SPECIAL REPORT: Harrison and Gardner on restaffing the resurgent publisher's creative teams

Atari plans more new studios as part of online ‘reinvention’

Last week’s announcement that Atari was to open a new studio in London headed by SingStar director Paulina Bozek was just the first step in a ‘reinvention’ of the publisher’s development interests around the world, president Phil Harrison has told Develop.

With money in the bank after selling a 34 per cent stake in parent firm Infogrames’ European and Asian distribution operations to Namco Bandai, Harrison and CEO David Gardner are looking to establish studios in other countries regardless of cost as the pair plan to overhaul Atari into a publisher primarily dedicated to online games.

And even in the midst of an economic crunch that means not letting matters like tax breaks and government subsidies distract them as Atari hunts top-tier development staff.

Harrison told us: "The day that corporation tax planning becomes a factor in our decision making would be a happy day indeed, but it’s not yet the case.

"First of all, there is a world outside of France. Although we are extremely happy with the talent base we have at Eden, our studio in France, and the publishing team that we have in Lyon, we want to grow our business and part of that growth strategy includes geographic expansion. And we have a huge talent base in the UK that we would like to attract to our organisation. Paulina Bozek is a great first step towards that – and we are looking at other geographic locations."

The comments come as Atari reveals to our sister magazine MCV that the firm is planning to aggressively embrace the online business model and produce a variety of games for Xbox Live Arcade, PSN, iTunes, Facebook and other connected platforms all as part of what Harrison calls "broadly online distribution agnostic".

"We’ve been saying all along that we wanted to make the business online," said Gardner. "Atari will be focused on publishing products both online and packaged goods – but focusing more online."

That means a mix of business models going forward. Harrison added: "Atari.com will be a key part of our future strategy, but some of our products and services will have their own clear identities and will emerge discreetly and separately from the site. But the back office functions and services will be shared."

But those back offices and services of course need staff and content producers to make games – and now Harrison and Gardner are hoping to attract other big names to develop titles under the Atari banner.

Gardner promises more big names like Bozek, quipping that "We can’t do it alone – I don’t have the programming skills.

Harrison also joked: "And I’m a rubbish graphic artist, as everybody in the industry knows."

Specifically, the two want staff who agree that the future of the games industry lies online and amongst large mass-market audiences.

Harrison added: "We’re looking for people that share our vision for the future of the industry and are excited about the challenge of making that vision come true. It’s in all disciplines – production, creative design, graphic design, technology, programming – but there’s a consistent theme in that we’re interested in individuals that have relevant experience.

"The announcement you saw with the hire of Paulina Bozek indicates how we’re going to be doing that – we’re going to be hiring the absolute best quality people we can who have experience in delivering mass market, high-end, quality games experiences and bringing those skills and production capabilities to those new business models and distribution methods."

Of course, the Atari brand oversaw a family of studios before, including Reflections, Shiny and Paradigm, but all were sold off by the company before Gardner and Harrison were hired by the publisher’s board and investors Blue Bay to save the ailing company. What’s changed?

Harrison was typically pragmatic: "It was unfortunate that through financial ill-health in the past Atari had to sell off studios to raise cash. But in fact what was sold off were fairly large, old-fashioned 20th Century studios which would have been quite difficult to re-invent online anyway. So maybe it was a blessing in disguise."

Read the full interview with Gardner and Harrison in the latest issue of MCV.

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