Intellivision’s Tommy Tallarico Wants To Follow In Nintendo’s Footsteps, But Will He Get His Chance? – Feature
Tommy Tallarico is a name that should be instantly familiar to a lot of video gamers. He’s worked on over 300 video games during his long career (his company was involved in the sound design on Metroid Prime) and he’s been part of video game-related shows such as Electric Playground, Mega64 and Reviews on the Run. Tallarico also created the record-breaking concert series Video Games Live, which has performed over 420 shows internationally. He’s also the guy behind the ‘oof!’ sound in Roblox.
However, despite his glittering career in the realm of video games, Tallarico’s latest venture might be his most challenging yet. He’s the head of the now-revived Intellivision brand and is currently preparing to launch the Amico, a surprisingly Wii-like games console that is already a year behind schedule and has made headlines recently for all of the wrong reasons.
Last week, Ars Technica published a post that pulled apart documents found in the Intellivision developer portal, which was publicly available online with no password required for access. This has since been remedied, but the damage has arguably been done – although Tallarico himself feels that Ars Technica’s report is full of misinformation and the console has been treated rather unfairly in the coverage.
Full disclosure: prior to Ars Technica’s piece going live, we were invited to speak to Tallarico via a video call and receive a live demonstration of the Amico. While the dev unit’s wireless controllers occasionally refused to play ball due to battery issues and the UI was in an unfinished state, the system did work as advertised, so we can at least put to bed one of the more common accusations regarding the Amico – it exists and there’s no noticeable lag between controller inputs and the on-screen action.
However, there are clearly a lot of other issues mentioned in the Ars Technica report which are worth addressing. The price of games. The use of stock images for promotional purposes. The lack of post-launch patches for software. The use of a seemingly outdated chipset found in Android devices costing $100 in 2016. And, perhaps most pressing of all, the fact that much of the software looks like it belongs on a smartphone rather than a home console which costs over $200. In a situation that’s depressingly similar to that of the also-delayed Polymega, it would seem that the tide is turning against the Amico and the goodwill the product engendered when it was first revealed back in 2019 is slowly ebbing away.
Given that Tallarico had already kindly answered an initial batch of questions and taken time out from his vacation to show us the machine in action, we decided to give him the right to address Ars Technica’s more recent comments – as well as talk a little more about the Amico, its Nintendo heritage and more besides.
Nintendo Life: You’ve stated that the Ars Technica piece is full of misinformation – could you elaborate on that?
Tommy Tallarico: To give a little context, [the Ars Technica] writer earlier in the week tweeted that we were somehow being disingenuous by using stock photos of families holding Amico controllers. Using stock photos for your project (especially small businesses and especially during COVID) is a very common practice and the reason stock photos even exist. Yet he recommended that people might want to report us to the FTC and he also encouraged people to make fun of us by photoshopping Amico controllers to make us look bad.
Here was the frustrating thing for us. I asked the writer earlier in the week if he would like to do an interview or ask me questions and he refused. His response was to just send him a console. He wanted me to keep engaging with him on Twitter. Again, not something I feel is professional or wanted to do. So instead, he got his information from a very small 200-member Amico subreddit page whose only goal is to bash the system while spreading as much misinformation as possible in hopes that we will fail.
There’s nothing in those documents that is damning or embarrassing in any way. We’ve said from the beginning that Amico isn’t about fast processors, it’s about having fun
But hey, if people don’t like us and the system or the company… that’s totally fine. We know we’re not going to be for everyone. Just like PlayStation isn’t appealing for everyone. But the biggest issue we had with the article is that he used copyrighted Confidential information which was clearly labelled as such with the addition of “Not For Public Dissemination” on the documents. These documents were “leaked” (as they even admitted in the piece) due to a hole in our security and a breach of our developer portal. The images had cropped out the warnings and confidential and “not for public” parts but they decided to post them anyway.
There’s nothing in those documents that is damning or embarrassing in any way. We’ve said from the beginning that Amico isn’t about fast processors, it’s about having fun. But it was the principle that they would post leaked and confidential copyrighted documents while cropping that part of the document out. After I called it out on Twitter and a letter was written by our team, they decided to immediately take down the leaked and confidential materials. I believe they understood that what they had done wasn’t correct, yet we never received a public apology… only online hatred by a lot of folks not understanding the situation. In hindsight, I made a mistake by calling them out publicly. I shouldn’t have done that. I got caught up in the heat of the moment and decided immediately to delete the tweets. I’m human and I make mistakes… and when you’re in the public eye and putting yourself out there as much as I do with a lot of passion for the project and for the people you work with, you tend to make multiple ones. Avoiding drama on Twitter is something I need to get better at.
I just wanted to give a little context to the situation. In regards to the article itself, yes, there was a lot of things that weren’t correct. I don’t think any of us have the time to go through all of them line by line and the more I talk about it, the more negativity it seems to bring, so I’ll only highlight a few. They mention in the article that we are a handheld device. That is not true. The system plugs directly into your TV via HDMI and it is played on the TV. It’s not a handheld gaming system.
In the opening line, it refers to us as a crowdfunded game console. We never did a traditional crowdfunding campaign like something you would see on Kickstarter or Indiegogo. We had an SEC (Security & Exchange Commission) government regulated and approved Regulation A Investment offering where people could buy a share of our profits for $1,000 per share. It’s an investment opportunity. Similar to buying shares of a company on the stock exchange. So I guess if you wanted to split hairs, people could say that Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, Apple and Google are all crowdfunded projects as well because you can give them money in return for potential profits. I think we would all agree that crowdfunding typically means you are supporting a project in return for getting an actual unit of the project. That’s not what a Regulation A Investment Campaign is. The only thing people received was a share of profits with an up to 10x return depending on well the product does. But the biggest difference is the fact that it’s a government-approved and SEC-regulated way for non-accredited investors to invest in something that isn’t on the stock exchange.
It’s not finished until the product is out on the market. And even then, companies are constantly updating firmware and sometimes even the big companies get it wrong. Look what happened recently with Nintendo’s latest firmware update
The writer infers that our E3 video footage of the controllers being used was somehow faked because of some of the “camera angles” used. We’ve been showing the controllers in use on our YouTube channel in many different ways for almost a year and a half. To imply that we were faking the controllers being used or games being played is a little disingenuous, especially when you can see a ton of videos as well as many different people playing and enjoying the console and games.
You’ll notice that a lot of them talk about there not being any lag in the controllers. An IGN Middle East article correctly pointed out a few months ago that on one of our menu screens on our controller screen had experienced a small but noticeable lag on the menu. When the IGN writer was asked if he experienced it during gameplay or if it in any way got in the way of gameplay, his answer was no. And the reason for that particular issue was due to a hardware and controller firmware conflict that was found on that particular day with that particular game. We hadn’t seen the problem before that, and haven’t seen it since. Such is game development and hardware development. It’s not finished until the product is out on the market. And even then, companies are constantly updating firmware and sometimes even the big companies get it wrong. Look what happened recently with Nintendo’s latest firmware update. And they are the brightest, the biggest and the best! This is highly difficult stuff and we’re not going to be perfect every time until the product is out on the market.
The article mentions “Intellivision’s list of participating game makers mostly consists of brand-new or unproven companies.” Once again, completely not true. Look up companies like Stainless Games, Concrete Software, Other Oceans, Choice Provisions, Barnstorm Games, Bonus Level, Lost Mesa Entertainment, Rogue Rocket Games, NeoBird, Torus Games, Head-Up Games and so many more. These are folks and teams that have been making games anywhere from 10 to 40 years.
I could go on and on… but don’t find it particularly appropriate to go through every detail line by line. But even small things like claiming that Moon Patrol is a property and owned by Atari are just plain false.
Is it true that the Amico is based on a chipset seen in a $100 Android phone from 2016? If so, doesn’t that rather limit the potential of the machine?
The Qualcomm Snapdragon chip that we are using was used in a bunch of different products and was the hot thing on the market around 4 years ago. You can view the specs here. But we’ve never said our speed or chipset is anything special. For us, it’s all about the games. And if any company knows about that, it’s Nintendo. They have consistently proven over decades that it’s not about specs of the machine, it’s about the fun factor, design and playability. I always think back to the Wii which was by far the inferior tech when compared to that generation PlayStation and Xbox… yet it outsold them all! You’re seeing the same thing with the Switch. The Xbox One is a way more powerful chipset [and] graphic capability, yet Nintendo is breaking sales records left and right with the Switch. Nintendo (and I would put mobile gaming in this category as well) has proven many times that the most important thing about a game isn’t the speed of the processor, but the playability and fun factor of the games. We hope to follow in Nintendo’s footsteps, yet on an even lower spec level.
Developers being dissuaded from offering patches and updates on Amico seems like a strategy that could potentially backfire… can you explain why you’ve taken that stance?
That was yet another thing in that article that was misstated and untrue. The article mentions that we “lock down patch support” for all our games. That isn’t true. We mention that we don’t want there to be “paid for” DLC, but if there are bug fixes then of course we will allow that to happen and it even clearly states that in our leaked developer documents that were obtained.
Is it true that Intellivison’s cut of game sales could be as high as 50%? Are you concerned that that could put some developers off, given the already low margins on Amico game prices?
Every development deal we have is unique and different. We own an IP or want to design some brand new idea. We go out and pay developers to make that for us. We are hiring development teams to create something for us. In those instances, they love the idea of getting paid to work on something. Keep in mind, this doesn’t happen very often these days with a lot of Indie developers. So it really depends on how the developer wants to structure the deal. And it’s agreed upon by both sides to be fair.
I’ve known Miyamoto-san for over 30 years and worked with him for around three years on the Metroid Prime games. He’s a good friend and has even been to a few of my Video Games Live shows in the past
Software is clearly going to be important when it comes to selling the Amico, and you’ve stated that it will be cheaper than elsewhere and each game will also include exclusive features (or will be totally exclusive to the Amico). Taking Finnigan Fox as an example – a game that is already available on other systems, including Switch, under the title Fox n Forests – can you explain how you’re taking existing games and turning them into something that’s truly unique to the Amico?
We put over a year of more development and budget into [Finnigan Fox] and basically fixed all of the things that gave it an average score of around 7.5. What did we improve and add? We completely overhauled the graphics, we changed the character design, added more character animations and abilities, added levels, newly recorded music, all-new sound effects, added multi-player, added the ability to jump and shoot, double jump and weapons from the beginning, ability to buy maps to tell you where the hidden seeds in each level are (your controller will shake, you’ll hear a sound through your controller and the LED lights on your controller will light up when you are getting close). We even re-wrote the story of the game and added a lot more humour. We made the game a little easier (again for a broader audience) because we want everyone to be able to finish the game. And for those hardcore players out there, don’t worry, we have a hard mode as well. There was also a lot of backtracking in the original Fox n Forests that we eliminated as it became frustrating for a lot of folks.
It really is a fantastic platformer that appeals to a wide variety of people. Kids especially really love it. The developers over in Germany are absolutely fantastic and were so excited to work on the project again. Myself and the original designer Rupert worked together a lot on the new design and I incorporated a lot of things that I learned from Shigeru Miyamoto over the years. I’ve known Miyamoto-san for over 30 years and worked with him for around three years on the Metroid Prime games. He’s a good friend and has even been to a few of my Video Games Live shows in the past. I’ve even had the great Koji Kondo perform in my shows as well! Let’s just say that whenever I’m around Miyamoto-san, I’m always asking a lot of game design questions. You may as well learn from the best!
Is this a long-term strategy or will you eventually allow ‘straight’ multiformat releases?
We will never allow straight ports. We always have to have something different and unique in our games. Another example that comes to mind is Rigid Force Redux. This is a fantastic side-scrolling shooter for PC, Switch, PS and Xbox. Yet we are doing Rigid Force Redux Enhanced where we have now added a multi-player co-op version to the game. We’ve added more music, sound effects, new graphics and really utilized our controller and touch-screen into the game in a very unique way. And where the other platforms are selling it for $19.99, we are at $9.99 at launch, even though the game has more on Amico. We’re even doing a physical release of it, which will be available on day one of launch.
But these types of added exclusive content games are only a small percentage of our library. Most of the games on Amico are 100% exclusive titles. But when we do something that has previously existed, you can bet that it will be a lot better and less expensive.
Is it fair to say that you’re aiming the machine at the ‘casual’ market Nintendo left behind when it didn’t follow up with a proper successor to the Wii?
Absolutely! After the end of the Wii hardware cycle is when mobile games started to pop up and take over. In fact, over the past 10 years, mobile gaming has absolutely dominated the game industry in regards to how many people are playing. There are now 3.1 billion people playing mobile games compared to around 200 million “hardcore” gamers playing on home consoles or PCs. Mobile also dominates in regards to the amount of money being made. Approximately 55% of the entire $170 billion video game industry comes from mobile. 25% comes from the big 3 home consoles and 20% from PC gaming. These percentages vary from year to year, but those are around the average numbers over the past 5 or so years.
There are now 3.1 billion people playing mobile games compared to around 200 million “hardcore” gamers playing on home consoles or PCs. Mobile also dominates in regards to the amount of money being made
We are in no way trying to compete with Nintendo or Sony or Microsoft. We are not a multi-billion dollar company with thousands of employees like those companies. We have around 55 people on staff full-time and have less than $20 million dollars to create what we’re creating. When people (especially Nintendo fans) think of Intellivision Amico, think of it as being somewhere between mobile and the Switch. We are not a Switch… and we’re not mobile. But we feel we take the best parts of mobile – simplicity, easy to understand, convenient, pick up a play no matter what your skill level – and combine it with the best parts of home console gaming – unique controller, TV display, couch co-op.
Aside from being extremely solitary (one person, one screen), what really bothers me about the mobile industry is that games are literally being designed and made to try and suck as much money out of people as possible. If you’re not getting asked for your credit card or payment method, then you’ll get a 30-second ad every 3 minutes. What I don’t like about the home console industry these days is all of the things like loot boxes, expensive DLC, monthly subscriptions, expensive games – and the same price if they are physical or digital? What’s up with that? We don’t allow any of that on Amico. All of our digital games are $9.99 or less at launch and all of our physical media is $19.99 at launch and comes with special collectable items and a very unique method to own your game. All of our games are family-friendly and all of our games have some kind of multiplayer or couch co-op mode.
With former Nintendo executives involved and hardware that feels a lot like the Wii, is it fair to say there’s a little bit of ‘Nintendo’ about the way you’re doing things at Intellivision? How have you been influenced by the Japanese company?
Nintendo is such an industry innovator that it would be hard to do anything in the video game hardware industry without having some kind of Nintendo influence. For me, Nintendo has always been the best innovator in the entire industry. Both in hardware and software. Nintendo takes pride in rarely doing the same thing twice with their hardware. And you can see how apparent that is over the past 30 years. They literally reinvent the wheel for every new generation! Which is in stark contrast to Sony and Microsoft. That’s not to say that I don’t like what Sony and Microsoft are doing… especially technology-wise, but Nintendo is on a different level when it comes to innovation.
Early on, it was important to me to have some of the best and brightest in the industry in regards to marketing a family console. Because we are going for a more casual and family audience, we wanted to fully understand how the Wii got to where it got. The woman in charge of that campaign (as well as the Nintendo DS) was VP of Nintendo U.S. Perrin Kaplan. She had left Nintendo to start her own marketing & PR firm called Zebra Partners along with some of the best PR folks from Nintendo (including Sr. Director of PR Beth Llewelyn) who also followed when Perrin had left. Perrin has been a dear friend of mine for many years and we’ve worked on some other music and concert related projects in the past (both inside and outside the video game industry). In fact, Perrin was key in getting Nintendo as a part of my worldwide touring show Video Games Live. She had even flown down from Washington to be at our very first show at the Hollywood Bowl back in 2005! So when I took the reins at Intellivision, Perrin was one of the first people I called. Intellivision engaged with Zebra for over a year as we debuted Amico initially during E3 of 2019 and will be engaging with them again as we get settled after our initial launch and are ready to make major waves.
Scott Tsumura is another big Nintendo name we have as a part of our team. He’s been on our Advisory Board since the beginning and has been absolutely key in acquiring certain Japanese owned licenses as well as his over 40 years experience in the game industry. For those who may not be aware, Scott was the president and co-founder of Nintendo Software Technology Corporation in the U.S. They were basically the in-house development team over here in America that was responsible for games such as Wave Race 64, Ridge Racer 64, 1080 Avalanche, Metroid Prime: Hunters, Mario vs. Donkey Kong and many more.
I think the biggest influence and admiration we have for Nintendo comes from the simplicity and family-oriented approach they established with systems like the original NES and SNES, the Game Boy, DS and of course the Wii. I also always loved their ‘Seal of Quality’ approach back in the NES days. Highly curated games that you knew would be of a certain quality was something that Nintendo was very adamant about in the ’80s.
Former Xbox chief J Allard was one of your tentpole hires, but has since left the company – however, Ars Technica points out that you’ve stated he’s still involved in some capacity. Could you clarify this for us?
To be clear, J was never an employee of Intellivision. Similar to how I spoke about Perrin Kaplan earlier. We had worked with J Allard at a very important time in our hardware development. We brought J on as a big consultant last year as we were finalizing the hardware and OS. J is really great and so knowledgeable with an incredible experience. Our team benefitted so much and his insights were monumental to us in seeing things from a different perspective in regards to things like hardware, customer experience, UI (User Interface) and even packaging. And as J would tell anyone… experiences in things not going right as well (i.e. red ring of death) and what to do to avoid it. It was an honour to work with him for the time we did. After J’s time was over we spoke about a potentially bigger role but he didn’t feel there was a right spot or fit for him moving forward but he welcomed any kind of e-mails from our team and simple consulting if needed. J is a big believer in simple ‘pick up and play’ games as well as couch co-op experiences. And he grew up on Intellivision! There’s a great video J sent me of his mom playing the new version of Intellivision Skiing with a big smile on her face… because that was one of her favourite original Intellivision games 40 years ago! My mom is exactly the same as well. Skiing was her original favourite.
Scott was the president and co-founder of Nintendo Software Technology Corporation in the U.S. They were basically the in-house development team over here in America that was responsible for games such as Wave Race 64, Ridge Racer 64, 1080 Avalanche, Metroid Prime: Hunters, Mario vs. Donkey Kong and many more
In the recent past, you came under fire for your comments about the type of games Nintendo now allows on its consoles compared to the family-friendly stance you’re taking with the Amico. Is there anything you’d like to say to the people who took issue with that stance, and do you think you were misunderstood in that instance?
To explain the situation, I was doing a live stream interview over a year ago and someone in the chat was saying that Amico shouldn’t exist because Nintendo already owns the family market and all of their games are already family-friendly. One of the things that makes Amico different from all current consoles on the market is that we don’t allow violent or sexual content on Amico or things like bad language. We keep the games rated E or E10+. We don’t allow Mature or Teen rated games on the system. It’s not that I don’t enjoy those types of games, it’s just a business and moral decision that we made so that we could be different and build trust among the family audience we’re going after. Again, talking about Nintendo influence, remember a time when Nintendo had the same type of feelings and rules back in the ’80s and ’90s?
So I responded and pushed back by saying that it’s incorrect that all of the games on Nintendo Switch are family-friendly. I mentioned that it has been widely documented that, in fact, the Nintendo Switch has more violent and sexual content on the platform than Sony and Microsoft and that Nintendo has gone on record as saying they don’t censor explicit content that Sony does. The chat then responded very negatively to my statement of facts and they started saying that it’s not like you can get a Switch game with nudity. I once again had to state the fact that you can get games on the Switch with nudity (L.A. Noire, Blasphemous, The Witcher 3, Lust for Darkness, Outlast), children in compromising sexual positions (Gun*Gal 2, Mary Skelter 2) and even games that depict rape (The Town of Light). I believe some of those have since been updated from the U.S. e-shop (or content taken out), but at the time they were available and they still remain available in different parts of the world. And again, to be clear, I’m not against developers rights to make that stuff. That is a creative decision by the folks making it and they should be entitled to make whatever they want. What is distasteful to some is art for others. I am personally against any kind of censorship as long as ratings and rules are attended to (and it’s not getting into the hands of the wrong folks – [such as] young kids). In fact, I even did my first TED talk defending the video game industry on this exact subject matter.
Anyway, the live chat got heated and they were calling me every name in the book, saying I was lying just to prop up Intellivision and Amico, that I was attacking Nintendo to make Amico look better. when that wasn’t the case at all. I figured it was pretty general knowledge among hardcore gamers in regards to the games that you can purchase on a Switch. Everyone was basically shouting at me so I finally said, “If you want your rape games then go play Nintendo Switch.” I was half-joking and half in defence mode, but it was a pretty silly and dumb thing to say, even though it was in the heat of the moment.
So of course, people take that one little clip and try to make me out to be some kind of anti-Nintendo monster. They never show the clips before or after where I say how much I respect and love Nintendo. I made a mistake in the heat of the moment and I apologize to all Nintendo fans who felt like I was attacking Nintendo in any way. And to clarify, Nintendo doesn’t create any of that content! All of their games are pretty much family-friendly as well. Just like us. I was just stating that other people make content like that for the Switch and Nintendo does allow it to be put on their platform. I’ve spoken to a lot of my Nintendo fan friends and they also feel uncomfortable knowing that kind of stuff is on a Nintendo platform. They feel stuff like that should stay on PC. As a business owner, I respect Nintendo and they should be able to do whatever they want and they are obviously very successful.
One of the really interesting things about the Amico hardware is the fact that each controller has its own display which can potentially show each player a unique feed of information – very much like the Wii U, but that was of course limited to having only one controller with a screen. How will this feature change the way we play games on the Amico?
What is really unique about the ecosystem we’ve created for developers is that we have an incredible internal support staff of award-winning talent that helps and in some instances becomes a part of the outside development team
Imagine playing card games, dice games, board games, party games, where everyone has their own information on their own controller. Imagine putting in different plays in sports games or mixing potions on your controller screen for RPGs. We also use it a lot for giving specific hints to players who may be behind or in last place, so that they have a special hint to where that next power-up may be. Things like on-screen inventory items, maps, special game instructions, switching characters/vehicles during a game – [these] are all possible and are being utilized in Amico games. But not only that, it’s also a capacitive touch-screen as well. So the same technology and quality screen that is on any mobile device except instead of glass – we use polycarbonate for the entire face of the controller. Super-strong, difficult to scratch and very touch-sensitive.
For some games, you can use the colour touch screen almost like a mouse pointer. Works great for a game like Missile Command. And for some games, the entire screen becomes the “jump” button (we also have big concave shoulder buttons for action games as well). It really is a diverse controller and we’re using it to create very unique experiences that couldn’t be done on any other console or mobile device out there. We also have a gyroscope and accelerometer (for some motion-controlled games), a speaker, a microphone, haptic force feedback and interactive LED lights on all 4 buttons, as well as around the disc.
Our controllers also utilize wireless contact charging as well. So once you’re done playing, you just put them back in the base and they recharge themselves. They also have a USB-C connection so you can charge them directly into a wall or use a wireless battery pack if ever needed. Each controller battery typically lasts between 5 to 6 hours of gameplay.
How have you been supporting and enticing developers to bring their games to Amico, and how closely are you working with external teams on Amico software?
We currently have 50+ super-talented developers from around the world working on Amico games. Some of them have been with us for over 2 years. We have hundreds of developer inquires that we’ve had to put on hold for the time being until we get the console out on the market (which is our #1 focus, aside from the games themselves). What is really unique about the ecosystem we’ve created for developers is that we have an incredible internal support staff of award-winning talent that helps and in some instances becomes a part of the outside development team. Art assets, music/SFX, design, programming optimization, production, etc. can be added to external development if needed. These are award-winning folks who worked on games like Earthworm Jim, Disney’s Aladdin, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and many many more. We also go out and secure big licenses when needed such as Mattel Hot Wheels, Major League Baseball, Sesame Street and others.
We also take care of the marketing and PR for all Amico games. This is one of the biggest challenges a smaller indie developer faces. I think the most innovation these days is coming from the Indie developer community. That’s why we love fostering them as much as possible.
And here’s another big difference to our approach… we actually pay developers for every game they make on Amico. Typically Indie developers need to raise cash through a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign, or finance the entire development themselves. We pay them from day one to create their dream, and we help to make it with them. But almost every one of our deals with developers are unique or different in some way. Depending on how much money is paid upfront sometimes determines the amount of royalty percentage they get when the product is released. It’s up to the developer to decide what is best for them. Some prefer more money upfront and less of a royalty, others prefer no money upfront and a much bigger royalty… or anything in between. This is very uncommon in the game industry these days. The hardware manufacturer typically takes 30% (while providing nothing but a platform) and then if there is a publisher or distributor, they can take up to 30% to 50% as well. We are unique because not only are we the manufacturer, but we’re also the publisher and distributor as well. So we can offer great deals that make sense for everyone involved.
Now, a lot of people may think if you’re only selling games for around $10, how the heck is any developer going to make any money after the game is out? It’s simple… the games that are made for Amico [don’t have] huge budgets like most games and we don’t need to sell hundreds of thousands of units in order for everyone to break even. As an example, if a developer wants to be paid $100,000 to make a game for us and we are selling it at $10 then we only need to sell 10,000 copies of the game to break even. So typically, a developer will earn money upfront and immediate money from sales once the console is on the market. It’s a win-win for everyone.
You’ve said that digital games at launch will be no more than $10, while physical games will be $20. That means there are low margins to work with there – could we see that price rise over time to accommodate grander titles?
We’ve been spending millions in order to achieve this and be ahead of the game. But so many things have been changing so quickly and all of this stuff comes from China
Yes. Absolutely. That’s why I’m very careful to mention the words ‘on launch’. We want early adapters of Amico to get a little special preferred treatment for coming on board at such an early stage. By 2022, you’ll see certain game prices start to get into the $11.99 or even $14.99 range for digital. It also gives us the opportunity to spend more money on bigger licenses and/or bigger games, longer development cycles. For example, some of our exclusive games like Earthworm Jim 4 and Dolphin Quest (made by the Ecco the Dolphin team) would be better served to be longer and more in-depth games which would require a higher budget and longer development cycle. We don’t want to limit the games or budgets to just $9.99 experiences just for the sake of hitting some kind of number. We want the games and experiences to be the best they can be while still hitting our core values of simple to pick-up-and-play, really fun and affordable experiences.
Another sticking point has been the delay of the hardware and the base price of the system increasing. What has caused these issues and what would you like to say to those who are disappointed by them?
When we created our business plan and model over three years ago, I can tell you that we never had a line item in there that said: ‘WORLDWIDE PANDEMIC – WORLD SHUTTING DOWN FOR A YEAR!’ So it’s been very difficult and challenging for us as a small business trying to do something that very few have been able to successfully do. But then, to do it during the worst economic downturn, the highest unemployment in 100 years and the worst electronic component crisis the world has seen makes it 1000 times more difficult! Not being able to be in the same room towards the end of development was brutal and took its toll for sure. So our first delay went from October 2020 to April 2021. Then it got even worse and all of the strict lockdowns and curfews happened that November and went into January (our HQ is based in southern California that had some of the strictest restrictions). So we figured if everything went okay that October 2021 we would be able to hit the market… and then the major component crisis started getting worse.
Where are we today? The final hardware is completed and we’ve passed almost every compliance test around the world (over 50 tests) and for the most part, we are ready to go into production. But there are over 700 different parts that make up an Amico and over 100 of them are electronic components. Unfortunately, because we have touch screens on our controllers, as a small company we are finding it extremely difficult to secure 4 of those 100+ parts. We started securing components last November. We’ve been spending millions in order to achieve this and be ahead of the game. But so many things have been changing so quickly and all of this stuff comes from China. That is how Playstations, Xboxes and Switches are made. No exceptions, but that is the reality of electronics right now.
Other countries are starting to manufacture this stuff as well, and companies like Apple are investing billions into infrastructure in hopes of getting out of China. But that will take years, unfortunately. So we are bound by the limits of the component industry right now and there is literally nothing we can do except wait and try our hardest to find the parts we need. We literally have teams of people (both internally and our external manufacturing partners) who scour the world (mostly China) each and every day. Even if we’re buying in quantities of 50 or 100 at a time and paying double or triple the price. And with demand comes massive cost and price increases. We are not like Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo and we can’t afford to lose money on our hardware, we’d be out of business immediately. So trust me when I say that no one wants this thing out there more than we do. And we will continue to work as hard as we possibly can to get as many out there this year as possible.
We have 100,000 pre-orders and purchase orders already. That is amazing for a company like ours. And we’ve had to turn down big retailers like Costco and Target because we can’t even fill the orders we have with Walmart and Amazon. Gamestop, Best Buy, Argos (UK), MediaMkrt & Saturn (Europe) are all part of our current distribution channels, so again, it’s a good problem to have that people want it, but we can’t make them fast enough. We just need to do a slow, soft launch roll-out and hopefully see the electronic component industry get back to normal in 2022.
For most of the folks reading this – hardcore gamers, hardcore Nintendo fans – they would probably be better off purchasing a Switch if they don’t already have one. Because obviously – like me – they are big fans of Nintendo and probably grew up on it
Also, to give a little more insight and info, we’ve never actually hiked the price of the console. The official price was always $249 (2 controllers, 6 games) for our Graphite Black or Glacier White models. We also have three Special Edition models which sell for $279 (because it’s more expensive to make them). About three years ago we did a press release announcing Amico. We had to give a price range because we needed to let people know that we weren’t some inexpensive ‘Flashback’ console or mini-unit, but we also weren’t going to be on the same level as a PlayStation 4 or Xbox. So in the trailer and press release, we felt that we would like to see the price range around $150 to $180. Once we started creating Amico more and trying different things, we quickly realized that in order to do a really high-quality machine we needed to rethink some of our initial ideas when we felt we could do it in the $180 price range. To give some examples, we upped the internal memory from 16GB to 32GB. We ended up putting capacitive colour touch screens in the controllers as opposed to resistive touch screens. Just those 2 ideas alone added almost an additional $25 cost to manufacturing, but boy was it worth it. So when we officially announced the launch price of Amico was $249 some people got upset and called us liars, but again, to be fair, we never announced an official price of $179, we only gave those figures as a price range three years ago before the console was finished. In hindsight, if I had to do it all over again, we shouldn’t have put any price range in there at all. We should have just said “Retail Price: TBD”. But everyone at the time was pressuring us to give some kind of price range. These are the types of situations and experiences that you learn from and grow.
With a retail price of $250, the Amico is almost as expensive as a Switch. What would you say to someone who has that $250 in their pocket and is having to choose between the two?
For most of the folks reading this – hardcore gamers, hardcore Nintendo fans – they would probably be better off purchasing a Switch if they don’t already have one. Because obviously – like me – they are big fans of Nintendo and probably grew up on it. Here is where we are different; if you’re looking to play with multiple friends and family who may not be into gaming as much as you are, Amico is a great choice. I don’t really feel comfortable trying to compare a Switch to an Amico (especially on a Nintendo website!) but there are a lot of differences in the style of games and what the controllers can do. With Amico, you can take your controller over a friend’s house, dock it on their Amico and play all of the games you own, on your friend’s machine. When you buy or receive gift cards, you can just tap them directly onto Amico and it shows up on your account. No more having to type in 32 character alpha-numeric codes!
I also believe that in the long run, we are more economical (because of our game prices and the ability to use mobile controllers as well as the 6 free pack-in games right off the top), so if you are on a budget, we may be a great choice. We also have a lot of edutainment titles like Sesame Street and Care Bears, so if you have kids 6 and under, that might be something that is important to you.
Here’s another example, my mom bought a Wii so she could go bowling. But my mom didn’t buy a Switch. Why? Well, mainly because I think a Switch is more targeted to gamers as opposed to my 80-year-old mom. The Wii, on the other hand, was seen as more of an everyday casual console for everyone. I’m not saying there aren’t simple couch co-op games on the Switch – although they are a bit hard to find because of the eShop setup, which I’m not a huge fan of if I’m being honest – what I’m saying is that our entire focus revolves around simple to pick-up-and-play games for everyone, no matter what your skill level is. My mom can’t play Mario Kart 8 on the Switch, but she will play a simple casual card, dice, puzzle or board game with me on an Amico.
For a lot of the folks reading this, they probably already have a Switch. Amico may be another unique choice that they can pull out when their non-gaming friends or family come over. The two can live in harmony, for sure. We’re not trying to be like a Switch. We’re trying to be our own little unique thing that uses a lot of retro sensibilities and designs while combining a lot of fun and cool ideas that haven’t really been done before.
We are much different from those consoles and companies in that we are a lot of experienced game developers and designers who focus everything on the games and gameplay
Your critics are already pointing to the failure of systems like the Ouya and the rather underwhelming launch of the new Atari VCS as evidence that the Amico is doomed. What would you say to that sector of the community?
I would say to please play an Amico before making that judgement or decision. We are much different from those consoles and companies in that we are a lot of experienced game developers and designers who focus everything on the games and gameplay. We’re not “suits”. We have a lot of passion for what we’re doing and always put the fun factor and user experience first. Of course, our technology and all-around ideas are also completely different from them and most companies out there. And a lot of it has to do with the way we designed the controller. That is the one thing that people who initially pick up a play Amico will comment on. And like the Wii; it’s something that just needs to be experienced in person. All we ask is for folks to keep an open mind and make a decision once you had an opportunity to check one out.
Finally, what makes Intellivision so special to you personally, and how does it feel to be charting the next phase in the company’s history?
Intellivision was the console I had growing up. When I think of Intellivision, I get goosebumps and tears in my eyes thinking about all the amazing times I had with friends and family playing video games throughout my childhood in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Me and my younger brother used to pretend we worked at Intellivision as game designers and we would make up all our own games and I would draw the Intellivision logo on all of my school books and notepads. So yes, it’s kinda surreal knowing that over 40 years later, here I am creating a brand new console for Intellivision and designing a whole bunch of games for it. That being said, I don’t really believe in luck. I believe in passion, hard work, a positive mental attitude and dreaming big and believing in yourself to achieve success. We feel we are well on our way to bringing something very unique and different into the gaming world and we are all super excited.
We’d like to thank Tommy for taking the time to speak with us. The Intellivision Amico is currently scheduled for launch on October 10, 2021.