Old moniker, new plans for publisher
Atari is going back to its roots.The French-owned videogame publisher that has been operating as Infogrames Atari is reverting back to the original moniker that launched the company back in the 1980s. Going forward, Atari will focus more on producing online and casual games rather than expensive tentpole titles. The casual games sector — games players can pick up and play anytime without having to spend hours engrossed in an ongoing storyline — has been driving growth in the videogames biz and will be heavily featured at the E3 vidgame biz confab that hits the Los Angeles Convention Center this week. Casual games are a sector in which Nintendo’s Wii has been especially successful. It’s also the sector that turned Atari into a mass market brand nearly three decades ago, with games like “Asteroids,” “Centipede,” “Missile Command” and “Breakout.” “It’s a great opportunity for a brand like Atari that was built around the mass market,” said Jim Wilson, CEO of Atari Inc. North America. As part of that effort, Atari will concentrate on the United States, which has been generating much of Atari’s revenue over the past two years — the U.S. market grew 82% over that period. Last year, nearly 69% of Atari’s sales were made in the U.S. Company’s using the name change back to Atari to launch a licensing program around the brand that will include merchandise and other fare. While merchandise sales will help the bottom line, Atari needs a lineup of more inexpensive but appealing games, like “Hello Kitty,” to help the company’s road to recovery. Company parent Infogrames reported a net loss of $319 million for its fiscal year that ended March 31 even as revenue grew 51%. It lost $72 million a year before that. This year, it’s already released “The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena” for all of the major platforms, and has a new installment of “Backyard Football” and “Ghostbusters: The Video Game” bowing later this year. Last year, it bought Cryptic Studios to produce “Champions Online” and “Star Trek Online” as two massively multiplayer online role-playing games. “Ghostbusters,” originally developed by Vivendi Universal Games, was supposed to bow last holiday season, but Atari wanted to tie in with the movie franchise’s 25th anniversary this month. It has high hopes for the “Star Trek” game given the reboot of the franchise at the megaplex. “A ‘Star Trek’ audience has been out there for years, but now you have a new generation with this movie,” Wilson said. The corporate overhaul, which recently included selling its European distribution arm to Namco Bandi, comes as Atari is undergoing a change of its executive ranks, with Phil Harrison stepping down as prexy of the company as operations shift more Stateside. Harrison, former Sony Computer Entertainment prexy of worldwide publishing, will remain on Atari’s board of directors. Jeff Lapin, who was already a member of Infogrames’ board and was CEO of THQ and Take-Two Interactive, has joined the company as chief operating officer of Atari Worldwide.