to people who sent in an email with the subject line “Groovy!”.

I’m not kidding.

intellivision
Image: YouTube (Intellivision)

In the same way that the internet has found better ways of running giveaways in 2021 than sending emails, Intellivision’s entire pitch exists on the principle that gaming hasn’t really found a better way of making games that are accessible to everyone. It’s that vibe that says video games are worse in 2021 than they were in, say, the early ’90s. Or the ’80s. Or the ’70s.

It ignores the cool ways developers have made games more social in the decades since then. Look at the Jackbox Party Pack games, for instance, which is more accessible and palatable than anything advertised by Intellivision. And there’s a good idea in targeting accessibility and a much wider audience than just the “core gamer” demographic.

But people who don’t play video games don’t buy video game consoles. They get interested in video games, almost 99.99999999999% of the time, via friends, family or acquaintances who are interested in video games.

Much like the astonishingly overpriced Atari VCS, which retails in Australia for more than a PlayStation 5, the Intellivision is the answer to a question that nobody is really asking. But beyond collectors and people who grew up with the Intellivision originally, it’s hard to imagine who, or why, anyone would buy this.

And all the answers from Intellivision don’t make sense in the real world. Sure: there’s absolutely an appeal in saying that your products won’t have loot boxes or microtransactions or any form of paid DLC. But also if I’m a developer, does that mean I have to release a whole separate game every time I want to update a product? DLC expansions – paid DLC expansions — make games better. Those things aren’t on the same planet as the gambling-like mechanics of a FIFA Ultimate Team pack, and shouldn’t be treated as such.

But also, even if you’re going to remove all of those from the equation, the response to not having any of that basic online connectivity is not to say we “have an online leaderboard system for most of our games”. Games have that already. Drop-in, drop-out co-op? Games have that already. It’s not a selling pitch for the Intellivision.

Content is what sells systems. Sure, there might be some potential in the original Ecco the Dolphin developer’s new exclusive Dolphin Quest, but are you really going to drop Nintendo Switch-level money on a spiritual successor to Ecco the Dolphin? And for the developers out there, what’s the impetus to develop on the Intellivision anyway? Because it’s different? Are developers really that free with their time and resources to take a flyer on something like this?

intellivision
Image: YouTube (Intellivision)

I don’t mean to be cruel or cynical, and I honestly hope the Intellivision team achieves everything they’re hoping for. But at the same token, in the position of being media that’s designed to be critical of an industry that gets far too much of a free pass, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask a simple question.

Why would anyone, families or otherwise, buy an Intellivision when you could buy literally anything else — especially when every other console does what the Intellivision promises, but miles better, with better family-friendly games? And why market this directly to the most hardcore gamers — the only people liable to watch E3 conferences live, or watch them afterwards — if you don’t have any content they’ll be interested in? Why not just advertise it via infomercials or something that might actually reach the console’s supposed target market?

The whole presentation is only 10 minutes long, and you can watch it via the embed above or directly on YouTube here.

Comments

    • If it makes sense, sure. But take something like Civilization. Adding something like Australia or the Maori as new paid playable races down the road — those things are good value arguments for gamers. The entry cost is relatively low, and you’re usually getting new scenarios and modes with it too. It’s a fair proposition; you don’t have to buy it, but you get something that appreciably changes and improves the game if you do.

      You can say, well, maybe they should release it as a whole separate thing and bunch 8-10 together. But the economics of that get tricky from a developer side. And also: it’s still an add-on to the original game. The Intellivision wouldn’t support that unless it’s free.

      Which some devs might want to do, but you can also understand why not everyone can continue to work on a project years after release if they haven’t got a good enough ROI for the effort. Everybody has to eat.

      It just smacks of a product that hasn’t thought through why anyone would want to make content for it. And without the content, why buy?

      • Is something akin to Civilization relevant to the Intellivision tho? I read the article, and think of the historical Intellivision (and Atari for that matter) and I think simple one and done games. Cookie Monster Munch was actually a title that my sister had for the 2600, along with Big Bird’s Egg Catch.

        With a Civ situation, rather than nickle and diming the consumer in drips and drabs, wait until you’ve got a decent amount of content and then re-release the game as the ‘enhanced’ variant. Since you had the original sales of the game gone through, price it down accordingly since its been on the market some time (unless your name is Nintendo) but keep it at a reasonable level to account for the work thats gone in for the new content.

        • Or, devs could continue to work on and support a game with the knowledge that there is a revenue stream pertaining to it that won’t tail off almost immediately.

          The notion that DLC content is something held back from the release of the game is flawed. Sometimes it’s the case, certainly – especially for things like day-one DLC. But in a lot of cases, it’s something that lets the dev team keep working on both the paid AND the free updates that the game will receive. It’s tough to support long-term support of a game without actually getting paid to do it, but modern games receive much, much longer periods of support than they did in the past. Even if you don’t buy the DLC – and nobody is forcing anyone to do so – you still get patches, updates and, often, additional features that would never otherwise be possible.

          That’s not something that’s going to be relevant to many of the games on this system, sure… but as the article says, that isn’t necessarily to the system’s benefit.

  • The Intellivision was the first console I owned and as a result, holds are very special place for me, and this does seem to be doing some cool stuff. But I think I’ll be giving this a miss regardless, at least until the price drops.

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