December 11, 2008

Atari Looking To Make Comeback In The Gaming World

The 36-year-old Atari brand is looking to reclaim a stake of the videogame landscape.

Since launching the first truly successful videogame "Pong" in 1972, Atari Inc. founded by Nolan Bushnell, has struggled in recent years with lackluster games like "Jenga World Tour" and "Godzilla Unleashed."

New ownership of Atari may soon 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.

The company's new President Phil Harrison, who was essential in building 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.

However, Atari has had an interesting but checkered past that could make some consumers and investors wary of its bid to get back on top of the game, analysts say.

Billy Pidgeon, videogame analyst at IDC, said the Atari name will always mean 'old school cool' to gamers, but the brand may need some rehab to regain respect.

This year at London's 02 Arena, Atari showcased 14 games heading to stores in 2009, most of which will ship in the first six months.

Atari also plans to 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. The company will also handle retail distribution of CCP Games' "EVE Online," which gets a global release March 10.

Also gamers should watch out for the revival of the arcade boxing game "Ready 2 Rumble Revolution" on Wii next year.

Atari also plans to use a pair of established movie brands to widen its audience after having worked with Hollywood on games like Shiny Entertainment's "Enter the Matrix" and Atari Los Angeles' "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines".

In June, "Ghostbusters: The Videogame" will ship as the Sony Pictures film marks its 25th anniversary and plays like an interactive third film in the franchise with the cast involved.

The company will soon be 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."

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.

According to Harrison, the future of gaming is online.

The company is set to 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.

Atari's management now has to deliver on its promise of better quality games now that the company has internal game development under way at its new London studio and its established Eden Studio in Lyon, France.

"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.


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