Polycade plans to launch home console for accessible games

Polycade is launching a home video game system designed for fans of classic games and accessible casual entertainment.

The effort represents a pivot from founder Tyler Bushnell’s original plan in 2015 to create a new kind of arcade machine that could hang on a wall and take advantage of the revival of modern arcades such as Barcades. Bushnell will start an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign next week to raise money for the effort.

Now many of those arcades are shuttered due to the pandemic. And Bushnell, the son of Atari cofounder Nolan Bushnell, said in an interview with GamesBeat that he wants to take the Polycade experience into the home with the Polycade 2600, a simple console-like PC preloaded with games.

“Our core thesis is that everyone loves video games, but not everyone’s a gamer,” Bushnell said. “And so when you look at gaming today, and the track that it’s taken, a lot of people have opted out. You have many people who will tell you that they play a lot of video games, but they don’t consider themselves a gamer. The core of our mission is making gaming accessible.”

He is also announcing the Polycade Arcade Gaming Software (Polycade AGS). It turns a PC into a Polycade video game system, running Polycade’s games and controlled by the Polycade eZpZ controller, which is modeled after the Super Nintendo Entertainment System’s classic controller.

Above: Polycade 2600

“To date, PC gaming is reserved for experts,” he said. “But those of us who are those experts know that the PC is really the king when it comes to video games. It can play more games than any other platform. There’s extensive customizability. But it has a high barrier to entry. And so what the Polycade software does is it makes it extremely easy to game on PCs. And so just installing our software will help configure your PC to be an easy experience, removing notifications and stuff like that that would get in the way of a gaming like a console-style gaming experience.”

And Bushnell unveiled the Polycade Arcade Controller, all in the name of bringing arcade-style gaming to the couch. To help curate games for casual and mid-core players, Polycade also introduced it’s new game store platform that allows players to easily find the right game for them.

Above: Polycade’s SNES-like controller.

It’s going to be a tough sell at a time when Microsoft and Sony are about to launch their $500 next-generation game consoles with eye-popping graphics. Nintendo’s Switch is also poised to sell huge numbers during the holiday season, and Bushnell hopes to sell the Polycade 2600 for $500.

Bushnell believes that Polycade’s secret weapon will be the casual and accessible games that make gaming social again, bringing back the days of playing with your friends on a couch. It will also be targeted at players who are intimidated by modern game controllers. That’s the same sort of pitch that Tommy Tallarico of Intellivision is giving, with his Amico console remake coming in April 2021.

Bushnell said that the Polycade AGS will also let players play games they own from multiple platforms such as Steam, GOG, and Utomik, creating one unified library that can be played with Polycade game controllers or typical arcade controls.

Additionally, for the seasoned gamer, Polycade AGS includes popular emulators baked-in and pre-configured, to make running retro ROMs easier than ever. That’s one of the distinguishing factors behind the Polycade system, but it could be a controversial one. That’s because it could be hard to get game publisher to make games for the system if players run pirated games in the form of ROMs on the machine.

The system will have leaderboards for nearly any retro arcade game, an achievements system that awards players with real cloth patches similar to what Activision did in the 1980’s, and a game rating system to help make it even easier to find the right games.

Also included in Polycade AGS is a game store that allows players to purchase legally licensed retro games and well-curated modern titles with a focus on social, in-person play. Polycade AGS will have over 100 games to choose from at launch.

The console will have a clean-lined, powder-coated steel case. The Polycade 2600 includes two Polycade eZpZ Controllers, a 240GB SSD, with the option to upgrade to a terabyte. Polycade chose an SNES-style controller as the core offering because it is easier to use, Bushnell said.

Polycade platform will have two different controller types, one with a stick and one that looks like a SNES controller.

Above: Polycade software on a laptop with Polycade controllers.

Previously, Bushnell and Jake Galler had a successful Kickstarter campaign for Polycade in 2017, raising $125,000 compared to an ask of $25,000. They shipped about 75 machines based on those preorders, and now they will try again with a second crowdfunding.

Polycade participated in the Comcast/NBCUniversal Lift Labs accelerator powered by Techstars and it raised $2 million in investment from Founders Fund, Wavemaker Partners, Rashaun Williams and Eric Campbell, various celebrities, and tech luminaries.

Bushnell said the company has more than 90 games signed at the moment and it plans to hit the market with at least 100 games. The bulk are retro games normally sold in catalogs. Emulators are baked into the machine, which allows players to run illegal games on the machine. But Polycade will ask users if they want to make their versions of the illegal games legal through a licensing offer.

“I think that will generate a lot of sales,” he said. “This gives us insight into the space and we can then take that information to major developers.”

The company has 10 people. Bushnell believes that those who preorder via the Indiegogo campaign could get their shipments by December 15, for at least the first 50 shipments.

As for launching during the pandemic, Bushnell said, “It has caused a lot of people to have extra time on their hands to spend at home. And so for a lot of folks, that means they have always wanted to get back into gaming and now’s the time. That’s the type of person that we think most needs the help.”

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