In case you might have missed it, Atari announced that it was getting back into the console business with the announcement of the cryptic AtariBox, a new console that promises to play both classic and new games alike. Details are very few at this point in time, but it does paint an interesting picture when it comes to the company’s future.
Now it’s just a question of seeing what Atari’s learned from its previous console designs. It’s obviously done well in the industry over the past few years, but it’s also seen its share of pratfalls and failures, and, hopefully, it’s applied what it’s learned from those mistakes into assuring that the AtariBox is nothing short of successful.
Here are some things that Atari can learn from what it’s done with previous consoles, and, hopefully, we’ll see the AtariBox shine just as well as other console offerings on the market. Whenever it arrives, of course.
First off, the Atari 2600 succeeded back in the late 70’s and early 80’s because Atari knew how to capitalize on success. It made a number of its arcade hits playable on the home front, and although they weren’t quite perfect, they were reasonably good (save for Pac-Man – yuck). It also worked well with third parties to establish a strong library for the system, like with Activision, who provided a number of hits including Pitfall! and Keystone Kapers, amongst countless others.
So what can Atari learn? It needs to have a strong mixture of games in order for the AtariBox to succeed. Big licenses are nice, but they aren’t everything. Look at E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. It was made in a short amount of time and overmarketed like crazy, and it turned into one of Atari’s biggest bombs – and it was also part of the blame revolving around the Video Game Crash of 1983, even though it wasn’t the primary reason. Atari needs to be careful to make sure that it covers all its bases with its new system, and doesn’t necessarily pour its entire budget into that one big title. Get the indies and the third-parties on board, and keep them happy.
Following the release of the Atari 2600, the company attempted to bounce back on the market with the Atari 7800. Even in the face of Nintendo’s newly released NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), the company tried to capitalize on its history with a number of original and popular titles, including arcade ports of games like Joust and Asteroids. The system did okay for a few years, but was eventually discontinued in 1992 when Atari realized they couldn’t beat Nintendo.
So what can Atari learn? A couple of things. First off, gaming software is great, but it’s really more about quality than quantity, and the publisher needs to make sure it’s going to get games that AtariBox owners will be proud of. On top of that, it doesn’t hurt to have a few classic games thrown in for good measure, but maybe not an over-reliance. The company needs to find that happy balance between old-school and new-school to keep people entertained. On top of that, pricing is important, too. The Atari 7800 was a pretty good deal for $80, and Atari needs to find some sort of happy medium with the AtariBox. $99 would be perfect, but more than likely, we’ll see something around $149-$199 – which still isn’t bad, but Atari needs to show its value.
Atari attempted to enter the gaming market yet again in 1993 with the Atari Jaguar, the first “real” 64-bit console on the market. It also went after some big developers to make killer games for the system, including Alien vs. Predator (which is considered by many to be a classic) and Tempest 2000. Unfortunately, the system didn’t fare as well as expected, mainly due to lackluster games (like, ugh, Fight For Life) and a poor choice in advertising (like a weird-as-hell Jaguar infomercial – just, no). As a result, the system faded from the market, and Atari was forced to try again.
So what can Atari learn? A couple of things. First off, while the Jaguar was a pretty practical system, it had one of the weirdest controllers out there, with a bunch of numbers on the mad that rarely came into use with more casual games. Atari needs to jettison this design in favor of a more traditional controller design for the AtariBox, something that makes it easy to enjoy old and new games. We don’t really need a number pad to enjoy all these games – just something along the lines of what Sony did with its DualShock line-up. It can’t be an exact copy, mind you, but you get the idea.
Also, consistency. Atari needs to make sure that it has a strong line-up for the AtariBox at launch, and then keep the games flowing both from its own end and its third parties. Otherwise, we’re going to have another OUYA on our hands, and God knows we don’t need to see that kind of mistake again. Atari needs to have a hell of a road map lined up so that the AtariBox can succeed, and not necessarily just a good welcome mat.
In an attempt to revitalize its failing Atari Jaguar market, the publisher decided to release an odd-looking CD add-on that would expand its capabilities, and attempted to capitalize upon it with games like Primal Rage, Battlemorph and others. Unfortunately, the CD add-on suffered an even quicker death, and got major criticism for looking like what appears to be a toilet seat.
So what can Atari learn? Well, the first thing I can think of is design, but considering the AtariBox’s sleek look and tribute to the classic Atari 2600 wood grain motif, it’s safe to say that they’ve kinda figured it out. It would be tough for Atari to release yet another system that looks like a toilet seat.
Also, keep it basic. If Atari is going to go all out to crowdfund this thing, it should make sure that the system is the complete package and doesn’t require any sort of add-ons or memory storage upgrades down the road to keep up its efficiency. They need to assure that the system is ready to go and won’t hold back on giving players the experience they want. Again, it comes full circle back to the games and long-term support. Otherwise, we could very well see a repeat of what happened with the Jaguar, and no one wants that. Atari needs to shine again, and the AtariBox is its best bet.