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The Atari VCS Controversies Thread

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This isn't a reply to anyone particular, just a clarification.

 

As a sidenote for readers, most of the valuable newer "Atari" arcade IP ended up back with Warner Bros, because the Atari arcade unit became an independent entity and eventually became part of Midway--and the IP eventually floated back to WB.  For instance, Atari doesn't own Marble Madness or Klax.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atari_Games

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Even it's heyday, Atari was digging their own grave.  This road to nowhere started when most of us were kids.

 

Atari made big splashes with ports of other people's games, but that isn't a long term strategy.  They didn't invest enough in the future.  They burned out before truly enduring game designs emerged, but Atari wasn't serious about making great software, anyhow.  It was just a cash cow.

 

I can excite core gamers with a new Metal Slug with a simple paint by numbers status quo project that sticks to the formula.  Over at Atari, the IP is so ancient; there isn't a single microwavable reboot in the entire catalog.

 

In a comedy of errors, Atari atarved the arcade business for years and jettisoned the unit at the moment it created valuable IP (that the company desperately needs right now).  Atari has done very little right.

 

And, so, here we are:  a video game company with no video game IP.  I wouldn't personally invest a dime in Atari until they get serious about creating (some kind of) IP of their own.  There are other businesses they could pursue, but not without innovation.

 

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Yeah, I'm surprised and somewhat perplexed by the number of people who have no idea that everything that Atari did in arcades after summer '84 (under the label Atari Games, Time Warner Interactive or Midway West), doesn't belong to what most people think of as Atari (or Atari SA right now). That's why when Gauntlet was remade a few years ago (and a very good remake at that, for not being an arcade game), it was under the Warner Games label. They (Warner) also doesn't seem to really know what to do with what they've got apart from Mortal Kombat(and only then they are lucky that Ed Boon is still around and willing to milk that franchise for all it's worth), which is why you haven't seen a new San Francisco Rush, Paperboy or Area 51 in decades. 

 

If you want to know what Atari SA currently has, here's a handy file. It's so meh after they've sold off a ton of IP over the years that they have to pad it with a bunch of unreleased/unfinished prototype games like Black Belt, Akka Arrh and Monte Carlo (that they'll never do anything with - I doubt they even have the source code to any of that).

 

Apart from Rollercoaster Tycoon, which they still haven't announced as coming to the VCS in any way other than being available on Steam, there is very little they have left that will draw people in. Nothing on the level of Halo, Zelda, Spider-man, Call of Duty and all of the other stuff that millions of people want for other, far superior consoles. 

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1 hour ago, orange808 said:

And, so, here we are:  a video game company with no video game IP.

 

Fauxtari is a company that thinks it knows what every IP it has is worth.  What they don't understand is that value is measured based on perception of a finished product, not what someone is willing to pay for a licence to use that IP.  There are a number of titles in there that would make great current-day games (if done right, which means something of a break from the past) that could potentially sustain franchises in the longer term.  But until they quit having the nickel-and-dime licensing mentality and actually focus on how to use what it is that they have, they're going to remain penny-ante paper pushers.  And, given the current executive management of that company, it's probably for the best.

 

1 hour ago, orange808 said:

I wouldn't personally invest a dime in Atari until they get serious about creating (some kind of) IP of their own.  There are other businesses they could pursue, but not without innovation.

 

And that's the problem: none of the things they've undertaken in the past three years have shown a shred of innovation.  Plenty of bandwagoning, coattail-riding, half-assed effort, self-aggrandisement, shadiness, and sheer incompetence, sure - but not one iota of the innovation that Atari was originally known for.  Fauxtari simply can't be anything other than what it is now because the people behind the shitshow don't know any other way to run a company, which is deeply unfortunate.

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3 hours ago, Shaggy the Atarian said:

 

Most companies that have been around since the 70s/80s have had trouble keeping their IP fresh and relevant. Most just reboot/remake their most popular titles until people stop buying them. Atari tried that for a while, now they're simply content with repackaging emulated versions of the originals and milking those for what they can.

 

 If you want to rebuild a video game brand, the best way to do it is through new, innovative and fun IP, while finding ways to refresh old stuff without it being ridiculous (like when Atari tried to reboot Asteroids as a first-person shooter). When's the last time anyone recalls buying a brand new Atari game that blew them away? It's been a long while.  

 

One company that understands this the best, love or hate them, is Nintendo. They've made billions of dollars this year because they know what they are doing, and they're good at their craft. The reasons to buy a Nintendo Switch far outweigh the VCS, Amico, Polycade 2600 or any other retro-focused console, and there's a ton of retro console & arcade goodness to be found on it.

I don't think people understand the importance of games evolving. Mario is a great example and you saw the change change and evolve even just on the NES. Heck even the GB versions had drastic changes between 1, 2, and 3. 

 

Pong Quest is maybe the most "interesting" way to try and freshen up Pong. But at the end of the day it's still Pong. Adventure could have potential as a turn based RPG, or maybe Action RPG, but who is going to build it, and will it actually be innovative? Or will it still use a one color generic Sprite for the protagonist? I think Sega with Sonic even struggled with this. 

 

Most these retro games aren't worth paying more than $1-$5 for what basically just amounts to a reskin when you can find something similar for cheaper that plays better from an indie developer.

Edited by MrBeefy
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I'd think that the IP Atari seem to be getting the most from of late is Cloak and Dagger. 😀

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According to their financial documents, RollerCoaster Tycoon is not an Atari IP, they pay for it and have to renew the contract every 2 or 3 years, so they can lose it.

 

3 hours ago, Shaggy the Atarian said:

If you want to know what Atari SA currently has, here's a handy file. It's so meh after they've sold off a ton of IP over the years that they have to pad it with a bunch of unreleased/unfinished prototype games like Black Belt, Akka Arrh and Monte Carlo (that they'll never do anything with - I doubt they even have the source code to any of that).

Even more, if you remove from the list all the anthologies and arcade hits, and all the derivatives (I mean, they are not listing franchise like Asteroids or Pong or Breakout but every singls game ), and useless thaings for modern reinterpretations (Bacic Programming,n really ?), the list is far shorter.

And even some games do not have a single chance to be used for a renewal. I mean, they could make a new racing game, but they will never be allowed to name it under Indy 500 or Le Mans unless they pay (big money) for it. They just have rights on a 40 years old racing game, not on the name.

 

This list is just a nice post-it for iconic names to be put on retronostalgic t-shirts or caps and make some money, but it cannot be a strong foundation for a 2021 video game strategy.

Of course, if someone come with a nice and fun sport game for the new VCS, they could rename it under the Realsport series, it will be more appealing for hardcore Realsports fans (do they exist ?) or investors, but it will not compete with modern FIFA or NBA games.

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3 hours ago, Shaggy the Atarian said:

They (Warner) also doesn't seem to really know what to do with what they've got apart from Mortal Kombat(and only then they are lucky that Ed Boon is still around and willing to milk that franchise for all it's worth), which is why you haven't seen a new San Francisco Rush, Paperboy or Area 51 in decades. 


It is my understanding (from a Midway employee who figuratively stuck around to turn off the lights after the sale to WB) that Mortal Kombat was the purpose of the purchase. They weren't interested in anything else, but Midway had others a-courtin' and so didn't have to concede to selling their properties piecemeal. So WB just bought the whole operation to get it done and get their hands on MK. 
 

The other Midway properties have mostly been treated as value-add bonus material (e.g. levels in LEGO Dimensions, PR content for Ready Player One, ...) since then.
 

There was the Rampage movie, but as I understand it they were originally going to do Spy Hunter with The Rock until interests shifted. 
 

As far as the Atari Games vs. Atari Inc. properties, I always felt that selling the arcade properties was a fatal move. Video games are lead by innovation and the most innovative boundary pushing at the time was arcade advancement, right up until PlayStation took the wind out of the arcade's sails. That was especially the case as the crash led to a shift toward the PC market. Having to reclaim that innovation ground that they lost through that sale was a handicap that's hard to recover from. 

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Does the VCS not have any potential as a platform for mainly third party games, kind of like the PS1?  Development and publishing costs on VCS are extremely low.   Isnt that a positive aspect of the VCS?

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Just now, AlecRob said:

Does the VCS not have any potential as a platform for mainly third party games, kind of like the PS1?  Development and publishing costs on VCS are extremely low.   Isnt that a positive aspect of the VCS?

The problem is, at base level, it's just a rather low-spec Linux PC with a user base of maybe 10,000 or so.

 

Sure, the barrier to publishing on the VCS is low, but it's not like the barrier to getting a game on Steam is particularly high and that gets you a potential market of 90 million. Then there are all the other online stores: Microsoft, GoG, Origin, Epic, Uplay, Humble, Green Man. They've all got considerably bigger markets than the VCS is likely to have, and some of them will pay good money for exclusive deals too.

 

Unless you're an obscure indie dev with no track record - who'd just get crowded out on Steam or any of the more established platforms - there's little incentive in putting your games on the VCS, and even less for making them exclusive.

 

 

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2 hours ago, MrBeefy said:

Pong Quest is maybe the most "interesting" way to try and freshen up Pong. But at the end of the day it's still Pong. Adventure could have potential as a turn based RPG, or maybe Action RPG, but who is going to build it, and will it actually be innovative? Or will it still use a one color generic Sprite for the protagonist? I think Sega with Sonic even struggled with this. 

And that's the problem when you let a license untouched for too long. If Adventure had evolved for four decades, it would probably be some kind of action-RPG like Dark Souls these days, and Haunted House would be a rival to Resident Evil and Silent Hill. 😅 But if you release a Dark Souls-like called Adventure now, people will find it far fetched like they did for that Asteroids Outpost game that was never released a few years ago. It's too late. :(

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6 hours ago, Matt_B said:

I'd think that the IP Atari seem to be getting the most from of late is Cloak and Dagger. 😀

 

Strangely enough, that's actually one of the ones I had in mind for a modern remake.  There are a number of ways that it could be adapted (and adapted well) for a modern audience, but, as Fauxtari couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery, they'll just sit on it, waiting for someone to come along and try to make it work as-is on mobile because they'll get $4-digit-number in licensing fees.

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5 hours ago, roots.genoa said:

And that's the problem when you let a license untouched for too long. If Adventure had evolved for four decades, it would probably be some kind of action-RPG like Dark Souls these days, and Haunted House would be a rival to Resident Evil and Silent Hill. 😅 But if you release a Dark Souls-like called Adventure now, people will find it far fetched like they did for that Asteroids Outpost game that was never released a few years ago. It's too late. :(

It's just a question of name recognition.  Very few 80's game titles still have name recognition among current-generation players.  Unless you're a game historian or well into your 40's, "Adventure", "Haunted House", and "Cloak and Dagger" are just nouns to you.  If you're going to make a new game, it makes little sense to tie it to an otherwise meaningless name like that.  While the concepts and gameplay may still have value, you'd be better off using a more evocative or unique name (e.g. "Silent Hill").

 

In order to be valuable, the name had to have a continuing presence among a significant percentage of the audience over the decades. There are very few games from the 80's that have had that kind of presence for the last 40 years. Tetris and Pac-Man are a couple of the few examples that come to mind.

 

I'd argue even the really huge hits from the 80's have low recognizability among most current players.  Tempest is a rare example of a game that has been remade/upgraded a few times (thanks, Yak!) and had some success, but even that has a pretty niche audience.  Asteroids, Missile Command, Defender, Joust and Battlezone are some of the most successful games from the era, but do those names have any meaning to the average game player under 30?  As foundational as Pong and Breakout were, does a kid these days recognize those names, and will their attention be held for more than 15 seconds by any modern game based on such simple mechanics?

 

I think the most valuable thing Atari has going for it is the name "Atari" itself and its logo.  It's remained present over the years and is still recognizable to players and non-players alike.  Despite everything, it still has a cool retro factor that nothing else really has.  The success of the VCS campaign was due to the Atari name and the retro look of the device.  Atari didn't promise any specific new games, or show any software we don't already have access to.  Everyone got excited because it was "Atari", and that was enough for many people.

 

The smart thing to do would be for Atari to become a publisher for new games from small/indie development teams. That would have real value, as being associated with "Atari" would give your game an immediate boost in recognition. 

 

Of course, in order to be successful as a publisher, the Atari name would have to be owned and managed by people who knew and cared about what they were doing. That's something we haven't seen in decades.

 

 

Edited by jamm
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2 minutes ago, jamm said:

It's just a question of name recognition.  Very few 80's game titles still have name recognition among current-generation players.  Unless you're a game historian or well into your 40's, "Adventure", "Haunted House", and "Cloak and Dagger" are just nouns to you.  If you're going to make a new game, it makes little sense to tie it to an otherwise meaningless name like that.  While the concepts and gameplay may still have value, you'd be better off using a more evocative or unique name (e.g. "Silent Hill").

 

I mostly agree with what you're saying here.  However, I think that it is possible to reuse the name of an existing IP and create new games under that name.  Granted, it will be an uphill struggle to establish that name in the marketplace simply because there are so many other franchises out there - but that's where having standout gameplay will make or break the title.  Ditto not simply rehashing the original game or leaning on a small potential group of buyers' nostalgia: that's never a formula for success, particularly in today's market.

 

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10 hours ago, MrBeefy said:

I don't think people understand the importance of games evolving. Mario is a great example and you saw the change change and evolve even just on the NES. Heck even the GB versions had drastic changes between 1, 2, and 3. 

 

Pong Quest is maybe the most "interesting" way to try and freshen up Pong. But at the end of the day it's still Pong. Adventure could have potential as a turn based RPG, or maybe Action RPG, but who is going to build it, and will it actually be innovative? Or will it still use a one color generic Sprite for the protagonist? I think Sega with Sonic even struggled with this. 

 

Most these retro games aren't worth paying more than $1-$5 for what basically just amounts to a reskin when you can find something similar for cheaper that plays better from an indie developer.

You have to ask yourself, how much is the name worth?  Like you said, a great modern game could be built off something like (to use one example) Asteroids.  But if some talented dev goes and makes an amazing game about blowing up space rocks, does it really benefit them to brand it as Asteroids?  At this point, the Asteroids name has so little cache that they might get more publicity just by having a cool game.

 

These IPs have been lowered to the point where, between l'Atari and the devs, it's not clear who is doing who the favor.

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

 

Strangely enough, that's actually one of the ones I had in mind for a modern remake.


Pretty sure that Cloak & Dagger would be entangled in the tie-in movie licence. 

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16 minutes ago, JeffVav said:


Pretty sure that Cloak & Dagger would be entangled in the tie-in movie licence. 

Maybe, maybe not.  Film licenses generally only cover the content of the film, but not original works that the film may be derived from.  Lord of the Rings is a good example of this.

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8 hours ago, Fadest said:

According to their financial documents, RollerCoaster Tycoon is not an Atari IP, they pay for it and have to renew the contract every 2 or 3 years, so they can lose it.

 

Even more, if you remove from the list all the anthologies and arcade hits, and all the derivatives (I mean, they are not listing franchise like Asteroids or Pong or Breakout but every singls game ), and useless thaings for modern reinterpretations (Bacic Programming,n really ?), the list is far shorter.

And even some games do not have a single chance to be used for a renewal. I mean, they could make a new racing game, but they will never be allowed to name it under Indy 500 or Le Mans unless they pay (big money) for it. They just have rights on a 40 years old racing game, not on the name.

 

 

And this is a big problem for Atari. Half the games that people remember playing are from Activision, or Imagic, or Parker Bothers. A big chunk of Atari's library was also stuff like Casino, Hangman, Surround, 3-D Tic Tac Toe, and the like. The games were so simple that they didn't even qualify as intellectual property.

 

But to reiterate for the thousandth time, this is what happens when you're an IP holding company and not an actual videogame company. Nintendo succeeds because they've evolved their properties as a videogame company through the years. "Atari" just tries to find ways to resell 40-year-old stuff.

 

I think virtually all of us here are Atari fans because they were innovators in a new form of entertainment. I wouldn't have given a crap about Nolan's Atari either of he'd just tried to sell me the crap my grandfather played with.

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It was discussed in the original thread awhile back, but 3rd party development is largely reliant on two things: 1) being supported (you expect design docs, a developer device, someone at hand to answer questions) - Jani seems to have had that but he is the first person we know of that has 2) a player base that is going to buy your game, possibly simply by random and because its available in an accessible way. If you are generous and expect a 1% take up rate as a 3rd party developer, then on the VCS we're talking at most a couple of hundred. Assuming your game is relatively retro, easy to make, priced accordingly, you might make 8 or 9 $ profit on each sale. Aiming for $1,000 turnover is not a viable business plan. 

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Nintendo have rights on charaters, not generics game names.

You can't use Donkey Kong, Mario, Yoshi... in a video game, but you can name your game Adventure, Tempest, Joust, Sentinel... if you want as they are common names.

For me, Sentinel is a 3D game from the 80s, not the one from Atari.

Of course, if you make a joust game with ostriches, you may have trouble, or a tunnel 3D shooter named Tempest, because in fact, their IP are the combinaison of a generic name and a specific type of game.

 

After the split between home market and arcade market, Atari just forgot to manage its IP portfolio, they just tried to revive it with the Jaguar (the 2000 series). And what they did with the Jaguar was far more interesting than what they are doing now. But in the 90's, nostalgia and retrogaming was not a successful way to make business.

 

 

 

 

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13 minutes ago, Fadest said:

But in the 90's, nostalgia and retrogaming was not a successful way to make business.

 

I'd suggest that it still isn't a viable business model.  Everyone who cares about the type of nostalgia being peddled is going to die off sooner rather than later, leading to an ever-shrinking pool of potential customers.

 

Sure, you'll get a few people outside of the target demographic who buy in, but their numbers are typically pretty small by comparison.

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agree, but you can go outside this niche nostalgic market if you do well. Many indie games have a lot of success, surfing on retro-nostalgia pixel art mode. Using CGA mode, or GB style graphics, even 3D flat  or minimalistic rendering.

I'm pretty sure that a game in 2 colors like "Return of the Obra Dinn" in 1993 would have been a flop. Becasue it would have been in 2 colors, when 256 colors was the norm, and "true color" the goal.

Because we wanted more, more colors, more 3D, more complex scenarios, more "things that have never been done before". Reinterpretation of old games was not something really appealing (even if perfectly done like Tempest 2000)

 

But one thing is still real in 2020 : you have to put lot of work and passion in your game, if you want to give it a chance to be a success. And none of these terms apply to Atari right now in my opinion.

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15 hours ago, Shaggy the Atarian said:

 

 

One company that understands this the best, love or hate them, is Nintendo. They've made billions of dollars this year because they know what they are doing, and they're good at their craft. The reasons to buy a Nintendo Switch far outweigh the VCS, Amico, Polycade 2600 or any other retro-focused console, and there's a ton of retro console & arcade goodness to be found on it.

 

Yep. Love them or loathe them, Nintendo owns this "family console" space hands down and they somehow manage to keep their IP Fresh.
BTW, I don't agree that Atari only has a few IP they can leverage.  With some creativity and good production values, they could relaunch a good portion of what they own, but the games have to be good too.

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14 hours ago, orange808 said:

This isn't a reply to anyone particular, just a clarification.

 

As a sidenote for readers, most of the valuable newer "Atari" arcade IP ended up back with Warner Bros, because the Atari arcade unit became an independent entity and eventually became part of Midway--and the IP eventually floated back to WB.  For instance, Atari doesn't own Marble Madness or Klax.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atari_Games

Yeah, but all the more reason to get all the coin-op IP back under the same roof.

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