The AtariBox console is real: Atari’s back in the hardware biz

Updated on June 19 by Kevin Parrish to reflect that the Atari Jaguar is a multi-processor platform.

Atari CEO Frederic Chesnais admitted during E3 2017 that the company is working on a new gaming console. The revelation surfaced shortly after a tease went live during the gaming convention showcasing what appeared to be a modernized 2600 console. No name was provided during the 21-second tease although the website URL is a giveaway: AtariBox.

“We’re back in the hardware business,” Chesnais said during a brief interview.

Atari could simply be following Nintendo’s lead by conjuring up a miniature, HDTV-ready remake of its classic Atari 2600 console. If we’re lucky, Atari may even fancy cramming Atari 5200, Atari 7800, and Atari Jaguar games into the unit too. If Atari opts to follow the NES Classic Edition path, it may create additional stand-alone consoles if a mini 2600 unit sells.

But Chesnais said the AtariBox will be based on technology found in a PC. Microsoft and Sony took the same route for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, partially because developers use PCs to create their games. The end result is a game that works as intended across the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, but with slight tweaks and exclusive features for each platform.

Atari’s last hardware entry in the home console market was the Jaguar in 1993. It was marketed as the first 64-bit console that could outperform the Sega Genesis (16-bit), the Super Nintendo (16-bit), and the disc-based 3DO (32-bit). But it’s multi-processor design (including Tom and Jerry) made game development for the platform difficult. The console did not catch on either, possibly due to a lackluster game lineup at launch, a lack of good third-party support, and a bundled game that felt more like a boring tech demo.

To make matters worse, the industry began moving games onto optical discs (yes, even Nintendo). Atari tried to keep the Jaguar alive by copying Sega’s CD add-on for the Genesis, and introduce its own Jaguar CD add-on that plugged into the Jaguar’s cartridge port. But by then, Sony introduced the original PlayStation console and Sega had the Sega Saturn. After that, Atari bailed out of the hardware business after publishing 67 games for Jaguar.

Atari’s roller-coaster presence in the gaming market almost came to a close in 2013 when it filed for bankruptcy protection. But the company was rescued by Chesnais, who purchased a 25.23 percent stake. He vowed to bring greatness back to the Atari name.

Years later, Atari generates revenue through Android and iOS games and by licensing its brand. That said, creating an entirely new gaming console based on PC components seemingly came out of nowhere. The company is reportedly still working on the console’s design and plans to share additional information at a later date.

For the record, a console based on PC “technology” doesn’t necessarily mean Atari is going after the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4. For all we know, the AtariBox could run a highly optimized emulator supporting Atari’s complete game library. Hopefully, we will find out what is under the hood soon.