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Credit: Atari Hotels

Atari Hotels CEO recalls how Stranger Things triggered the idea for a new gamer Mecca

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Nov 23, 2020, 1:52 PM EST

Though long past its arcade glory days of the '80s, the name Atari still resonates soundly in the video game industry. 

In 1972, founders Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney released what became the first commercial video game with Pong, then produced their classic home video game system, the Atari 2600, in 1975. Over the next decade, Atari would release dozens of hit games across multiple systems with iconic titles like Asteroids, Missile Command, and Centipede.

Atari continues to pursue the dream of digital innovation and now they're venturing into new territory by launching Atari Hotels, with plans to build two Atari-themed resort hotels starting in Las Vegas and Phoenix which will be steeped in video game culture past, present, and future. Cities eyed for added hotels are Austin, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle.

Credit: Atari Hotels

According to last month’s press release, “Guests can enjoy the latest in video games, experience cutting-edge immersive entertainment, purchase exclusive Atari Hotels merchandise, and play the night away in retro-style gaming arcades. A speakeasy and fully equipped nightclub will be available for adult guests, as well as themed restaurants and bars.”

SYFY WIRE spoke with Atari Hotels’ CEO Napoleon Smith III to learn how this ambitious project germinated after seeing an episode of Stranger Things, how retro-futurism and pop culture will collide under the Atari banner, and when avid gamers might be able to book their stay!

Smith, who brokered the deal to produce both Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films, seems to have a knack for resurrecting things from his childhood and turning them into profitable ventures. The notion for an Atari Hotel came from a similar wellspring of nostalgia.

Credit: Atari Hotels

“One weekend I stayed in and was watching Netflix’s Stranger Things and I noticed one of the kids was wearing an Atari shirt,” he tells SYFY WIRE. "I loved Atari as a kid and when I was six years old I got one under the Christmas Tree. I had so much fun with it and you couldn’t get my grandmother off it. [Laughs.] What you saw with Atari that really resonated with people, is that for the first time you’re part of the story by bringing the console to your room, and that’s such a cool feeling to have for the family.

“I don’t see me getting an Atari under the tree now that I’m in my Forties, but I do see how cool it would be to have a Christmas Tree under your Atari. Atari has become more nostalgic than other companies like Nintendo and Activision that are currently in the industry. It shouldn’t just be a gaming company. It has much more core value as a physical place."

His background in movies came from being a total Comic-Con nerd, where Smith recognized a commonality between big gaming conventions and pop-culture Meccas like San Diego.

Credit: Atari Hotels

“It’s time to build a Mecca where gamers and people into nostalgia and pop-culture can all hang out together and let their nerd flag fly. We all have a little nerd in us and a little bit of gamer in us. A lot of gamers don’t like to travel because a good part of their lives are in the digital world, and that’s just as important to them. They bring luggage and towers and headphones and I thought, you’ve got to be kidding, nobody is helping these guys out to get in their space?” 

Recognizing that this gamer environment spends good money to be part of these worlds and don’t want it to end just because they’re traveling, Smith dreamt of a destination which could become that blurred line, between the digital world and the real world where they meet.  

“Atari is accommodating both sides of you, your avatar and you,” he explains. “That’s where Atari’s true heart is. We’re Ready, Player, Stay. When you come to an Atari Hotel, rooms are geared and set up for the hospitality of your gamer side. You don’t have to bring your towers or controllers or any equipment. 

"It’s already embedded within the building. We’re going to give you bigger gear, faster speeds, and access to things you’ll only find while staying at an Atari Hotel. We think there’s going to be such a growing demand for digital-side hospitality and we want to be at the forefront of that. That’s why we want to start our main site in Vegas, so you can gamble and experience all facets of gaming from adults to kids.”

Credit: Atari Hotels

The internationally-known architectural firm, Gensler, created the stunning concept art for Atari Hotels and the initial reaction to it has been nothing less than electrifying.

“They worked with us hand-in-hand,” Smith recounts. “We wanted to pick a firm that could handle something this big. They blew it out of the park. Everyone there at Gensler is a huge geek. They became architects because they wanted to build things they saw in movies. They were like kids again in a candy shop, able to conceive something that doesn’t exist anywhere, where imagination has no limits. Trying to get the essence of Atari is a tricky thing. So we’re retro-cool and want to make sure that the past has a home in the future.  

“We want Atari Hotels to be a place where you can express yourself.  We want the writers of Ready Player One. We want the gaming developers from the massive games like Fortnite. This is where they can come and hang out. Our rock stars are going to be these gaming celebrities that wrote these cool books and video games from the past. This is their Planet Hollywood.”

Credit: Atari Hotels

Smith revealed that an announcement for the Vegas land purchase and location should break in the next 30-60 days, and that they’d love to see themselves open by Christmas of 2022.

“That’s an aggressive goal which is quite possible due to the sheer support and talent we have behind us to move mountains for this place to happen. I’ve never really been in that Willy Wonka position where everybody is saying yes. It’s been cool to have so much fun from something from my childhood. It allows me to stay a kid a lot longer than I thought I’d ever be able to.”