Cryptic strategy for Atari

Videogame publisher acquires developer

Resurgent videogame publisher Atari is betting big on online gaming by acquiring developer Cryptic Studios.

Atari’s parent company Infogrames will pay $28 million in cash, plus up to $48 million in bonuses, for Cryptic, maker of the moderately successful multiplayer online games “City of Heroes” and “City of Villains.”

Cryptic is working on superhero game “Champions Online,” a spinoff of a canceled title based on Marvel superheroes that will be released in 2009, as well as on 2010’s “Star Trek Online.”

Atari is justifying the purchase largely on the basis of Cryptic’s technology, which the publisher hopes to use for other online games it will develop.

Acquisition is being financed entirely by a bond issuance; for Atari to pay back the debt, Cryptic’s success will be crucial.

Purchase is the latest bold move by Atari since new management took over the moribund publisher last year. It has also recently bought publishing rights to “Ghostbusters,” a new “Chronicles of Riddick” title and a game based on upcoming Universal toon “Tale of Despereaux”; announced sequels to several of its well-known franchises; and started work on a few original properties.

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