Atari would love to ship its VCS console but – would ya believe it – there's yet another delay. This time, it's the coronavirus's fault

If you've splashed out, you may get one before the heat death of the universe

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Long-suffering Atari lovers will have to wait even longer for their over-priced, under-powered retro console, the intellectual-property shell company that owns the Atari brand, warned on Tuesday.

This time it isn’t because there is a new AMD chip, or because the accessories aren’t ready, or its chief architect has quit claiming he hasn’t been paid for six months. No, this time it is the novel coronavirus.

“We are in close contact with our teams in China,” the biz announced, adding: "When the factory reopens, they will gauge the impact that the Coronavirus may or may not have on the next few weeks of production.”

It has been two-and-a-half years since Atari said it would relaunch its iconic VCS console – initially called the Ataribox – almost certainly in an effort to ride the hype over a new Bladerunner movie that featured Atari's logo. The company had no blueprints, no plans, and no hardware staff at the time, yet the idea took off and it banked $3m in pre-orders.

It promised the console would launch in December 2017, and then cancelled it at the last minute, saying nothing until March 2018 when representatives popped up at the Games Developer Conference in San Francisco and tried to pretend that it was absolutely fine to show an empty plastic box as evidence of a real product.

A year later, and Atari had seemingly spent all its money turning a pipedream into an actual product, so it launched for pre-orders again – except the price had jumped from $199 to $239 – or $329 with a retro controller that was now being sold separately.

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It then missed its second launch date of July 2019, and celebrated by launching yet another pre-order service. And, yes, the price went up yet again, putting it in the same price bracket as upcoming consoles from Sony and Microsoft: an increasingly ludicrous market strategy.

Atari, at that point, had given a launch date of March 2020, and promised a major progress update by the end of September. And, naturally enough, it failed to reveal any substantial progress, prompting us to dig into whether the Atari VCS was ever going to be launched.

Sure enough, we soon discovered its chief architect was upset he hadn’t been paid for six months, and in October, he quit the entire project, forcing Atari to find someone else to build its box. We also discovered just how uninspiring the project was going to be: rather than a games console, it will basically be a mid-range PC in a box.

We didn’t even bother to attend Atari's fourth “launch” at CES last month, which, yet again, took place in a hotel room close to the electronics conference rather than at the actual event. Atari did at least have a functioning prototype that time.

atari

Time to check in again on the Atari retro console… dear God, it’s actually got worse

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However, in your humble vulture's opinion, the Atari VCS is looking increasingly like a bust. Massively over-priced for what it is. No native apps. Seemingly no ability to develop games specifically for it, or even port games over. A clunky user-interface. A streaming games service that you have to pay extra for. The Atari VCS is an Atari simulator priced the same as a PlayStation 5. But it is possible those who paid way too much, far too long ago, may actually get a product at the end of this painfully inept project.

Well, once the coronavirus is dealt with of course.

In the meantime, Atari’s boss has moved on and is figuring out how to make money for another vaporware concept: Atari hotels, where you go and play games. And despite everything, this completely unworkable idea was given widespread press coverage by an unquestioning hype-led bunch of donkeys in the tech media.

“Thanks for your ongoing support, enthusiasm and understanding,” Atari closed out its blog post. A truly inspiring message and one that is perfectly normal from a games company. ®

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