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Mockduck

Native emulation, "direct access", Homebrew and more: Atari Annual Results release

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Interesting status update and info from a quarterly financial filing by Atari: https://finance.yahoo.com/news/atari-annual-results-2020-2021-170000106.html?guccounter=1
 

Quote

 

ATARI VCS

The Atari VCS began shipping to original backers at the end of 2020 for the pre-orders made through the Indiegogo platform. Direct preorder sales began shipping in Q1 of 2021. The retail and commercial launch started in June 2021 with outlets including GameStop, Best Buy and Micro Center in the USA, along with JB Hi-Fi and other distributors in Australia and New Zealand. The team is focused on additional Atari VCS deliveries in anticipation of the 2021 holiday season, while evaluating opportunities to add additional retail markets in 2022.

 

In the coming months, Atari will continue to build out the content offerings and capabilities of the VCS including:

  • Food Fight – Recently-announced reimagining of the arcade & 7800 classic, coming first to Atari VCS in 2021 with exclusive features.

  • Additional indie publishers and developers bringing innovative and original games to the platform, including Graffiti Games, Akupara, and others.

  • More Atari franchise ports, such as Tempest 4000, Rollercoaster Tycoon and others.

  • Native retro emulation, starting with titles from the Atari 7800 and DOS PC games.

  • Atari VCS Homebrew Initiative, offering creator and community sharing tools for amateur game makers.

  • Cloud game streaming with direct access to popular services like Stadia, GeForce Now, Luna and Xbox

  • Enhanced productivity with direct access to Google’s G-Suite of Gmail, Sheets, Slides and other apps.

  • Streamlined access to PC Mode, with easy-to-use USB thumb drive accessories.

Earlier in the document, they discussed some of the difficulties in getting the VCS to market:

 

BUSINESS OVERVIEW AND REVENUE

 

As of March 31, 2021, Atari is reporting consolidated revenue of €21.4m, compared with €24.0m the previous year. The decrease (-10.9% at current exchange rates and -6.9% at constant exchange rates) is related to the drop in licensing revenue, down almost 45%, which has been significantly affected by Covid-19 and to a lesser degree to the slowdown in the video game division; faced with rising user acquisition costs the decision was taken to optimize marketing spend, thus improving the profitability of the video games division. These trends overshadow the ramp up of the first deliveries of the Atari VCS since December 2020 and the start of the blockchain activities, which account for nearly 12% of revenue for the period. The activities related to NFTs and the Atari Token started during this year and generated €2.5m of revenue.

 

 

Here in particular are things that seemed worth breaking out into their own discussions:

 

1. Sounds like we are finally getting Tempest 4000 and Rollercoaster Tycoon.

2. "Native" retro emulation is very interesting, mentioned on their web site as well. Could be super sweet.

3. The "homebrew initiative" sounds ambitious. Also sounds like a project that could easily fail and be tough to do right. But maybe?

4. Cloud game streaming with "direct" access along with "direct" access to the G-Suite. Does this mean more than just front end links in AtariOS? Maybe, maybe not? 

5. "Streamlined" access to PC Mode with easy to use USB thumb drive accessories. I'm - guessing - this means you can buy an Atari/PowerA or something branded Windows 10 USB on a stick?

 

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"faced with rising user acquisition costs the decision was taken to optimize marketing spend, thus improving the profitability of the video games division."

 

This reads to me like they had X amount of money set aside to market the launch of the VCS, but since they couldn't get shipments out and aren't selling that well, they cut back on their marketing spend to make the number higher on the video games division side.

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7 minutes ago, Mockduck said:

"faced with rising user acquisition costs the decision was taken to optimize marketing spend, thus improving the profitability of the video games division."

 

This reads to me like they had X amount of money set aside to market the launch of the VCS, but since they couldn't get shipments out and aren't selling that well, they cut back on their marketing spend to make the number higher on the video games division side.

It is annoying as hell when companies can´t tell it straight. It would have been nice if we could have seen how the various sectors of the company were doing. Both in terms of costs and income. 

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21 minutes ago, youxia said:

"Native retro emulation" - what does that even mean?

Maybe native to Atari OS mode rather than PC mode? 

 

38 minutes ago, Mockduck said:

The "homebrew initiative" sounds ambitious. Also sounds like a project that could easily fail and be tough to do right. But maybe?

To me it sounds relatively straightforward,  probably a section of the Atari store that would allow user-created content with a warning about the uncurated nature of it.   I have written four games that run on Linux that I would be willing to port to it.

 

48 minutes ago, Mockduck said:

"Streamlined" access to PC Mode with easy to use USB thumb drive accessories. I'm - guessing - this means you can buy an Atari/PowerA or something branded Windows 10 USB on a stick?

You can already plug in a refind USB stick that will give you the power to select an OS.  Problem is this consumes a USB port.  What I'm hoping for instead is maybe a USB drive loaded with tools that allow you to alter the boot order or other BIOS settings--  they DID promise a better solution to access the non-dangerous parts of the BIOS,  maybe that's what this is?

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Copied over from the previous thread:

 

I'm wondering if they just inadvertently spilled the beans regarding Tastemakers' future plans (emphasis mine):

Quote

The Atari Group has successfully launched new business lines in the recent years and intends to pursue such initiatives. The Atari arcade gaming machines launched under license by Arcade 1 Up / Tastemakers, LLC prove to be a continuing success. The Atari Group has recently extended the scope of that partnership, adding new games, new models and even home casual slot machines. As a result, the licensing agreement has been extended until 2029.

Hadn't heard anything previously about plans to launch a range of slot machines for home use.  Granted, I'm not really terribly interested in gambling machines so could easily have missed that one, but it's an interesting statement.

 

Eight years on the licensing agreement sounds lengthy to me (I would have expected 3 to 5, max.), but not knowing the terms of the contract can't really say much beyond that.

 

Most of the rest of it looks like what would have been expected.

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2 hours ago, Mockduck said:

"faced with rising user acquisition costs the decision was taken to optimize marketing spend, thus improving the profitability of the video games division."

 

This reads to me like they had X amount of money set aside to market the launch of the VCS, but since they couldn't get shipments out and aren't selling that well, they cut back on their marketing spend to make the number higher on the video games division side.

My suspicion: this covers both pre- and post-VCS launch.  Getting them into retail channels appeared to be somewhat rocky for Atari, and there would have been costs attached to that.  Not to mention that the timing of the launch in relation to the chip shortage likely drove up BOM prices and all of that means thinner margins in the marketplace.

 

Granted, that's all speculation.  But, given what little we know of what went on, it seems reasonable.

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On 8/17/2021 at 11:49 AM, youxia said:

"Native retro emulation" - what does that even mean?

I suspect by Native retro emulation Atari means emulation directly built into the Atari OS as opposed to PC mode.  This should be interesting as Atari will have to be careful about licensing for games and hardware that they emulate but this is very exciting this is something they are looking to add to the Atari OS.  This would be a great feature to add as a selling point.

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5 hours ago, Tidus79001 said:

I suspect by Native retro emulation Atari means emulation directly built into the Atari OS as opposed to PC mode.  This should be interesting as Atari will have to be careful about licensing for games and hardware that they emulate but this is very exciting this is something they are looking to add to the Atari OS.  This would be a great feature to add as a selling point.

This came up in another thread but it would seem like Atari could easily launch something like Stella onto the VCS as a download/update that would allow for games to be processed via USB or other input, similar to the Flashbacks. On licensing, I have no idea how that works but I will say they should prioritize getting as many Activision games on the VCS as possible. It's a huge hole in the content library right now, given the mass appeal many of those games had.

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Stella is free and open source so there are no issues with including it in a commercial release. Atari's only obligation would be to publish the source for any modified versions that they might make. There are similar emulation options for all the popular Atari consoles and computers. Licensed game images bundled with free emulators is already how a large chunk of the games on GoG work, although in their case it's mostly DOSBox.

 

Activision, Imagic, etc. are obviously open to doing deals - based on their presence on the Flashback consoles - but I'd doubt that the VCS would have the install base to justify something similar.

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54 minutes ago, Matt_B said:

 

 

Activision, Imagic, etc. are obviously open to doing deals - based on their presence on the Flashback consoles - but I'd doubt that the VCS would have the install base to justify something similar.

Please explain.

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2 minutes ago, Atarick said:

Please explain.

There are less than 20,000 VCS units in existence which greatly limits the market for any releases on it.


Ports of indies and games that Atari own are possibilities. Anything that requires a deal with a major third party probably isn't.

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1 hour ago, Matt_B said:

There are less than 20,000 VCS units in existence which greatly limits the market for any releases on it.


Ports of indies and games that Atari own are possibilities. Anything that requires a deal with a major third party probably isn't.

Thanks, that makes sense. Did the Flashbacks really sell more than that? Like by a lot? I'd have guessed 50-75K, but maybe that's a crazy number. I'd like to think they can bring those games over somehow, someday.

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10 hours ago, Atarick said:

Did the Flashbacks really sell more than that? Like by a lot? I'd have guessed 50-75K, but maybe that's a crazy number. 

The first Flashback sold 500.000. The Flashback 2 sold 860.000. I don´t know about the others.

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"Cloud game streaming with direct access to popular services like Stadia, GeForce Now, Luna and Xbox" 

It would be necessary that the modern controller be recognized as an xbox 360 controller under AtariOS even wireless ... Under Xbox Cloud with chrome under AtariOS I can not use the modern controller it is not recognized even by connecting it with a wire. I am forced to return under W10. Have you tested yourself under Luna or Stadia ? 

Edited by RadiATIon

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4 minutes ago, RadiATIon said:

"Cloud game streaming with direct access to popular services like Stadia, GeForce Now, Luna and Xbox" 

It would be necessary that the modern controller be recognized as an xbox 360 controller under AtariOS even wireless ... Under Xbox Cloud with chrome under AtariOS I can not use the modern controller it is not recognized even by connecting it with a wire. I am forced to return under W10. 

I haven't taken my VCS out of Windows in 3-4 months, I used a PS4 controller with Stadia when I was using Atari OS Chrome.

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I made a recommendation to Atari a few days ago that they should make the Atari OS a free download for anyone with a compatible Linux-based box to install it on. I suspect this could offer a greater market with which the Atari Store could make some sales, and boost revenue. The only thin I question is how specific was the Atari OS designed around the hardware of the Atari.

 

For me, I have the VCS and totally prefer it on the VCS... but there are those who $200 is make or break, and would much rather spend $100 on a system from NewEgg and load it themselves.

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5 hours ago, 82-T/A said:

I made a recommendation to Atari a few days ago that they should make the Atari OS a free download for anyone with a compatible Linux-based box to install it on. I suspect this could offer a greater market with which the Atari Store could make some sales, and boost revenue. The only thin I question is how specific was the Atari OS designed around the hardware of the Atari.

Given that it's basically an x86/x64 box at its core, I doubt there's much (if anything) tying it specifically to the VCS hardware.  There could be an EFI check or similar going on, but I suspect that's not very likely.  May need to re-roll the kernel and/or LKMs for the target machine, but I can't see anyone going to the trouble of putting together libraries, etc. that would only function on the VCS hardware.

 

Didn't someone manage to get it running on non-native hardware at one point?  I seem to vaguely recall that being the case, but could be mistaken.

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26 minutes ago, x=usr(1536) said:

Given that it's basically an x86/x64 box at its core, I doubt there's much (if anything) tying it specifically to the VCS hardware.  There could be an EFI check or similar going on, but I suspect that's not very likely.  May need to re-roll the kernel and/or LKMs for the target machine, but I can't see anyone going to the trouble of putting together libraries, etc. that would only function on the VCS hardware.

 

Didn't someone manage to get it running on non-native hardware at one point?  I seem to vaguely recall that being the case, but could be mistaken.

 

Yeah, I didn't think so either, but wasn't sure what graphics support there was and whether or not it was specifically hard-coded to work with just that chip set. I'm trying to think of reasons why they would NOT want to do that... but I'm not really seeing any reason why it would necessarily go against any corporate goals? I'd suspect they could even want to partner with a few manufacturers as well to offer cheaper alternatives. Your access, in-store purchases, etc... are all based on your account (which is server-side)... so really, you could put it on anything. How many people would buy it that aren't already Atari fans, I don't know.

 

Either way, I'm having fun with the one I have...

 

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5 minutes ago, 82-T/A said:

 

Yeah, I didn't think so either, but wasn't sure what graphics support there was and whether or not it was specifically hard-coded to work with just that chip set. I'm trying to think of reasons why they would NOT want to do that... but I'm not really seeing any reason why it would necessarily go against any corporate goals? I'd suspect they could even want to partner with a few manufacturers as well to offer cheaper alternatives. Your access, in-store purchases, etc... are all based on your account (which is server-side)... so really, you could put it on anything. How many people would buy it that aren't already Atari fans, I don't know.

 

Either way, I'm having fun with the one I have...

 

Only reason I can think of for tying it to their own hardware (and not offering the OS as a downloadable distro or packages to install on top of an existing distro) would be to not have to support the installation someone does on their already-janky Linux box when it flakes out.  Frankly, I can't fault anyone for taking that approach.

 

I do wonder if they might go to a Steam-ish model for store access, though.  That could be done with a VM if they weren't interested in developing their own equivalent to Steam.

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On 8/20/2021 at 7:06 PM, Matt_B said:

Licensed game images bundled with free emulators is already how a large chunk of the games on GoG work, although in their case it's mostly DOSBox.

 

Activision, Imagic, etc. are obviously open to doing deals - based on their presence on the Flashback consoles - but I'd doubt that the VCS would have the install base to justify something similar.

My understanding is if a game runs on Linux,  the work of porting it to VCS is minimal (cheap).   So they could theoretically make a deal with GoG to bring those DOSbox-wrapped games and easily add them. 

 

16 hours ago, x=usr(1536) said:

I do wonder if they might go to a Steam-ish model for store access, though.  That could be done with a VM if they weren't interested in developing their own equivalent to Steam.

I don't really understand why they did their own store rather than partnering with someone like GoG or Steam.  They could still have an Atari-branded store that features Atari's content, but also offers hundreds of other linux-compatible games from one of those stores.  They could filter out anything beyond the VCS specs, but that still leaves a lot of compatible games.   Nobody would be able to complain about a lack of content in the VCS Store.

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33 minutes ago, zzip said:

My understanding is if a game runs on Linux,  the work of porting it to VCS is minimal (cheap).   So they could theoretically make a deal with GoG to bring those DOSbox-wrapped games and easily add them. 

 

I don't really understand why they did their own store rather than partnering with someone like GoG or Steam.  They could still have an Atari-branded store that features Atari's content, but also offers hundreds of other linux-compatible games from one of those stores.  They could filter out anything beyond the VCS specs, but that still leaves a lot of compatible games.   Nobody would be able to complain about a lack of content in the VCS Store.

Gog or Steam will take about 30%, and Atari wants a cut as well. So they would lose too much to add another layer. 

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7 minutes ago, Mockduck said:

Gog or Steam will take about 30%, and Atari wants a cut as well. So they would lose too much to add another layer. 

But having a larger selection of games makes a more compelling product = bigger pie for everyone to get a cut of.

 

 

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