You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Atari co-founder returns to his roots

Bushnell is back with new company, game

Nolan Bushnell, considered by some the father of the vidgame biz, is returning to his roots.

The co-founder of Atari (and founder of the Chuck E Cheese restaurant chain), who hasn’t been directly involved with traditional videogame development for 30 years, is back with a new company and game.

His firm, Reality Gap, is exploring a new economic model in games: developing a portable currency that can be used to buy in-game items such as weapons, armor and other upgrades in different titles.

Bushnell says the originality of the currency system was a large part of what drew him back into game development.

“My curse is I like to go where the innovations are,” he says. “I like to go where things are emerging and are interesting to me. … There can be an innovation in videogame graphics or game play, but the really interesting innovations are those in economic models.”

Reality Gap’s currency, called MetaTIX, can be used in two games. The bigger of the two is the recently launched “Battleswarm: Field of Honor,” a free-to-play PC title that blends elements of first-person shooters and real-time strategy games. More titles are forthcoming.

After leaving Atari in 1979 following a dispute with Warner Communications (which bought the company in 1976), Bushnell served on the boards of several vidgame publishers but stayed away from hands-on work. Instead, he focused on ventures such as Chuck E Cheese and, more recently, uWink, a restaurant chain that centers on touchscreen ordering, games and video.

And though he hasn’t had his name tied to a vidgame or game system for three decades, Bushnell balks at any suggestion that he walked away from the biz. He simply explored it from a non-traditional direction, he says.

“I don’t feel like I’ve ever left,” says Bushnell. “I feel like Chuck E Cheese was, in fact, a game experience. When we were designing the crawlways and things like that, it was like a live-action videogame. I perceive the interior of Chuck E Cheese to be a videogame.”

While he focused on food venues, games began to evolve in a more violent and complex direction, alienating a significant part of their initial audience. But Bushnell’s standing in the industry never faded.

“When Microsoft first brought out the Xbox 360, we talked a lot internally about how Atari was so successful in engaging the entire family,” says Chris Donahue, a divisional president at inXile Entertainment and a former director with Microsoft. “If you look at Nolan’s career and the things that he’s done, his vision of gaming and the interactive entertainment medium has always been a broad, all-encompassing one.”

Today, as the Wii lures lapsed gamers back to the medium and casual-themed online gaming portals (such as Pogo.com and Yahoo! Games) continue to grow, Bushnell believes the time is right to re-enter the fray.

He calls the titles that appeal to this sort of player “snacks.”

“They’re snacks of games,” he says. “You can sit down and play for 10 minutes and that’s fine. We find more and more, though, that people sit down to play for 10 minutes, then a couple hours later they finally walk away.”

And though “Battleswarm” is more a full course than a snack, it’s immaterial whether the masses embrace that particular title. As long as they find a Reality Gap game that appeals to them, Bushnell notes, it benefits his company.

Bushnell, it’s clear, still knows how to play the game.


More Digital

  • The Frontier

    Conecta Fiction: Project Pitches Prizes Passed Out in Pamplona

    On Wednesday evening the Spanish city of Pamplona was overrun, not by bulls, but by hopeful TV creators who had spent the early week pitching their projects at Conecta Fiction, and who anxiously waited to find out the titles which would take home silverware. Meanwhile, “Monzón,” a Disney-Pampa-Incaa production portraying the tragic violence of Argentine [...]

  • YouTube logo

    Why Splitting Up YouTube Is a Terrible Idea

    Facing mounting pressure over failures to protect children from inappropriate content, Google is reportedly considering a number of changes to its video sharing site YouTube. The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that one of the ideas circulated internally was to effectively split up YouTube, and spin out all children’s content into the existing YouTube Kids [...]

  • Niantic's Harry Potter: Wizards Unite Game

    ‘Harry Potter: Wizards Unite’ to Launch This Week

    “Pokemon Go” maker Niantic is getting ready to launch its next big game: “Harry Potter: Wizards Unite” is set to launch in June 21, the company revealed in a tweet this week. The worldwide launch of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite begins this Friday, June 21! Keep your eyes peeled and wand ready for more information [...]

  • google podcast creator program

    Google, PRX Unveil Second Slate of Their Podcasts Creator Program (EXCLUSIVE)

    Roughly a year after first unveiling its podcasts creator program, Google is renewing its commitment to train budding podcasters. Together with public radio and podcast distributor PRX, Google has chosen 6 podcasters from around the world to participate in the next round of the creator program. The podcasts included in the second cohort are “37 [...]

  • Camila Cabello

    Camila Cabello Reveals Podcast Obsessions, Teases New Album at Cannes Lions

    Camila Cabello was the featured speaker at a Tuesday afternoon panel at Cannes Lions, the annual gathering of marketing, design and entertainment professionals in the south of France. Joined by Spotify chief content officer Dawn Ostroff, the talk, moderated by Variety editor Shirley Halperin, was centered around the theme of the golden age of sound [...]

  • Meg Whitman and Jeffrey Katzenberg

    Quibi Has Already Booked $100 Million in Ad Sales, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman Say

    Quibi, the ambitious short-form video venture from Jeffrey Katzenberg and CEO Meg Whitman, has sold $100 million in upfront ad inventory with six advertisers ahead of its April 2020 debut. Advertisers that have committed ad spending to Quibi include Google, Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, Walmart, Progressive and AB InBev, according to the company. The $100 [...]

  • China's iQIYI Signs Content, Channel Pact

    China's iQIYI Signs Content, Channel Pact With Malaysia's Astro

    Astro Malaysia, Malaysia’s leading pay-TV operator, has struck a strategic agreement with Chinese streaming platform iQIYI. Astro obtains the exclusive rights to deliver iQIYI content on TV, on-demand and via OTT in Malaysia. It will launch the first iQIYI-branded channel comprising iQIYI’s extensive slate of original content from drama to variety shows and movies. Astro [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content