As technologies become obsolete, the brands behind them have to adapt or die. Take Kodak, the long-dominant camera film company that has pivoted to pharmaceuticals. Sometimes brands evolve what they offer based on their strengths, and sometimes they completely retool themselves to offer something new. And sometimes—or maybe just one time—they become hotels.
Atari, an early video game innovator, is about to start the next phase of its existence as the concept behind a string of new hotels. The Atari Hotel, currently being developed for its first iteration in Las Vegas, would combine the brand’s retro appeal with video game-centric hospitality in a place where it’s now legal to bet on e-sports. Scottsdale, Arizona-based GSD Group announced the hotel concept back in January, but just released renderings of the first iteration of the hotel. Designed by the global architecture firm Gensler, the building is a neon-accented take on the A-shaped Atari logo.
The somewhat unexpected concept comes from the mind of entrepreneur and GSD Group partner Napoleon Smith III, who has developed a niche successfully reviving old brands. He led the acquisition of the intellectual property behind Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and executive produced the 2014 and 2016 movie adaptations. More recently, he secured the rights to Captain Kangaroo, the children’s TV show that ran from 1955 to 1984, and is working with Mark Wahlberg on a refresh. “I like to reboot brands from my childhood, which is the ’80s,” Smith says. “For some reason, I don’t know why, it’s kind of my thing.”
After seeing an Atari shirt on a character in the Netflix show Stranger Things, Smith realized the brand, which launched in 1972, had untapped potential in a world where video games have become a billion-dollar business. “It used to be music, then movies, and now you’re seeing gaming really starting to take hold of our pop culture,” he says.
“I go to Comic-Con every year,” Smith continues. “What I noticed was this space, the Comic-Con and the gaming worlds, they have these conventions for them. They have the media for them. But they don’t have any lifestyle hospitality for them. Like none.”
The hotel concept he and GSD Group have created aims to appeal to both serious video game players as well as families who in the past may have gone to places like the music-themed Hard Rock Hotel or movie-themed Planet Hollywood. Smith describes the planned aesthetic of the hotel as a mix of cyberpunk dystopia and ’80s-era low-bit nostalgia.
For gamers, Smith equates the hotel’s offerings to something like a modern-day fishing trip, where a group of friends would get together for a weekend getaway geared around an activity. Rooms will be equipped with access to multiple gaming systems and a deep library of games, high-speed broadband, and large-screen TVs. Smith says the hotel could be an optimal setting for game studios to launch new products, or as a fan-centric test space for new projects under development. Mostly, he says, it will be a place where people can make video games the centerpiece of their vacation.
“Your controller goes down? Boom, we got another one for you. Our tech support, 24 hours, up there within a few minutes,” Smith says. “If you need us to roll in a small cooler with nothing but Red Bulls and Hot Pockets because you’ve got a huge gaming session going on with your crew, we got you.”
Anticipated to open by 2022, the Las Vegas hotel is planned to be about 500 rooms, with potential full-time penthouse residences. A 5-acre site has been selected, but Smith says he’s not ready to announce its precise location. A follow-up hotel is planned for Phoenix, and GSD Group hopes to expand the Atari Hotel concept to several other cities.
Whether the concept can lure enough of a market is unclear. Pop culture-themed hotels do work in certain contexts. Those at Disney theme parks build on a robust catalog of films and characters, and have the obvious benefit of being connected to major attractions. Atari and video games may be more of a stretch. Video games are mostly played at home on equipment people already have. But Smith notes that games, and gamers, are becoming increasingly social, and there may be some appeal in offering a place where gamers can come together. Las Vegas—a place with a significant number of themed hotels—would be a unique testing ground.
“E-sports gambling is legal in Vegas, and what you’re finding is Vegas doesn’t know what to do,” Smith says. “These hotels are not designed for that demographic. Their games are not designed for being interactive and skill-based. They’re still a bit archaic.”
He says people interested in video games might not feel the draw to the slot machines and smoky casinos of Las Vegas, nor will families tend to make gambling the focus of their vacations. “There’s a lot of things missing in Vegas, and we think that we can be the newer generation of the type of hospitality that you’re going to see in Vegas,” Smith says.
In a pandemic year, when hotels and hospitality-based economies like Las Vegas’s continue to struggle, future demand is tough to predict. If Smith is right, one way forward for the hospitality industry may lie in breathing new life into an old brand.