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Should we get excited about the Ataribox?

Posted by Alex Perryman on 24th July 2017

Following a teaser campaign at E3, Atari has just released initial images of the design of its Ataribox, the company’s first video games console since the Jaguar in 1993.

I’ve always been a massive nerd when it comes to old microcomputers. Admittedly, I can’t tell my ‘Call of Duty’ from my ‘No Man’s Sky’, (dated references, I suspect), but I have an attic crammed full of early consoles and microcomputers (laaaaaaadies). BBC Micos, Orics, Spectrums, Commodore-Amigas, Acorns, you name it.

Some time ago I went on a brief quest for originally-boxed home 1970s-1980s computers and consoles on the assumption that they might be worth something some day. And much as my father once tried to corner the market in (supposedly soon-to-be-valuable) antique shoelasts, I’ll probably just end up with a garage full of worthless nonsense.

Atari has always held a special place in my heart. I own two 2600s, (Atari’s famous wood-and-plastic games console form the late 70s), and have, on more than one occasion, fired one of them up for a quick game of Asteroids or Missile Command.

I’ll be keen to understand the internals of the new console. Atari has some stiff competition on its hands; Sony continues to throw raw brute processing power at its boxes, and Nintendo, wisely, has carved itself a niche exploring novel user experiences and new forms of user input.

So far, Atari’s USP seems to be that they’ll re-release old games on the box. Doesn’t exactly sound like a winner. At least not unless they’re pricing the box extremely cheaply. Nintendo wasn’t able to price its Nintendo Classic Mini recently at much more than £70. Atari’s device, with an optional glass front, rumoured PC internals, four USB ports and an SD slot, already feels like it’s reaching for a higher-end market.

Messaging so far seems to indicate that Atari is planning on releasing ‘current’ content alongside ‘classic’ content. But people aren’t likely to drop a couple of hundred quid on a box for nostalgia value, if it can’t play decent new games. The real question is, without some serious grunt behind it, will the market for this box exist? I’m not convinced.

Secondly, let’s talk about the look. The Atari 2600 was iconic, and I understand that Atari would want to leverage that. But the Ataribox doesn’t seem to have committed to looking either modern or retro. Instead, it’s blended the two in a way that, weirdly, looks dated straight-out-of-the-box, and not in a good way.

I’m hoping Atari surprises me. No-one wants to see the Ataribox buried in the desert alongside all those unsold copies of 1983’s E.T. videogame tie-in. But this isn’t a market in which you can go off half-cocked.

I wish them well, but Atari comes out with internals that absolutely blows people away with its spec, or a ludicrously low price point, or some other USP, it’s hard to see how it will claim market share from incumbents.

Alex Perryman

Alex joined Wildfire in 2007. He is renowned for his ability to pick up complex technologies and new industries extremely quickly.