At one time, Atari was the future. Then overpriced junk flooded their systems, they misdirected their focus into computers rather than games, and they rejected a proposal from a little company called Nintendo. As the NES took over the world, defining the modern console gaming world, Atari was left in its dust. There were attempts to stay relevant in the newly Japanese dominated market — Nintendo, SEGA, NEC — but they all failed. After years of valiant attempts to regain its old glory, Atari called it quits and became nothing more than a holding company for its intellectual properties. Atari was dead.
Infogrames, which had spent the latter half of the 1990s acquiring game developers and publishers around the world, bought the Atari brand off Hasbro in 2001. They sought to revitalize it and to make it a household name again. Infogrames focused its entirety on the Atari name. Atari Interactive, Inc. went public as a separate entity, studios were renamed, new games under the Atari name were released, and nothing changed.
Infogrames, a relatively unknown company in the public’s eyes, thought that the recognition of the Atari name would help with marketing and customer identification. It did nothing of the sort: the name “Atari” didn’t mean anything anymore. Fifteen years of obscurity and failure sullied the name; it was synonymous with the old, pre-Nintendo days of gaming, useful for nostalgia but not entirely beneficial when you’re trying to sell new products. Content matters and Atari had nothing new to show. Thus, Infogrames spent most of this decade in the red, selling off (and losing) the very same properties and developers they acquired in the 1990s. Atari was nearly dead for a second time.
Starting late last year, Infogrames took drastic measures. They fired Atari’s executives, laid-off a lot of people, bought out the company (making it private,) and brought on, as president, former Sony head Phil Harrison. In a speculative article after Harrison’s departure from Sony, before anything became official, GamesIndustry.biz wrote:
If Harrison does make the move to Atari it would be a massive shot in the arm for the publisher, and a sure sign to investors that the board is very serious indeed about the prospects for recovery.
This week, a lot of that became evident. Atari picked up the publishing rights to the (unceremoniously dumped by Activision) Ghostbusters (there’s a new trailer.) They’ve grabbed the follow-up/semi-sequel to my favourite XBox game: The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena (also unceremoniously dumped by Activision and also with a new trailer.) And, best of all, they’re going to publish a new Q Entertainment music game for the Wii. I’ve mentioned it before, but I will buy anything that Q releases.
This is how you revitalize a dieing brand. Who knows, if they keep this up maybe the Atari name will still be relevant in Los Angeles, 2019.
- Amongst the crap there were a few notable releases: obscure, underrated game Battle Engine Aquila, and the GameCube version of Ikaruga. As cool as those games are, they’re not exactly massive sellers.