Atari Is Not Forgotten, Stay Tuned
Infogrames which acquired Atari in its $100 million purchase of Hasbro Interactive in a deal finalized in January, expects to complete a publishing strategy for Atari within 30 to 60 days and release games under the brand this holiday season, Paul Rinde, senior vice president of Infogrames, Inc., said June 15.
"There's a lot of exciting new opportunities out there both for the traditional franchises as well as some new franchises we can put under the brand," Rinde said. "Once that gets finalized and locked down, you're going to see more things happening and we'll get more pro-active in letting the world know what our plans are for Atari.
"We have a lot more aggressive plans for the brand than the previous owner."
Hasbro Interactive had bought Atari from hard drive maker JTS Corp. for $5 million in March 1998. Recognizing the interest in "retro-gaming," Hasbro Interactive used Atari and its famous fuji logo for a number of updated classics, such as Frogger, Centipede, Missile Command and Pong, as well as for new titles, including Nerf Arena Blast and Glover.
Infogrames agreement with Hasbro includes three main elements:
Infogrames' acquisition of all of Hasbro Interactive's assets, including Atari and MicroProse.
Acquisition of the Web site games.com.
A 15-year licensing agreement with Hasbro, Inc. giving Infogrames exclusive rights to develop and publish games based on current and future Hasbro properties including the games Monopoly, Scrabble, Clue, Risk and Boggle; children's games and toys including Mr. Potato Head, Tonka Trucks, Action Man, My Little Pony and Candyland; and the game Dungeons and Dragons. Hasbro received an annual guarantee from Infogrames based on sales generated from the licensing agreement, which includes an option for a five-year extension based on performance.
Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Rinde, 42, joined Infogrames when it bought a 70 percent interest in his former employer, GT Interactive, in late 1999. An Atari enthusiast, he volunteered early to help with Infogrames' planning for Atari in the United States; similar research is underway in the European market and Infogrames plans to use Atari on a global basis.
Rinde said Atari was a "key asset" Infogrames saw in Hasbro Interactive that Infogrames believes has been underutilized.
"It's a brand that's been kicked around for a number of years. We think it has a lot of potential," he said. "We're trying to research what everybody's impressions of the brand are and what the brand means to different audiences, if anything. There's certainly a core audience out there that for many years has been very loyal to the brand. What we're trying to do is figure out what types of games really fit within that brand and what the brand means to gaming."
What Atari means to a person may relate directly to his or her age, as Atari's identity has changed over time, Rinde said.
"There's a fair amount of younger people out there running around wearing Atari T-shirts and what not," he said. "I don't know if it means the same things to them as to people that grew up and were gaming when those systems first came out."
Rinde said Infogrames is looking not only at updating classic Atari titles, as Hasbro Interactive had done, but is looking at the style of play that made the classics appealing and developing entire new franchises under the Atari brand that retain the "feel" of an Atari game - addictive games that are easy to learn and hard to master.
"We strongly feel we'd like to breathe some new life from a game standpoint onto the Atari brand with some new games outside the traditional catalogue but will still be true to the core gaming aspects the Atari brand means," he said.
"We've started to identify the core attributes to those types of games to be under a brand like Atari," he said. "We're also looking at the entire catalogue to see if there are some really old games that are viable to be totally revamped to be played in a modern gaming environment, versus being a retro game on a new system which has been done and done and done."
Rinde said Infogrames won't abandon the practice of updating classic games, but that it won't be the company's entire strategy.
"What we're trying to do is identify some new games under the brand or some of the catalogue that hasn't been done yet but that might be viable now," Rinde added. "We think there's legs to continue to revamp some of the catalogue and do them in new ways on new platforms without losing the traditional feel of what made the game really fun and appealing to a fairly broad audience over a long period of time."
Rinde said consumers can expect to see low-scale Atari activity for this holiday season beginning in September or October, with titles for the personal computer and PlayStation 1 platforms. Rinde said Infogrames will identify the titles scheduled to be released under the Atari brand during the next 12-to-18 months, as well as the platforms they will be for, when the publishing strategy is completed.
Rinde said consumers can expect to see "significantly scaled up and revved up" marketing of Atari products for all next generation console and handheld platforms, and other forms such as wireless, in 2002.
Infogrames' only use of the Atari brand to date was on bottled water distributed at the Electronics Entertainment Expo, known as E3, held in Los Angeles in May. Rinde said it was a "very low key way" to keep the name in the public eye.
"We didn't really have anything new to show from a product standpoint or anything like that. We weren't ready to talk to retailers or the rest of the world about what our plan is," he said. "It was just our way of saying Atari is still around. It's not forgotten, stay tuned."
Rinde said Infogrames is aware of the rumor, believed to have originated in Europe and spread via the Internet, that Infogrames is considering changing its name to Atari. He would not comment on the matter. "It's certainly something I don't where they got it," he said.
Said Nancy Bushkin, vice president of corporate communications for Infogrames in New York City, "We don't comment on rumors or speculation."
When it comes to possible Atari hardware, such as a new game console, Infogrames' position is the same as Hasbro Interactive: "We're a software publisher. We're not in the hardware business," Rinde said. "I would be very surprised to see us get into that type of business. That would be an uphill battle for anybody."
However, Rinde said Infogrames is aware of and he is impressed by the grass-roots activity on the hardware side, such as the development of a portable Atari 2600. He said the company is keeping an eye on such development.
"We're looking at what that is and what that means and for any opportunities to partner with somebody or endorse somebody if it's the right situation and could potentially be good for the brand," he said. "It's at a very early stage."
Infogrames now owns all that Hasbro Interactive had of Atari, including one or more warehouses of Atari products. He said the items include 2600 and 7800 cartridges, systems, boards and engineering specifications.
"That stuff is still out there and it is probably in a warehouse. Nobody has sat down and catalogued it to see what we have," he said.
Rinde said he doesn't know what Infogrames will do with the contents of the warehouses, which would be an Atari fan's dream to dig through. "Maybe some day there will be an Atari museum built," he said. "It would be a shame to discard it. It is history as far as the video game business is concerned."
Noting that the Tramiel family, which had bought Atari's home computer and home video game divisions from Warner Communications in 1984 and sold it to JTS in a "reverse merger" in 1996, was never big on Atari's history, Rinde said, "Whatever was there was there by luck or never got discarded. I don't think they cared about that aspect of it."
Ultimately, Rinde said fans of Atari will be a lot happier with its ownership under Infogrames than under Hasbro.
"The amazing thing is there's a lot of people out there rooting for this brand to make a return and become a meaningful gaming brand again," he said. "I happen to share that enthusiasm. There's a lot of support within Infogrames for that to happen."
May 7, 2003 - Looks like the Infogrames name
change happened anyway. Rumors can come true! Read about the story over at Yahoo news.