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Atari reboot is underway

The once-leading video game company is cleaning up its financial messes and trying to use its popular past as a springboard into the future.

August 03, 2010|By Ben Fritz, Los Angeles Times

"Over the next six months you're going to see some of our best brands coming out as casual online games and digital downloads across multiple platforms, and you'll see a handful of retail releases," Wilson said.

Atari also is aggressively licensing its original logo for a slew of items including bags, hoodies and wallpaper. Wilson, who is overseeing the effort, said the company is "staying out of the tchotchke business."

But, as well-known brands such as Playboy have learned, the strategy carries risks.

"Trying to sell retro Atari may say to people that you're consumed with your past and not focused on your future," said Helen Gould, a director of verbal identity for brand-consulting firm Interbrand.

Licensing throws off a small but stable source of revenue that Atari very much needs, however, and could let the company enjoy some riches from its intellectual property much like superhero giant Marvel Entertainment, acquired by Disney last year for $4.3 billion.

International Creative Management, Atari's Hollywood agency, has set up Asteroids as a movie in development at Universal Pictures and Roller Coaster Tycoon at Sony Pictures Animation and is shopping other titles like Missile Command.

"We want Atari to be a company that's a part of the zeitgeist," said ICM President Chris Silbermann.

The tension between Atari's desire to profit from its past and its push to become relevant in the present is best captured in Bushnell, whose very presence denotes a desire by new leadership to connect with the company's glory days. The 67-year-old inventor said he spends two days a week on average consulting on upcoming online games such as Centipede and Asteroids but often finds himself regaling new employees with stories from the 1970s.

"We dominated this business from its dawning until the mid-'80s," said Bushnell, but "the wonderful thing about the video game business is that legacy positions are never set in stone."

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