It's fun to dunk on the Amico but the project's true victims were mostly old, vulnerable, people

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bigsocrates

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Edited By bigsocrates

This is mostly a reminder to myself. I have a lot of fun making fun of the Amico and its tribulations, but at the heart of the story there is a real and serious scandal. Whether or not it rises to the level of criminally or civilly actionable fraud depends on certain facts that aren't publicly known, but even if it doesn't meet the legal definition, the fact is that a lot of lies were told and a lot of money was taken...for nothing.

While the Amico project was initially pitched as not requiring crowdfunding of any kind, that tune changed swiftly and there were several rounds of collection for the project. Part of this was a pre-order campaign, allegedly fully refundable, but the majority was done through shady investment websites that offer convoluted time-limited revenue shares to investors. You pay in X dollars and you get a share of the company's revenues in the future.

This is inherently a bad type of investment, especially for a pre-revenue company. Not only does it generate the obvious risk of the company never generating significant revenue (*cough cough*) or taking too long, but even if the company does actually get a product to market having to immediately pay out cash to investors will hamper that company's growth during what is often a cash poor period. There's a reason that venture capital funds make their cash through IPOs and not by immediately withdrawing funds from a company as soon as it earns its first penny. Of course mature companies often pay out cash via dividends or, these days, stock buybacks, but that's once their finances are secure and their high growth period is done.

So who would buy into Intellivision under these terms? Rubes. Intellivision tried to find deep pocketed investors in the VC area and struck out so they turned to shady "investment advice" groups that are often "pay to play" where, for a fee, what is in essence a conman will tell a group of unsavvy investors that he has a hot tip, and then will offer the tip for a fee. The conman can collect money at both ends, from the rubes and the "hot tip" company or just from one or the other, but the goal is to collect the fees, not make good investments. The investors themselves are often older people who don't understand the market and have reduced critical thinking skills that make them vulnerable to the hard sell and to promises of great riches from someone who wants to share their secret for...some reason (the very concept of these tips make no sense because if someone was such a great investor they'd have gone the Warren Buffet route and just become rich themselves.)

Already Intellivision was acting unethically, but to make matters worse it then proceeded to try to sell these crappy "investments" via a series of outrageous lies. There were frequent claims, or at least heavy implications, that the system and software were finished or very close to finished and they just needed a little money to get the product manufactured and distributed (even though they claimed to have a huge manufacturing line of credit and lots of product orders; remember they're selling to rubes so they don't need to be consistent.) They claimed to have numerous games in development or under discussion that were clearly never made, and consistently offered up release dates that were completely impossible for them to hit.

It was lie after lie after lie after lie.

Funny, at the time, to sophisticated industry watchers who knew that the project was a mess (though relatively few predicted it would never even make it to market) but actually quite sinister when take into account the over $15,000,000 taken in from crowdfunding, primarily from these unsophisticated, vulnerable, older adults.

And what did they do with the money? Some think they outright stole it. Others that they just mismanaged it into oblivion. They spent freely on expensive offices that never filled up and prematurely hiring expensive staff for functions like marketing well before they even had a product to sell. Did they pocket it or fritter it away by growing way too big too fast? Some combination of both seems the most likely, but unlike many I don't think that this was intended as a pure investment scam. I think they meant to make a product and make money off it. They just didn't have the discipline or planning skills to get anywhere near their goals, despite substantial funding (likely quite a bit more than products like PlayDate or Evercade that managed to make it to market and get quite a bit of software support.)

The scam continued with "physical products" that were essentially game boxes with digital IOUs for games to be created later that mostly never came out in any form. Then there was a long series of roadmaps and promises that never came to fruition and the continued promise that console will be released in the future (possibly to stave off lawsuits; who knows why Intellivision does what it does.)

But while at this point we've descended into the realm of farce and it's funny to watch fanboys scramble over and over again to explain away lies and failures, at the heart of this thing there is all that crowdfunding and the people who fell for a hard pitch and will never see a dime of their money back. There are also the pre-orders that never got refunded despite their guarantee, though there the exposure is just $100, not the thousands or tens of thousands fleeced from the "investors."

Even if someone did file a lawsuit the money's probably gone at this point and it's not worth it. They probably got away with it.

And that's the legacy of Amico. Millions of dollars squandered or stolen, nothing to show. I'd say the people involved should be ashamed of themselves but that's clearly impossible.

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NightWolve

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#2  Edited By NightWolve

Well said! While it has been VERY entertaining for the rest of us as spectators there are hundreds/thousands of victims in this failure to keep in mind! I don't really know/process how this "project" could've possibly raised the reported ~$15 million, but if true it was obviously pissed away in spectacular fashion... And I never once saw any persuasive argument by Tommy Tallarico or anyone else associated with this "Amico" endeavor as to WHY they felt they could succeed where the Ouya failed, a criticism that Tommy smugly dismissed... Anyhow, Atari "wins" again, huh ?? Hahaha!!!!

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I will mention that there were some that bought into the Amico on the premise of it being a culturally sanitized version of the medium, with Tommy Tallarico promising that it would be free from the influences of self-perceived left-wing biases. The same people leading this second pitiful call to action against what remains of the gaming press, did get behind the Amico to a degree, and saw a console they thought was worth supporting because they bought into the falsehoods about the dangers of DEI and diversity in games. To those that did invest in the Amico with hopes of furthering this false notion that games should be free from politics or socially conscious topics, I can only extend a nominal sense of pity.

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@zombiepie: I can correlate this. I fell into my own personal downward schadenfreude spiral of exploring the Amiico and its fanbase late last year, and ended up reading the entire Twitter history of a few people out of sheer bewilderment. A couple highlights were (and I'm paraphrasing from memory) "Vince McMahon did nothing wrong," "my kids don't want to see me anymore", and my personal favorite "it's Christmas does anyone know of a restaurant that's open where I can get a turkey dinner?" It's sad that these people were bilked out of their milk money, for sure, but these people are basically grade-schoolers at a funfair - that money was getting bilked one way or another. Honestly I feel way better about it going towards Tallarico and his antics vs Mitch McConnell and his.

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bigsocrates

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@nightwolve: There was never a compelling pitch. Never. That's why they reached out to people who didn't know anything about gaming who had never even heard of the Ouya and didn't understand either the market or the tech. It is still shocking how much they raised but I guess those pay-to-play investment services have a large number of suckers.

@zombiepie: Obviously I don't know EVERYTHING about Amico, but my understanding is that this is more of a correlation than an actual part of the pitch. Amico was pitched as family friendly, with no games rated over E10+, and it's certainly true that Tallarico and his scam friends were Trump supporters (I guess if there's anyone who SHOULD idolize Trump it's a degenerate scammer) but the Trumpy stuff wasn't really part of the pitch. There was very little talk of DEI or "wokeness," in part because the pitch was made mostly in 2019-2021 before that grift was as clearly established as it is now. I'm sure a lot of the people who bought in were right wingers (older people seeking a "family friendly" console will tend to be) but it wasn't a big part of the grift at the time.

@mach_go_go_go: Vince McMahon did nothing wrong is certainly a take! Again I think a lot of this is correlative, though I'd caution against assuming that an older adult being lonely on Thanksgiving says anything bad about them per se.

Claiming Vince McMahon did nothing wrong certainly does, and most (though not all) people whose kids don't talk to them had it coming, but there are a lot of lonely people out there who don't necessarily deserve it.

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AV_Gamer

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The way the whole Amico thing went down, reminds me a lot of Elizabeth Holmes and the Theranos fraud scandal. And while Holmes is currently serving her time in a summer camp like prison facility, she was not convicted for defrauding the common people, only the rich investors.

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#8  Edited By Manburger

Good piece! Appreciate the context & history. It does behoove us to remember that it's not all fun and games when actual human beings are involved and impacted.

@av_gamer said:

And while Holmes is currently serving her time in a summer camp like prison facility, she was not convicted for defrauding the common people, only the rich investors.

How about that, huh. Unrelated: how do you usually go about sharpening your guillotine

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bigsocrates

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@av_gamer: There are definitely some parallels. Of course Holmes endangered people with fraudulent medical technology, which is worse than trying to sell fake video games. On the other hand she WAS claiming to make something that people actually wanted. And to Tommy's credit(?) the product he was planning to make IS possible with current tech. Or with 2005 tech!

@manburger: Thanks for reading. Yeah this whole scenario would be a lot more fun if Tommy had just burned through his own money or that of some VC types who could afford the loss, and not old people's retirement money.