Wednesday, July 6, 2022

The Last Gasp of the Intellivision Amico

Back in 2019, I wrote a blog article about the Intellivision Amico and predicted that there were significant hurdles which it would have to overcome if it was going to succeed in the marketplace.  Nearly three years later, the company behind the Amico, Intellivision Entertainment's, prospects of releasing anything other than a Chapter 7 or 11 Bankruptcy petition are looking exceedingly remote.  Millions of dollars in public and private investment were poured into Intellivision Entertainment and thousands of preorders with $100 deposits were placed for the console and thousands of RFID tag game boxes were sold.  All that money is probably gone now with almost nothing to show for it.  Formerly once rabid fans of the Amico have turned, one by one, against the company with bitterness previously reserved for the Amico's "haters".  Preorder backers are waiting increasingly long for the company to process cancellation requests.  Staff have been let go in order to cut costs, but Intellivision owes a lot of money to a lot of people, no consoles manufactured and increasingly fewer opportunities to find funding for its console.

But let's turn the clock back just a bit, back just to last year.  In 2021, the Amico was still a possibility, Tommy Tallarico was still the CEO, still willing to give lengthy interviews to anyone willing to listen and still able to contribute post after post to the AtariAge Forums.  Amico cheerleaders like Atari Creep, Retro Bro, SmashJT and Saggy Melonz were still touting the Amico and bashing the haters with tireless enthusiasm on YouTube.  Tommy was making the rounds with the console and the games that were sufficiently developed to show off to the general public.  I was present at one of those events, but while one could not have predicted with certainty, now it highly probable that it may have been the last.  In this blog article, I will relate my personal experiences at the last Amico demonstration of 2021 and then discuss why that potential is likely never to come to pass.  

The Amico's Grand Tour

2020 was a dour year generally but for new tech the year hit rather hard.  The Sony PlayStation 5 and the Xbox One X had significant console shortages.  Graphics card prices shot through the roof.  Chip supplies became scarce, factory lead times could be counted in months or years instead of weeks, and smaller companies were hit with delays.  The Analogue Pocket, the PlayDate, the Steam Deck, the Polymega and Atari VCS were all delayed and some announced price increases.  In this environment, the Amico could be expected to announce a delay and a price increase in 2020.  

But things were looking rocky in 2020 and 2021 as the price shot up to $249.99 with two controllers (making Pat & Ian right after all) and not a delay but multiple delays leading to an indefinite delay.  Then there was that SEC inquiry about Intellivision's misleading statements to investors about J. Allard's continuing presence on its team.  And people made a big complaint that Intellivision photoshopped the Amico into stock photos of families playing consoles.  Then Tommy threatened ArsTechnica because it published information obtained from a developer portal cached by the Wayback Machine and freely available at the time to those who were looking for it.

While 2020 was not hospitable to physical events, for 2021 it was finally time to show the Amico off to the nation and its increasingly vaccinated masses.  2021 was supposed to be a turning point for the Amico as it would be for many of the other consoles previously mentioned.  From January to October, Amico had made the rounds in 2021 in the following locations to try to generate a positive buzz and prove all the haters and "gaming racists" wrong :

Frisco, Texas (National Videogame Museum, 3/26) 

Easton, Pennsylvania (Crayola Experience, a.k.a. "Amicofest", 7/10)

Irvine, California (Boomers, 9/11).  

Lehi, Utah (Museum of Natural Curiosity a.k.a Thanksgiving Point, 10/2) 

The Amico had some presence at last year's E3, but that presence was confined to an online presentation as E3 did not host a physical event last year and the event was canceled for this year.  

On October 7, 2021, Tommy Tallarico announced on AtariAge and elsewhere that the Amico would be shown off in two events in the Boston, Massachusetts area on November 14, 2021.  Being well-informed on all the Amico news thanks to friends and a Discord server I moderate, I considered going to one of those events as they were within driving distance.  

When the Amico came to the "Boston area", it was shown off at in Game Underground in Waltham from 12-3 and then in Great Stories in Uxbridge from 5-8.  The odds of having another chance to experience the console before launch were small, so going to one of these events was something I could justify.  Being something of a late riser and not wanting to deal with I-95 traffic, I chose the Uxbridge event instead.  

Spending Some Time with Amico

Great Stories, which has since moved, was a CCG/Wargaming/RPG gaming store on the 2nd floor of an older building.  The store had solid hardwood floors but the main area was somewhat small.  When I arrived around 5:05, I could hear Tommy and others in a back room, but I decided to hang around out front for a few minutes to check the store out.  I might have spent more time if I went to the Game Underground event earlier in the day as that store sells retro video games and has some classic arcade machines and some pinball tables for play.  However, as the store was fairly small and my interest in Warhammer, MTG and modern RPGs is small-to-nonexistent, I soon had to make my way to the back room to see what the fuss was all about at last.

In that room were about a dozen adults and four children.  I recognized Tommy instantly, anyone who has been following the Amico could hardly fail to recognize him.  Also present were the YouTubers Saggy Melonz, Atari Creep, DJC Game Studios and Pandasub2000.  Others present with an online presence included TheLazyGamer, Captain Eric and more people with an online presence like Vara Dark were present at the previous event in Waltham One console had been setup already and another would be setup soon, probably because the kids were the most enthusiastic players.  I cautiously worked my way around the rear of the crowd and stood there observing, listening and texting impressions back to the Discord server.  

I eventually got to try out the games and the controller.  The UI was an admittedly generic Android-console looking but functional enough to start games.  Games I saw played were Evel Knievel, Shark Shark, Astrosmash, Finnigan Fox and Star Strikers.  I thought that Finnigan Fox was the only game that was not a "10-minute time waster" or a "party game".  Finnigan Fox looked good and ran well on the Amico, but the controller is not ideal for it, with having to double tap on the controller's screen to do a double jump.  The double jump height is not generous and the tapping mechanism was not particularly forgiving, so the experience was less than great.  Astrosmash was a better experience and more representative overall of the experience the Amico is trying to present.  The soundtrack was rather epic in its orchestration and Tommy stated he composed the soundtrack.  

Early in the evening, Saggy and Atari Creep went next door to order pizza.  Some people accused Tommy, an Italian-American, of eating Dominos pizza.  I can eat Dominos these days without feeling driven solely by hunger, but when I ate it as a youth in the 1990s it was always disappointing.  Dominos pizza was not consumed at this event.  There was a pizza place right next door called Harry's Famous Pizza whereas the nearest Dominos was miles away.  The pizza was pretty good.

Tommy himself was quite approachable and easy to talk to at the event.  There were not enough people around for me to blend into the background forever, so eventually we spoke.  I was wearing a mask but most people, including Tommy, were not.  I shook his hand and when he asked how I learned of the event I simply said "I saw something on the AtariAge forums".  I did not say that I had previously written a blog article critical of the Amico to him or anybody else.  I talked to Atari Creep and DJC Studios and they seemed like decent guys.  He offered me pizza and I ate a slice.  Although he professes to be vegan, he ate a slice too but I do not believe it had meat on it.

These events tended to have a convenience associated with them.  For the Salt Lake City and Irvine events, they were close to Intellivision's headquarters.  Tommy had his 35th High School renuion in Springfield, Massachusetts that weekend, so it was convenient for him to setup up these demonstrations.  He even joked that he took so many Amico consoles that he set back development a week.  I think I counted about 4 cracks about Pat & Ian total during the evening, better than I expected given their nearly three year war of words on YouTube, AtariAge, Twitter, Facebook and Discord.

The number of people who were there for the Amico numbered approximately thirty people at maximum, with some people not staying for the whole advertised time.  The earlier event at Game Underground had more people, it was in a videogame store and in a city within the Metro Boston area.  There is plenty of foot traffic in this area.  By contrast, Uxbridge is debatably on the very edge of the Greater Boston area, and compared to Waltham it is practically in the woods.  Not much foot traffic was to be had in the area.  It seemed to me that everybody present had more than a casual interest in the Amico or were attached in some way to someone who did.  Atari Creep brought his daughter to the event, TheLazyGamer brought his father.  One almost felt that the Uxbridge event was something of an after-party for the Waltham event.  

I saw a few of the "Physical Edition" boxes at the event, the ones with the RFID tags.  Intellivision were selling and still appear to be selling online for 4 games for $79.99.  Each game comes with a box and a large coin (a feelie), a laminated card with game hints and a thinner card in the shape of an original Intellivision cartridge with the RFID tag embedded.  I had no complaints about the quality of the materials printed and minted, but that's not saying much.  People criticized the lack of inclusion of a full manual, which would be expected with a retro-throwback game, but that of course was nothing compared to the criticism over the lack of a game in the box.  These days if you buy them you're probably buying just a(n expensive) collectable, unless the Amico is released that RFID tag is useless.  

The console may look like a footbath, and the plastic I saw looked pressed from a factory mold, not a 3D print or a beat-up shell.  What makes the Amico distinctive, however, is the controllers.  Those controllers are thick and tough, the kids dropped them often enough during the evening to prove the latter.  They have two buttons on each side, the disc and the touchpad.  The faceplates are removable, although my memories suggest they were not the easiest things to remove and they are very thin.  

I was asked by my discord companions while at the event if the controllers exhibited any lag.  I did not observe "obvious lag" but I was hardly in a position to conduct a more rigorous test of their input latency.  The buttons were a bit hard and I cannot vouch for finger comfort over long playing sessions but the disc worked well for games which were not designed for a D-pad.  The touchscreen, which is capacitive, was responsive but sometimes inconvenient because you have to look down at it for status, messages and to get a feel for the controls which use it.  Astrosmash requires you to double tap on one side of the touch screen for your cannon to do a quick dash to one side of the screen.  This is a vital move, so you will need to get used to the controller.  The patented disc was the most impressive feature of the controller as it has pressure sensitive capabilities.  I could see the disc's usefulness as a controller for Pong, Breakout, Arkanoid and Tempest as the disc spins, but pressure must be applied to register input.

For those without a genuine Amico controller, smartphones can connect to the Amico console to be used as a substitute.  There is an app which turns the screen of your phone into a replica Amico controller.  Tommy showed us some suction cups with a capacitive point which go over the screen and provide a tactile method for pressing the edge buttons.  He was rather proud of them and they seemed to have a decent hold on the screen glass.  

Occasionally I took a break from the crowd to escape the noise.  While the store did not have much of personal interest, my eye kept coming back to one of the few vintage products they had, a copy of Steve Jackson's Car Wars from the mid-1980s.  I had never played this game, and on the shelf there was a 2nd printing of the game still sealed.  Finding the box art to be attractive, eventually I broke down and bought it for $25.  

After mostly standing for 3 hours on hard wood floors and sitting on tables, I think I had seen all that I needed to see and more.  I said a few goodbyes to the friendlier people of the bunch and left.  At that point they had taken down the 2nd Intellivision console as the store needed the space for their game tables.  I do not know how much longer they stayed, but I would have gathered they must have left by 10PM when the store closed.

The Aftermath and Downfall of the Amico

So, November 2021 ended with something of a relative high note for Amico, if judging only by the Boston events and the other events held that year.  Things appeared to have some promise back then, but seven months later the Amico's situation could not be any further from the truth.  Even in November there were some cracks in the surface as people discovered promo videos with assets stolen from other games.  December found AtariAge, long the home of the Amico Cult, losing its patience with Tommy's endless forum drama and removed his Amico topic and banned discussion of the Amico.  Then in February Tommy stepped down as CEO and was replaced by Phil Adam, whose most recent notability in the video game world was being involved with the Coleco Chameleon.  The Coleco Chameleon, as everyone should recall, turned out to be a scam.  

February also saw the beginnings and the end of their investor fundraising campaign on Start Engine.  They raised only $58,000 from 54 investors with a goal of $5 million and ended the campaign two months early.  Fortunately those investors got their money back, but as for preorder backers, I will return to that subject soon.    As for those investors, after reading the prospectus filed with the SEC and publicly made available online, the smart ones probably figured out they would have a better chance of making money by investing in the latest meme stock, cryptocurrency or NFTs.  The prospectus from Intellivision Entertainment reported that $1.35 million in electronic parts is being held by their supplier Ark Electronics, Inc.  One of its principal directors is owed a loan that will be paid off by giving him $100 for every Intellivision sold.  They also state that even $5 million will not be enough to sustain the company and it will need to pursue further rounds of fundraising.  It is in debt to the tune of $4.5 million in outstanding loans and notes.  Finally, the prospectus indicated that without generating any revenue, the company would only be able to continue to operate until July of 2022.  The company has not generated significant revenue since its founding.

March also saw an unboxing video that raised more questions than it answered, except among the Amico Faithful of course.  There is no indication of when this video was shot or what is inside the console that is shown.  Only one box was shown and that box had some wear on it and edges were cut by hand.  There were spelling errors like "Intellevision" in a printed URL.  The bullet points on the side of the box read as if the author spoke English as a second language.  European packaging and English spellings are all over the box yet the console shown only had North American-style plugs.  Sharp eyed viewers, even those who still had some optimism, would not be reassured by this video.

Around this time, it was discovered that Tommy had something of a less than upstanding past.  In 2009 after he was returning from putting on a Video Games Live concert in Brazil, his flight landed at Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia.  He made it through the initial screening process but the TSA found over $100,000 in cash in his bag.  His knew that brother and business associate had filed a required customs declaration form which denied that Tommy had more $10,000 in cash on his person.  He explained to the CBP that the money was for his band members which he could not deposit in a Brazilian bank because the banks were on strike in Brazil when he departed.  He also claimed that he distributed the money to the band members in amounts less than $10,000 before arriving in the US and recovered the amounts after they made it through customs so he would not have to declare the amount on the customs form.  He later admitted to an ICE investigator that this story was false, he had the money the entire time, did not distribute it and did not collect it back.  He was charged with violating 12 U.S.C., Failing to Report the Importation of Cash in Excess of $10,000, a federal misdemeanor.  He changed his plea to guilty, admitting that the government's facts were true and sentenced in the United States District Court, Eastern District of Virginia, Docket No. 1:10-mj-00479-JFA-1 to one year of unsupervised probation and was fined $1,000 and a special assessment of $25 was imposed.  As part of a plea deal he agreed to forfeit the cash, $102,000 to the government.  

GameStop cancelled pre-orders in April when Intellivision had no Amico consoles to send by March 31.  The console's price was raised to $289.99 with one controller and $339.99 for two controllers, only $10 less than a Nintendo Switch for the one controller console.  Tommy's stepping down also signaled a huge drop in the amount of noise coming from the company.  Phil Adam referred to a "cooling off" period while they were in talks with an institutional investor, presumably in the hopes this investor would save the company. June brought another triple whammy of bad news.  First, Adam announced that Intellivision Entertainment would have a significant reduction in staff and would try to license Intellivision IP to generate revenue.  Second, refund request from pre-order buyers have also been delayed.  Third, Intellivision Entertainment permitted their trademark to the Intellivision Amico to be abandoned for ten days because they did not file for a final Extension of Time to File a Statement of Use (which would have covered them through November).  The new application resets their timelines, permitting them another thirty-six months to file a Statement of Use once the opposition period has expired and a Notice of Allowance has been issued.

The future of Intellivision, as I write today, is not promising.  If Intellivision files for bankruptcy, the remaining pre-order backers will have some priority for any assets resulting from a bankruptcy liquidation, but they will have to compete with attorney's fees, salaries and employee benefit plans in terms of priority. While Intellivision Entertainment claimed to be valued at over $30 million dollars, most of those assets are intellectual property assets of questionable value.  It also claimed to have $25 million in pre-orders, purchase orders and allocation requests from individuals and major retailers but recall that backers had to pony up $100 to earn their pre-order spot.  That money is gone, Intellivision used it to fund operation costs.  As of the February prospectus, Intellivision reported it had $1.9 million in case on hand and cash pre-payment of orders, I wonder if they include that $1.35 million dispute with Ark Electronics in that amount.  If so, then they really only have $550K to call their own and that was four months ago.  If not, then their operating costs must run to something like $475K per month.  

The most valuable of Intellivision's intangible assets are its rights to software developed for the Amico, then that of its retro game catalog.  Even though we are likely never to see the Amico, we will probably see many of the games developed for it released for Android and possibly consoles which are ARM-based.  Maybe Cornhole will become a hit when untethered to a dead console.  This will allow the owner of those assets, whoever those may be, to earn some money off them.  There is also a small patent portfolio, but the value of that is difficult to assess in light of the lack of use cases.  However, the idea that Intellivision values itself at $25-30 million because they spent that much in development is nonsense (assuming it did).  Spending lavishly on unimpressive games and niche hardware is not a strong indication of value.

The retro console library also has some value, although with the generation which grew up with the original Intellivsion getting older each year, its value is likely to continue to decline.  Other assets, such as the pre-existing Intellivision trademarks and the "running man logo" are likely to be associated with controversy and failure and likely to have minimal value.  Running Man is never going to compete with a console mascot like Mario, Sonic or even Master Chief.  


  1. I just want to mention, there's one more possibility. Chapter 15. Intellvision in their infinite wisdom, opened an office in Germany, and the UAE.

    The Middle East has a very medieval idea of being bankrupt, which also includes jail.

  2. Disappointing to say the least... I was hoping, but I guess my deposit is gone. Fortunately, I have had good luck with pre-order / crowdfunding. This and the "Coolest" cooler are my only boondoggles haha.

  3. It's a damn shame. I really wanted to see an Intellivision for the modern age. Unfortunately it got to be such that people were openly rooting for it to fail, just so that they could crow and be right about something. The hate simply wasn't rational. Well, they got what they wanted, so I guess they're happy now.

    Eh, who am I kidding, they'll just move on to hating something else now. That's how it works with those people.

    1. Ah, I see. It's the hater's fault, and definitely not the people who ran the company poorly and made all the decisions. Makes sense, makes sense. đŸ€·‍♂️

    2. Who said it was the hater's fault? You're literally hallucinating and making things up I didn't say. The haters definitely had a field day, though. It's always depressing when they win and everyone has to sit through mean-spirited spittle-flecked rants.

  4. La console a Ă©tĂ© annoncĂ©e au CES 2019 et elle promettait d'ĂȘtre une alternative abordable pour les joueurs qui recherchaient quelque chose de plus que les options de jeu habituelles sur smartphone. Intellivision Amico offrait une expĂ©rience de jeu tout-en-un avec son propre Ă©cran, sa manette et ses jeux.