Start Wirtschaft Phil Adam: The Last Hope for Intellivision Amico

Phil Adam: The Last Hope for Intellivision Amico

Intellivision-CEO Phil Adam mit Spielkonsole Amico, hier das Modell 'Purple' (Fotos: Intellivision)
Intellivision-CEO Phil Adam mit Spielkonsole Amico, hier das Modell 'Purple' (Fotos: Intellivision)

No money, no console: In order for the Intellivision Amico to somehow go into production after all, CEO Phil Adam is betting on a radical change in strategy.

Deutsche Version dieses Beitrags

„I’m 69 years old. I don’t focus on that. I don’t really read them. My job is to keep the company alive and to ship very good products to families.“

By ‚that,‘ Phil Adam means all the suspicion and buzz and ridicule that has rippled through forums and social media for years and continues to do so daily. That’s because Adam is the Chief Executive Officer of Intellivision Entertainment LLC – that U.S. company that, since 2018, has been pursuing the rather insane plan of adding Intellivision Amico to the gaming console market.

Until recently, this console could also be pre-ordered in Germany, for example at MediaMarkt and Amazon. The price was a sporty €/$ 280, including six pre-installed games and two controllers. Originally, the device was to be released in the fall of 2020. The manager can’t give a concrete date, even when asked – more on that in a moment.

Phil Adam not only looks and talks like Obi-Wan Kenobi – he actually is Obi-Wan Kenobi: the very last hope of Intellivison. This week, he took the time in a video chat with GamesWirtschaft-editor-in-chief Petra Fröhlich to shed light on the most pressing questions that have accumulated in tons of emails over the past few months.

Why a German publication, of all things? More on that in a moment, too.

Intellivision Amico: Game console in survival mode

The most important message up front: Yes, Intellivision is still hell-bent on producing and delivering the promised console at some point. Adam assures: The console is ‚production ready‚. But the company lacks the necessary capital for mass production. And because of this, Adam has turned the business model on its head. The top priority is to raise money. Somehow.

As is often the case, he’ll come into play when the going gets tough, says the games pioneer – just as he did in the early 80s as founder of the cult company Spectrum Holobyte, which landed the distribution rights for the PC version of Tetris under adventurous circumstances (as shown in a recent Apple-TV-movie).

Adam describes his current strategy as „survive then strive“ – in other words, keep the company and brand allive, then go from there. Among his first acts as Intellivision firefighter was to stop running costs and reduce the brutal cash burn rate. Nearly the entire staff has left or was laid off; he closed offices that were often empty anyway during the pandemic. PR and marketing effectively ground to a halt.

In the meantime, Intellivision employs only five people – himself, a finance expert, a colleague for business development, plus a couple of freelancers and consultants. Every McDonald’s store has more personnel capacity.

Intellivision Entertainment eröffnet im Juli 2019 eine Europa-Filiale in Nürnberg (Abbildung: Intellivision)

How Intellivision plans to make money in the future

Ideological adherence to the 10 original Intellivision „commandments“ is something Adam literally cannot afford. That’s why he sold Amico licenses like Shark! Shark! and Astrosmash to Munich-based BBG Entertainment GmbH a few months ago; the trademark rights have already been transferred. BBG plans to offer these and other Intellivision games on PC, Switch and Xbox soon – they are already listed on Steam.

Adam has little to say about the accusation that the silverware is being silver-plated as a result: From his point of view, this deal has not changed anything in the brand promise, because he continues to offer Shark! Shark! & Co. on the Intellivision Amico. Now other platforms would be added – what’s not to love.

Adam expects a marketing effect from these license deals. Because this would also bring in commissions, which in turn could be used to convince investors. Motto: We are still here – and have come to stay. And if that succeeded, the consoles could finally be produced. Ideally, enough money would be raised to serve more than just the pre-order customers.

Whether and when that will be the case is more open than ever.

Intellivision-Spiele wie 'Shark! Shark!' sollen künftig auch auf PC und Switch stattfinden (Abbildung: BBG Entertainment)
Intellivision-Spiele wie ‚Shark! Shark!‘ sollen künftig auch auf PC und Switch stattfinden (Abbildung: BBG Entertainment)

Stupid German Money?

The fact that Intellivision is once again cooperating with a partner in Germany is no coincidence – especially since the European distributor for the console, Plaion (previously Koch Media), also comes from Munich. These are two of several reasons why the fate of the Intellivision Amico beyond the Anglo-Saxon region is being followed with particular attention in this country.

In addition, the European headquarters have been located in Nuremberg, Franconia, since June 20219: Adam has also been running the business of the formally still existing Intellivision Entertainment Europe GmbH for a year.

Directly related to this office is the fact that subsidies from the federal and state subsidies were obtained from Nuremberg. The Free State of Bavaria alone has invested € 450,000 in Pong, Moon Patrol, Shark! Shark! and Skiing, which were subsequently implemented by Bavarian studios. For Snafoo and Biplanes, the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digitalization contributed another €/$ 160,000 – in total, more than €/$ 600,000 in no-refundable taxpayer money.

The games have long been finished – all that’s missing is the console.

Das achtteilige Boxset für die Intellivision Amico kostet rund 150 Euro (Abbildung: Intellvision Entertainment)
Das achtteilige Boxset für die Intellivision Amico kostet rund 150 Euro (Abbildung: Intellvision Entertainment)

A retro console that doesn’t want to be a retro console

The latest Intellivision strategy change is another facet in a movie-like story full of hopes, announcements, disappointments, excuses, delays, inconsistencies, smoke screens, investor stunts and misunderstandings. This already starts with the fact that the Amico is named after a Mattel game console from the 80s, has a retro logo and is supposed to play remakes of Moon Patrol and Pong, but doesn’t want to be perceived as a classic retro console.

The actual target group is families. The Amico (Italian for friend) is supposed to reunite parents and children of pre-school and elementary school age around the living room campfire – just like in last century. Without in-game purchases, without DLCs, without online fuss. Switch on, have fun. Young and old. Together Again.

Critics complain that Intellivision is offering a solution for which the appropriate problem has yet to be invented. Because explicitly the Nintendo Switch has been delivering exactly this kind of co-op games in absurd quality and clock frequency for six years.

Second Achilles‘ heel: the price point. At 280 to 300 $/€, the device is in the same league as the Nintendo Switch or Xbox Series S. 69.99 € are due for the additional controller, and 17.99 € for games.

Adam does not accept the argument that the price for hardware and accessories is (much) too high: „Some of our critics simply don’t understand how expensive it is to produce such controllers.“ As a small company, Intellivision can’t afford to sell the devices at a loss to begin with and then make money on €/$ 70 games, as Sony, Nintendo or Microsoft are doing, following the example of the razor blade industry.

„We didn’t manage to keep console production costs as low as possible – and Covid didn’t help here because component prices skyrocketed.“ He therefore set out to find a way out of this vicious cycle, he says.

Intellivision-Chef Tommy Tallarico (Abbildung: Intellivision)
Intellivision-Chef Tommy Tallarico (Abbildung: Intellivision)

What about … Tommy Tallarico?

The drama surrounding the Intellivision Amico is inextricably linked with the name Tommy Tallarico – that dazzling figure who, like Moses, once brought the 10 Intellivision Commandments for good game design down upon mankind.

The game designer, producer, composer, entrepreneur and world record holder is not only the cousin of Aerosmith rocker Steven Tyler: He toured the entire globe with the Video Games Live soundtrack concert series – before finding a new calling with the Intellivision project.

Since handing over the reins to Phil Adam in the spring of 2022, Tallarico has gone underground. Nevertheless, he is still the largest shareholder and exchanges information with Phil Adam on a weekly basis. He is no longer involved in the day-to-day business.

Tallarico’s career as an emotionally inflammable Intellivision mascot has also come to a temporary end. At the same time, this prevents Tallarico from spending hours and hours in forums, podcasts and YouTube videos working off doubters and mockers, and in doing so, very quickly and very regularly getting off on the wrong foot. Phil Adam takes a relaxed view: When you’re that passionate about something, it’s easy to overshoot the mark.

In general, people have no idea what it means to bring a console to market: „Was Tommy probably naive in starting a hardware company? Yeah – any of us. I founded Spectrum Holobyte. As entrepreneurs, we try all kinds of things that shouldn’t succeed. Because we are passionate about it we have a chance to succeed.“

And Phil Adam doesn’t want to easily squander that tiny remaining chance. That’s why he will do everything in his power to make the virtually impossible possible – and finally deliver a game console. In a first step, pre-orderers who remain loyal to Intellivision despite all trust and down-payment advances will be admitted to an ‚Amico Club‘ and benefit from unspecified ‚rewards‘. Because: „We are still there because of them“.

Translated with the incredible help of