Atari has spent a long time on the sidelines of the video game console market, but a recent video teaser shows that the historic company is planning to try making a comeback in the hardware business.
This is definitely a surprise turnaround from Atari, as it hasn’t released a console in decades and was was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy only a few years ago. In recent years, though, retro gaming has been gaining steam, as seen with the staggering success of the NES Classic Edition. Atari has managed to get some traction in that retro space, as mobile devices offer a solid platform for simple games.
The teaser video shows off very little of the console, other than a glowing Atari logo on top of wood paneling and a grill-like style reminiscent of the nearly 40-year-old Atari 2600. Given that the video didn’t show up on Atari’s main website, some thought it could be a hoax, but Atari CEO Fred Chesnais confirmed in an interview that the company is “back in the hardware business.” It’s unclear whether this will be a retro console like the NES Classic or a modern console trying to go toe-to-toe with Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch. Chesnais described it as being based on PC technology, but that doesn’t go very far to clarify how it will be positioned in the market.
The NES Classic’s success would be good enough reason for Atari to try its hand at its own retro console. Trying to dive in and compete with the Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch would be a seriously steep uphill battle, and as all the platforms already have large install bases, and solid first-party and platform exclusive games, Atari would have a lot of convincing to do. Being based on PC technology may suggest it’s trying to go more of a Steam Machine route, but PC’s run the gamut from tiny, low-power Raspberry Pi computers to $10,000 powerhouses, and both ends of that spectrum can perform as gaming machines in their own right.
The video game console market has been a narrow field for some time now, especially since Sega dropped out after the sad story of the Dreamcast. Unfortunately, that narrowness doesn’t mean the market is ripe for a new entrant, as we’ve seen even Nintendo struggle with it’s Wii U, and we’ve watched Steam Machines fail to drag PC and console gamers toward an awkward middle ground.
The fervor over the NES Classic could carry over to a similarly positioned Atari console, especially as many people couldn’t get their hands on the retro Nintendo consoles due to demand vastly exceeding supply. Whichever path Atari takes, we’ll all have to wait on new details, as there are currently next to none. We’ll also have to hope it’s not as expensive as Atari’s classic games.