The corporate entity managing the Atari brand name (which has only the slightest connection to the original company known as Atari at this point) is the latest company to get in on the speculative mania surrounding non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
Atari SA’s first NFT auction, which concluded Wednesday night on OpenSea, raised 47.582 ether (about $92,000 USD at current prices) through the sale of ten cryptographically signed NFTs, each representing a 3D model of an Atari 2600 Centipede cartridge. The cheapest of the ten NFTs sold for 3.25 ether (about $6,300) while the most expensive (numbered “1 of 30” in its digital stats, even though only ten have sold so far) went for a whopping 9.4395 ether (about $18,300).
A separate set of 100 NFTs representing red Centipede cartridges also sold on the Harmony One marketplace for the equivalent of $180.78 each, raising an additional $18,000 in just one and a half hours, according to a spokesperson.
For context, an actual, factory-sealed copy of Centipede for the Atari 2600—complete with box, instructions, and a mint-condition cartridge that can actually be used to play the game on real hardware—can be purchased on eBay right now for $52.99, including shipping.
Each of the ten “cartridge” NFTs acts as a kind of “certificate of authenticity” for the underlying digital item, with the token’s ownership and uniqueness confirmed by the work of miners on the Ethereum blockchain. The 3D models themselves were created and sold with the help of Animoca Brands and NFT collectible company Quidd, which hosts the actual relevant files on their servers.
The actual NFT on the Ethereum blockchain simply serves as a transferable, traceable, “ownable” digital reference to that server-hosted content. But Quidd promises that, in the future, owners of its NFTs will be able to store their items “permanently on the blockchain.” Quidd likens that potential process to “having a high-value physical trading card, say a Michael Jordan rookie card, and deciding to authenticate and grade it, ‘slab it’ to protect it from damage, insure it with an insurance company, and store it in a vault or other safe space.”
More nostalgic NFTs to come
Atari’s six-figure NFT windfall thus far is just the first wave of a wider Atari capsule collection, which will be minting and auctioning off various “limited edition” digital collectibles based on Centipede and Pong, to start. That includes 60 more Atari 2600 Centipede cartridge NFTs, artist’s renditions of pixelated game scenes, and three NFTs representing “the first quarter inserted into the first Pong arcade game at Andy Capp’s Bar in 1972, based on the actual physical quarter owned by Al Alcorn” (which pretty much looks like any other quarter, to be honest).
The most exclusive of these coming NFTs—a 3D model of a Centipede arcade cabinet bearing the digital signature of co-creator Dona Bailey—will come bundled with a “beautifully restored and working original Centipede Coin-Op physical cabinet” for the winner of the initial auction. As if that didn’t blur the line between physical and digital collectible enough, the owner of that physical game will be able to unlock “a unique augmented reality experience” by pointing a smartphone at the cabinet.
This isn’t the first buzzwordy technological trend that the Atari corporate brand has been quick to hop on in recent years. Back in 2018, the company’s stock jumped 52 percent on the news that Atari was breaking into the cryptocurrency market with Atari Token (the price of those tokens has risen slightly since they actually started trading last November). The company is leveraging that token into its own branded cryptocurrency exchange as well as future plans for an online cryptocurrency-based Atari Casino. That’s not to mention other quixotic branding efforts like the crowdfunded Atari VCS microconsole and plans for Atari-themed hotels and licensed speakerhats.
Whether any of these new, purely digital NFT collectibles will actually appreciate in value in the future is still anyone’s guess. Whatever happens, though, Atari has already proved that there is some money to be made using NFTs to create artificially “scarce” digital items representing some well-remembered video game franchises of the past.