Game over for Atari? One life left as biz files for bankruptcy protection
Hey, anybody got a quarter?
Atari Interactive Inc has sought protection from US creditors, 41 years after Nolan Bushnell’s gaming legend was born with Pong.
Atari has entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a provision in US law that’ll enable the struggling biz to operate and potentially restructure without those it owes calling in their debts.
The reason for the timing is not clear, but a massive credit deal with financier BlueBay Asset Management lapsed last year. The pair of companies announced a $26m (€20m) credit facility ha ended in September following negotiations over Atari’s debt. Without the safety net, Atari seemed simply unable to afford any more work on its in-development games.
Atari today is not the company Bushnell co-founded in 1972, which pioneered both console hardware and games titles that were the genesis of the home gaming market.
What’s left of Atari today makes games for smartphones and other mobile devices, PCs, Sony PlayStations and Microsoft Xboxes. That’s done via Atari Interactive Inc in the US and parent Atari SA, the French company that bought the Atari brand at the end of decades of corporate takeovers and rebranding.
Many will remember Atari for the Video Computer System (VCS), used to blow away space invaders and evade ghosts in the maze of Pac-Man. But before the VCS, the company made Home Pong, the tennis-like game created on a shoestring budget of $500. It sold 150,000 units in Christmas 1975, helping Atari to $3m in profits.
The VCS was launched in 1977, but a year later then-CEO Bushnell left the business,although he returned in 2010. After Bushnell's swift departure, the games market crashed and prices dropped, hitting profits hard. The company, meanwhile, struggled to develop new titles with compelling game play, and suffered from a propensity to overhype and under-deliver on products.
Bushnell’s company was eventually split in 1984 to create Atari Consumer Electronics and Atari Games; the former was sold in a reverse takeover to computer hard-drive maker JT Storage. Atari Games reserved the rights to use the Atari logo and brand, and use the games hardware developed between 1972 and 1984.
Hasbro Interactive bought what was left of Atari in 1998 and sold that to Infogrames Entertainment in 1999 for $95m in stock and $5m in cash. Atari SA was the name eventually adopted by Infogrames, which promised to revitalize the brand.
You can read more on the 40-year history of Atari here. ®
is the most marketable thing they have, I'd guess.
Please, someone buy it and stick it on some quality games.
End of an era
Such a shame - maybe I'm just an old nostalgic, but the games of that era seemed much more fun that anything the AAA studios are pumping out now.
I still have my 1040STE - damn good machine, despite the claims of the "Commodore Games Machine" (Amiga) owners, some great times spent learning coding, ultimately resulting in my first published games.
Like the 60s: gone - but never forgotten.
Re: End of an era (Amiga vs AtariST)
I remember back in the day, I was one of the Amiga lads who hated the Atari ST with a passion, for one reason - game porting.
The Atari ST could display a maximum of 4 bitplanes / 16 colours, while the Amiga could do 5 bitplanes / 32 colours or 6 bitplanes / 64/4096 colours within certain limits, if you used Half-brite or HAM mode (this was before the A1200/4000 with the 8-bitplane AGA chipset.) Both machines used the Motorola 68000 CPU, so code written on one machine could be easily ported to the other - as long as it didn't reference the Amiga's custom hardware.
Now I grant that Half-brite/HAM modes were not practical for most gaming purposes due to the quirkiness of those modes and the limitations of the CPU and graphics hardware - but the Amiga did have the custom chipset, notably Paula and Agnus, the famed Amiga "blitter" and "copper", which allowed smooth scrolling and a lot more moving objects and colours. The Atari did not, and relied solely on the poor old 68000 for its graphics grunt.
Cue games developers coding games for the lowest common denominator - the Atari ST - and then porting them to the Amiga unaltered. So the games were seriously limited to what the ST could handle - 16 colours only, awful jittery scrolling, crappy music and sound (the ST relied on MIDI rather than a good onboard sound chip), and no blitter or copper to speed things up or exploit the Amiga's capabilities.
Most arcade conversions suffered from this, so great arcade games like Space Harrier and Outrun that could have really shone on the Amiga were dragged down to the level of the Atari - which made the Amiga look much less than it was. So many games that could have been awesome simply sucked, and the term "Atari ST port" became a derogatory byword for a game not worth the bother of pirating it, let alone buying it.
The magazines of the day generally concurred on this issue, and I recall some scathing reviews from Amiga Format and Australian Commodore and Amiga Review! This was of course in the days when magazines actually delivered honest reviews, not bought-and-paid-for puff pieces published under threat of advertisement withdrawal like so many of today's mags.
I remember fondly some games that were coded specifically to take advantage of the Amiga's hardware - notably Sword of Sodan, The Settlers and Superfrog - and I played all those games to death during their heyday. The Settlers I particularly remember because the Amiga version simply blew away the PC version in graphics, sound and speed, and so I (erroneously as it turned out) came to believe that the good old Miggy was finally coming into its own, and represented the future of computing.
How wrong I was...
"There'd be no home gaming market today had Nintendo not come along"
Bull. There were plenty of good and profitable games for home computers from the Spectrum / C64 era to the Amiga / Atari era and onwards that had nothing to do with Nintendo. The console market died in 1984 but home gaming did not.
Guys? I know they're french, but...
It's "Infogrames", not "Infogrammers"