For certain consumers, say “Atari” and some fond — or at least semi-fond — memories will start sparking. Warm remembrances will flow of the then-relatively advanced Atari 2600 video game console under the Christmas tree during the early years of the Reagan administration. Campy laughter might accompany the recall of playing certain games, including “Combat,” where digital shapes resembling tanks duked it out in landscapes that really didn’t resemble anything found in real life.
Will future generations perhaps end up associating the Atari brand with hotels?
Yeah, that’s a real question.
The prospects at this point seem rather low. Even so recent news does show that the brand — now owned by a France-based operation after Atari all but faded out after the late 1970s and early 1980s video game craze and the massive industry crash that followed — is making a play to take part in the emerging trend of making hotels more attractive to gaming-minded consumers. Those consumers include relatively younger ones whose parents probably thought it was the height of their childhood to open that Atari 2600 under the Christmas tree, and who still can probably bore their offspring with tales of high scores in primeval games such as Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Space Invaders.
Here’s the scoop, courtesy a press release from what’s being called Atari Hotels (which uses the brand’s classic, awesome, to-the-max, 1980s-style logo): Via a deal with a deal with GSD Group — described by Atari as “a leading innovation and strategy agency, led by founder Shelly Murphy and partner Napoleon Smith III” — rights have been acquired to build “video game-themed Atari Hotels in the United States, with the first location breaking ground in Phoenix, AZ later this year.” GSD Group is handling hotel development and design. More locations are planned for Las Vegas, Denver, Chicago, Austin, Seattle, San Francisco and San Jose, though no additional timetables were announced.
Can Nostalgia Carry The Day?
“When creating this brand-new hotel concept, we knew that Atari would be the perfect way to give guests the ‘nostalgic and retro meets modern’ look and feel we were going for,” said Smith.
According to Atari Hotels, the concept behind the hotels involves much more than Generation X nostalgia for all those old (and now clunky) video game experiences. The goal is to bring the brand, and its hotels, into the current century by appealing to the gaming and tech desires of the newer generations (though, of course, many of the older folks have indeed graduated to the current gaming ecosystems). “Atari Hotels level up hotel entertainment with fully immersive experiences for every age and gaming ability, including the latest in VR and AR (Virtual and Augmented Reality),” the press release promises. Select hotels will also feature state-of-the-art venues and studios to accommodate esports events.”
The Atari brand might be elderly when it comes to gaming culture and history, but the hope behind this hotel effort is to tap into a growing and vital market, one that is increasingly important to digital and mobile commerce and payments. As the statement notes, “more than 2.5 billion gamers across the world spent more than $152.1 billion on games in 2019 alone; an increase of 9.6 percent year on year. One of the most distinctive trends in gaming is gamers gravitating toward recognizable intellectual property.” And that’s how Atari, whatever the brand might mean to consumers in 2020, hopes to make its mark.
In a way, Atari — though it will stand as a pioneer in any and every history of video games and gaming culture that has been and ever will be written — is a bit late to the hotel-and-gaming trend, raising questions about whether it can really succeed, if all that past glory and nostalgia will really serve as a spark for future growth. And the competition Atari faces is top-notch.
Take just one example, one previously documented in the fine pages of PYMNTS. MGM Resorts International recently transformed a former Luxor Hotel & Casino nightclub into an arena for eSports. The venue, more than 30,000 square feet, features an LED wall that is a sprawling 50 feet. As a testament to the size and scope of this endeavor, the hotel early on brought in over 4,000 people for a League of Legends tournament. That’s not all. the hotel and casino company is also looking into other ways to host eSports events in lounges and bars that already exist. MGM Head of Esports Lovell Walker said, according to the outlet, “We want to be as creative as possible.”
It will be hard for Atari to match the expertise that a company such as MGM brings to the table. And the competition Atari faces is not only coming from hotels and resorts. As eSports becomes a bigger part of the gaming and consumer culture — perhaps the best commentary on the growth of that industry comes from increasing and apparently very serious efforts to tax it — even malls are getting into the game. After all, malls need every bit of help to attract shoppers and otherwise justify their continued existence. And malls tend to have ample space to spare.
One example of those forces came recently from Georgia. According to another press release, Allied Esports and Simon have selected the Mall of Georgia, located in Buford, Georgia, near Atlanta, as the host of the companies’ initial eSports venue. The two-level, 13,000-square-foot facility is meant to serve as a prime destination for players and community members of all eSports ability levels. The venue will host amateur and professional eSports tournaments and a variety of events. The redevelopment is expected to begin in the second quarter of 2020, with an opening projected for the latter half of the year.
The Atari brand still has some serious currency among many consumers. But the world has moved on from that famous brand, and even in the U.S., second and third acts in business and branding come with some severe obstacles to overcome.