LONDON (Reuters) - For many gamers Atari is a blast from the past or just a logo on retro T-shirts but the company that dates back 36 years is looking to reclaim a stake of the videogame landscape.
Atari Inc., founded by Nolan Bushnell, launched the first truly successful videogame “Pong” in 1972 but has struggled in recent years with lackluster games like “Jenga World Tour” and “Godzilla Unleashed.”
But a change in ownership this year aims to reinvigorate the company. French game publisher Infogrames had owned a majority stake in Atari since 2000 but acquired the rest of Atari this year and has assumed its name.
New Atari President Phil Harrison, who helped build Sony Worldwide Studios into a leading game development factory, said it’s now up to the game maker to build the products and services that do the well-known Atari brand justice.
“Having a cool logo and a brand that’s known throughout the world is great, but unless it stands for something and actually resonates with our players by delivering great value, fun gameplay, and entertainment, it doesn’t mean anything,” he said.
Analysts said Atari had an interesting but checkered past which could makes some consumers — and investors — wary of its bid to get back on top of the game.
“The Atari name will always mean ‘old school cool’ to gamers, but the brand may need some rehab to regain respect,” said Billy Pidgeon, videogame analyst at IDC.
Atari used London’s 02 Arena to showcase 14 games heading to stores in 2009, most of which will ship in the first six months.
For the more hardcore gamers, Atari will bring developer CD Projekt RED’s “The Witcher: Rise of the White Wolf,” a fantasy role-playing game, to PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in autumn 2009. Atari will also handle retail distribution of CCP Games’ “EVE Online,” which gets a global release March 10.
The company is also reviving the arcade boxing game “Ready 2 Rumble Revolution” on Wii next year.
Having worked with Hollywood on games like Shiny Entertainment’s “Enter the Matrix” and Atari Los Angeles’ “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” the company also plans to use a pair of established movie brands to widen its audience.
“Ghostbusters: The Videogame” ships in June as the Sony Pictures film marks its 25th anniversary and plays like an interactive third film in the franchise with the cast involved.
Atari is bringing a virtual Vin Diesel to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in the spring in “Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena,” a shooter that further explores the back story of Riddick from the films “Pitch Black” and “Chronicles of Riddick.”
Just this week, Atari acquired California-based Cryptic Studios for $28 million (plus the potential for another $20 million in bonus payments), a developer that produces massively multiplayer online (MMO) games.
Harrison said he believes the future of gaming is online.
Atari will publish Cryptic’s three upcoming games in 2009, 2010 and 2011 with the first out the gate the comic book heroes and villains of “Champions Online,” followed by “Star Trek Online” in 2010 and an unannounced MMO game for 2011.
With its early slate now set, and new internal game development under way at its new London studio and its established Eden Studio in Lyon, France, Atari’s management now has to deliver on its promise of better quality games.
“I think Phil Harrison and Paulina Bozek (head of Atari’s London Studio) will be instrumental in building a mass market library, which will help the publisher compete in today’s market,” said Pidgeon.
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith