Atari SA Analysis: Will They Support Or Throttle The Atari Homebrew Community?

Yesterday Atari SA, the holding company that licenses Atari I.P. for stuff like hotels and NFTs, announced a re-organization. You can read the entire press release here: Atari announces the creation of two divisions, Atari Gaming and Atari Blockchain, and a change in Leadership

To sum-up the press release, Atari SA is splitting into two divisions. The first divisions will focus on Gaming, the second will focus on Blockchain (although the Gaming division appears to also be a place where they will licenses NFTs which are part of a blockchain, but “details” right?).

Wade J. Rosen, currently Chairman of the Board of Directors of Atari, will become Chief Executive Officer effective April 6, 2021. The Company also announced the creation of 2 divisions, Atari Gaming and Atari Blockchain. Frédéric Chesnais, current CEO, will focus on Licensing and Atari Blockchain.”

Existing Atari SA CEO Fred Chesnais will continue on as the leader for the “Blockchain” and “Licensing” divisions, which it themselves might be spun off into another company, while Wade J. Rosen will take over as full CEO. This feels like demotion for Chesnais, but maybe not. Maybe his desire is to leave the Atari gaming stuff behind and focus on these new areas that appear to interest him so much. The press release continues:

“As part of this venture, Atari is exploring, among several options, the potential structuring of this division as
an autonomous entity with a view to a possible spin-off to Atari shareholders by listing of this new entity.”

A spin-off could mean that Atari SA wants to be able to run the Blockchain company as it’s own company free of baggage of Atari, or it could mean that Atari SA wants to be free of the baggage of Blockchain ventures. The most interesting part of the press release though comes when they describe the Atari VCS (the new hardware they released this year) that Wade J. Rosen will be in-charge of:

Atari will continue to support the Atari VCS through meaningful third-party content and exclusive first-party content. The VCS community has shown an ingenuity and creativity in adapting the system, and Atari
will work to support this by releasing tools that will allow creators the ability to design their own classic Atari
games (beginning with the Atari 2600). With an eventual goal of making it easier to create, share and play
retro gaming content in the modern era.

That last sentence is that part really interests me. Atari support the development of classic games. Will Atari SA finally acknowledge that homebrew community that has grown-up around it’s old consoles on AtariAge.com? Will they work with the homebrewers and not against them? Will we see tools based on existing work like bAtari Basic and Atari Dev Studio running on the VCS, or will we start seeing “cease and desist” orders coming from Atari SA for using their name and/or extending their IP (whatever IP they still might own).

While it’s not clear what Atari SA could actually do to stop homebrew as a whole, just the threat of lawsuit might put a chill into a community that already runs shoestring and is pushed forward by the energy created from nostalgia, nuance and childhood memories.

While I’m happy Atari SA has given Fred Chesnais a “new job” and maybe even a “new company” , and I’m happy it sounds like the new CEO Wade J. Rosen is refocusing on actual games and retro games. I just hope they don’t make the huge mistake of trying to throttle the existing Atari community thinking they can force people to the new Atari VCS platform.

Instead, I hope Mr. Rosen will take a deep. hard look at the existing Atari community and new ventures like Audacity Games, and realizes that Atari SA’s best bet is to provide support tools for homebrew development, as well as build a 2600/5200/7800/Lynx/Jaguar) compatible, HDMI / AV capable console that accepts physical cartridges (think “Atari Retron 5”) The new Atari VCS itself can be recast as development and test platform for Atari games, offering STEM experiences for kids and adults alike. While there is no reason games cannot be released and sold digitally, the zeitgeist of the Atari community (and retro homebrew community as a whole) is physical releases, and it’s time they embraced it for real. It could be beautiful thing, if Atari SA plays it right anyway.

I won’t hold my breath for any of this to happen, but there might be a little glimmer of hope. When I read ” Atari
will work to support this by releasing tools that will allow creators the ability to design their own classic Atari
games (beginning with the Atari 2600). With an eventual goal of making it easier to create, share and play
retro gaming content in the modern era.
it was the first time, in a very long time, it appears that Atari SA was actually examining the true market for the Atari brand, and maybe they will make some good decisions in the near future.

I suppose we will find out in the coming months.

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