Atari’s very first video game console was originally branded as the Video Computer System, or VCS. So it is perhaps not surprising, given the wave of personal technology nostalgia that is currently sweeping a certain demographic, that the firm will brand its new console as the VCS as well.
“Every person at Atari and every partner involved with the new platform is just as fanatical about the brand and its heritage as our biggest fans are,” Atari COO Michael Arzt says. “With the Atari VCS name, we know how important it is to get everything completely right and that’s why we briefly paused an imminent launch late last year. It was a difficult decision with the countdown underway, but we weren’t willing to go forward with even one thing out of alignment. We hope that Atari’s fans appreciate our extreme attention to detail and are as excited about the Atari VCS as we are.”
Mr. Arzt is referring there to the fact that Atari had previously announced that it would ship a new console, then dubbed the Ataribox, by the end of 2017. The goal, then as now, was to take advantage of two increasingly popular trends: A dramatic upswing in the popularity of video games as a first-class entertainment experience and a surge in nostalgia among a generation of younger folk who are not spending money on traditional big purchases like homes and cars and thus have lots of disposable income.
Obviously, the Ataribox brand was, well, terrible. And while one might debate whether Atari reusing the VCS brand is wise, I like it: The brand has positive connotations, and of course, the product itself looks a lot like that original VCS by design. In many ways, the new console has as much in common with the original as the modern Volkswagen Beetle does with the original car.
In any event, the newly-dubbed Atari VCS will be shown off publicly this week at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. And Atari says “the objective” is to reveal a pre-order date for the console in April. I assume the plan is to ship this thing in time for the holiday selling period at the latest.
As for the console itself, it will “serve up lots of classic content,” as Atari puts it—-I assume that means “play classic Atari games,” of which there are many. (I suspect it’s just a small PC running emulation software.) But it is apparently really designed as a completely new hub device or appliance for the living room. It is perhaps notable that the division of Atari that is responsible for the VCS is called Connected Devices.
What that means, however, is still unclear. And the Atari announcement is about as vague as it can be. And my expectation is that this console could see some short-term success if it simply sticks to bringing classic Atari games—spanning its VCS/2600, 5200, 7800, and XE Game System consoles, plus its consumer-oriented computers like the 400/800, XE-series, and maybe even ST-series—to the 21st-century living room.