Infogrames re-christens itself Atari

Transatlantic transformation

Infogrames is to change its name to Atari when NASDAQ opens for trading tomorrow. It will trade as ATAR.

A quick visit to the Infogrames web site this morning found us being redirected to www.atari.com, and now a story from Reuters confirms that the French publisher has adopted the name it acquired back in 2001.

Infogrames bought the right to the Atari name when it bought toy maker Hasbro's Hasbro Interactive division. Hasbro got it from JTS in 1998. JTS, in turn, bought Atari in 1996. Before then, Atari had many owners, including AOL Time Warner, known as Warner Communications back then. Warner bought Atari in the early 1980s, splitting it into Atari Games and Atari Corp. in 1984. It retained the Games division, which produced arcade titles, and sold Atari Corp. to industry veteran Jack Tramiel.

Atari was founded in 1972 by Nolan Bushnell, and went on to produce video games, most notably Pong. It soon entered into the home video console market, and in the late 1970s, the emerging home computer market. Its US home computer success was never replicated in Europe, where its 400 and 800, and later the 600XL and its successors, proved too expensive for computer users weaned on much cheaper Sinclair (Timex in the US) ZX-81 and Spectrum, and Commodore VIC-20 machines.

Atari Corp's 1985 ST did rather better, finding a keen audience among gamers and musicians, but it didn't really survive the mid-1990s.

Atari tried to get back into the console market in the late 1980s with Lynx, the world's first colour handheld games machine. In 1993 it released the world's first 64-bit console, Jaguar, but neither it nor Lynx proved a huge success. Nor did its Portfolio, an early foray into palmtop computing. The tablet-like Stylus ST Pad never made it to market.

Infogrames re-launched the Atari label in October 2001 and began publishing games under the brand. Now all of its upcoming titles will be released under the venerable moniker.

Why? Because the French company is increasingly becoming a US-based operation, with 65 per cent of its sales made in North America. Atari better reflects the companies increasing focus on the US. It's probably had enough of people mis-pronouncing its name as 'Infogames'. ®

Bootnote

The early Atari is also known as an incubator of Silicon Valley talent. Specifically, the two Steves - Jobs and Wozniak - struck up a partnership before Jobs joined Atari as a member of staff and Woz as an after-hours visitor (his day job was with HP).

One tale is told by Jobsologists of the two Steves' development of Breakout for Atari, with Woz working day and night on the sly to get up and running the arcade game machine Jobs had been put in charge of creating. The story is also told of Jobs pocketing almost all of the cash bonus Nolan Bushnell put their way to reward their efforts.

Jobs reportedly handed Woz half of the $700 bonus. Only later did Woz learn that Bushnell had handed them a total of $7000...

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