‘Matrix’ game powers Atari quarter

Co. recouping from huge investment as revs jump 17%

One of the biggest bets in vidgame history paid off handsomely for Atari, as it sold more than 3 million units of its “Enter the Matrix,” powering the French publisher to a big second quarter and the No. 3 sales spot among U.S. game pubs.

Rev jumped 17% to $151.4 million for the quarter ended June 30 compared with the same period in 2002, largely on the strength of its game based on “The Matrix” movies. Company swung to a profit of $23.8 million from a $700,000 loss a year ago.

The company was formerly known as Infogrames but renamed itself during the quarter after the storied Atari brand. Parent company Infogrames Entertainment SA remains the biggest Euro vidgame publisher, but Atari had been only No. 6 among U.S. publishers before “Enter the Matrix.”

Locked, loaded

Atari’s investment in “The Matrix” property was huge, beginning with the $47 million it paid to acquire developer Shiny Entertainment and the game’s rights. Development costs have never been broken out but are believed to run $20 million, as writer-directors Larry and Andy Wachowski created the game simultaneously with shooting “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions.”

Atari then shipped a remarkable 4 million copies of the game, which launched the same day “Reloaded” hit movie screens in May. Various sources have estimated that Atari spent roughly $100 million to acquire, develop, market and distribute the game.

Many in the vidgame industry doubted the bet would pay off, particularly after the game received only modestly positive reviews. But even competitors concede all 4 million copies will sell by year’s end. Company is already three-fourths of the way to that goal, and the game will get another publicity boost at holiday time from the arrival of the “Reloaded” DVD and “Revolutions” onscreen. If all 4 million do sell, it will create a retail “B.O.” of roughly $200 million.

Atari also continued to reap revenues during the quarter from games based on the Japanese animation franchise “Dragonball Z,” which has become a hit in translated form on American cable TV. All told, three “Dragonball Z” titles released since December have sold more than three million units combined. Expansion packs for franchises “RollerCoaster Tycoon” and “Neverwinter Nights” also boosted quarterly revenues.