Another fresh start for Atari

The men currently guiding the troubled ship that is Atari have – once again – outlined the company’s intentions to navigate out of continuously troubled water and back into a more stable future at the heart of the games industry.

As is the case with so many modern publishers, Atari’s management believes that salvation is to be found in the growing casual games sector and intends to leverage many of its popular IPs for success in the social gaming space.

Atari was like an old onion that smells really bad and every time you peel away one problem, you find another,” chief executive Jeff Lapin told the LA Times. I look at us as basically a start-up, but one with a brand everybody in the world knows and a great library of intellectual property”

In the coming weeks Atari intends to release a number of its notable arcade IPs such as Missile Command and Centipede on Facebook. It says that it wants to bypass the retail sector and instead be at the forefront of the growing trade in digital games retail. Some games will cost money to download, though many will be free-to-play.

The claims mark the latest in an agonisingly long string of tactical rethinks that have characterised a troubled few years for the company.

After a number of attempted restructurings to the once traditional publisher, in March 2008 Atari rocked the games world by announcing the appointment of recently departed Sony development boss Phil Harrison.

The news had followed another high-profile appointment in the form of former EA exec David Gardner, who himself had promised a reboot” for the firm in February 2008.

Soon afterwards the company (for the first time) announced that it was to withdraw from the boxed console games market. Just the next month it then acquired the rights to publish console title The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Athena.

However, come May 2009 it was confirmed that Harrison had left he post of president to become Atari’s new non-executive director. Following the departure of Gardner last December it was confirmed in April 2010 that Harrison had left the company completely – and in a even more bizarre development Atari’s co-founder Nolan Bushnell announced his return to the company.

In the interim Atari had sold off its UK distribution operations to Namco Bandai and already tried to make a move into the social network space via its obscure Photo Sauce app, a program that effectively allowed users to stick things on top of digital pictures.

Throughout the turbulence Atari has failed to return to profitability, though it has at least put a stop to the ongoing losses that has seen it lose around $700m (and four chief executives) in the last five years.

Bear in mind, too, that it still has next-gen driving sequel Test Drive Unlimited 2 on its books. Whether Eden’s racer will be Atari’s last boxed console release remains to be seen.

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