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Atari VCS designer sues company for unpaid salary

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Rob Wyatt says he’s owed $260,000 for creating the crowdfunded console

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product shot showing the Atari VCS and its two controller types Photo: RC Rivera

The chief architect of the Atari VCS — the crowdfunded Linux gaming PC whose launch has been delayed repeatedly — has sued the company, saying he was not paid for six months of work in designing the console.

Rob Wyatt, who was also the system architect of the first Xbox, says he is owed more than $260,000 by Atari Gamebox, the company behind the Atari VCS. Wyatt quit the company in October over the unpaid salary. Wyatt’s lawsuit, filed in federal court in Colorado, says that when he demanded full payment in October, Atari claimed that he had delayed the console and hadn’t performed his work on the schedule they agreed upon.

“In fact, it was Atari’s own mismanagement of the Console Project that was the cause of or reason for the delayed launch of the console Project,” the lawsuit says, “and not because Tin Giant [Wyatt’s personal corporation] had failed to perform the Agreement.”

A row of consoles on an assembly line
Atari VCS units being assembled at the company’s factory outside Shanghai, China, in February.
Photo: Atari via Medium

Wyatt’s suit goes on to say Atari employees, including chief executive Frederic Chesnais, blamed Wyatt in statements to the media about the Atari VCS’ delay. Wyatt is suing Atari both for the unpaid money and for defamation.

Polygon has reached out to Atari representatives for additional comment. VentureBeat, which reported the lawsuit on Thursday, said Chesnais declined to comment, saying he hadn’t gotten a copy of the lawsuit yet.

The Atari VCS was conceived in 2017 (as the “Ataribox”) and funded in 2018 with $3,058,123 in pre-orders on Indiegogo. It was originally planned to launch sometime in the spring of 2019. Atari announced a delay in March 2019, and three months later moved the launch date to March 2020, with Indiegogo donors getting their units by the end of the year.

Then in December, the company said donors would not be getting their machine that month, but that the delay was a matter of “weeks, not months.” In February, the company posted a note that obliquely mentioned its factory in China had been closed because of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Most recently, on March 20, the company said it had enough parts to manufacture its first 500 Atari VCS units, and that it was working hard with its Chinese factory and supply chain to expand production to fulfill Indiegogo pre-orders. But that message didn’t say how many backers have gotten their units (only that a good portion were earmarked as development kits) or give a time frame for the VCS’ retail launch.

The Atari VCS, despite its name, is not a throwback mini-console; it’s a Linux gaming PC, with a high-end AMD processor, 4GB of RAM, plus 4K and HDR support, and it sells for $249.99.