by CLAYTON WALNUM
Although there has been no official word, there is little doubt that Atari will soon release a 68000-based game machine. Most owners of ST computers greet this news with less than enthusiasm because they are afraid that having a game machine based on the same chip as the ST will further decrease the ST's credibility in the computer marketplace—and they are also afraid that Atari will name the new entertainment product the ST Game System, thus placing the "final nail in the ST's coffin."
Unofficial word from Atari is that, should the 68000-based game machine become a reality, it will do everything possible to disassociate the machine from the ST computers. "But," cry the worried ST owners, "look what Atari named their last entry into the entertainment marketplace: the XE Game System! They sure didn't try to disassociate that machine from its 8-bit computer counterpart!"
Illustration by John Berado
And, of course, that's a good point. However, the situation in the 8-bit computer market is very different from that of the ST market. From the viewpoint of program and hardware developers, the 8-bit computer is dead and buried. Most of the developers have moved on to other machines, have climbed the technological ladder hand-in-hand with the hardware and are seeking their futures where the future lies. Atari's philosophy in releasing the XE Game System was to not only have a new, high-end videogame machine on the market to provide some competition for the now incredibly successful Nintendo, but also to try and stir up some interest in the 8-bit computer line by giving developers the ability to hit two market segments with one product.
Though some people would claim that the ST market is quickly going the same route as the 8-bit market because (among other things) Atari has ignored its U.S. customers much too long, the 68000-based game machine is not intended to stimulate interest in the ST computer. The planned 68000-based game machine is, of course, an attempt to show Nintendo that Atari is still a strong contender for the world's entertainment dollars.
If Atari has enough wisdom to make sure that there is no tie between the game machine and the ST line of computers (and they surely do), then there is little reason to fear its effect on the ST's credibility. True, the release of a new game machine is not going to help Atari shed its toy company image, so in that way Atari's general credibility as a serious computer manufacturer will not be enhanced, but everyone should have realized by now that Atari has no intention of leaving its toy roots behind. They are out to grab the dollars where they can get them, and, for Atari, one of those places has always been the video-game market.
It will be interesting to see what Atari comes up with for its 68000-based game machine. It'll be even more interesting to see how they will handle its marketing. Will they do as they've always done and trust word-of-mouth to sell their new machine? Or will they adopt a more aggressive strategy and invest some advertising dollars?
Either way, Atari will be facing some difficulties. Without advertising, the new game machine will never provide much competition for Nintendo. On the other hand, if ST owners turn on their television sets and see ads for the new game machine, there will be a high price on Jack Tramiel's head. "Where," they will insist, "are the ads for the ST?"