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Atari Is Dying, Again Again Again...

…and aims to be reborn, again again again. It’s been a long time since Atari has been a force to be reckoned with, and longer still since it wasn’t secretly Infogrames in disguise. Atari has been a transferable name for long years now, rather than truly representing the Nolan Bushnell-founded firm behind invaluable proto-videogames such as Pong, Asteroids, Lula: The Sexy Empire and Centipede. It first ‘died’ in 1984, which entailed the first of many transitions into a new corporation bearing the Atari name, and the first of many financial struggles. Now its latest incarnation is filing for bankruptcy, as part of a plan to start over yet again.

As far as I can tell – and I can’t tell much on a Monday – the US arm of Atari wants to be rid of its French parenty company, Atari S.A. which was formerly Infogrames. Sort of. Remember Infogrames?

This French arm is particularly beleaguered by money woes, and apparently the plan is that if the US firm, Atari Inc, can declare bankruptcy it can ditch its substantial debt, be bought up as a private company and get on this whole damned merry-go-round all over again.

Atari Inc., a small, 40-person outfit based in New York, is trying to get on with download and social games (it’s working on a new version of Pong with Zyngaaaaaaaaargh), where it’s seen some small success already. Atari S.A., meanwhile, continues to haemorrhage money, so God only knows what happens to that once Inc does its thing. The LA Times, which broke this latest sad chapter of the Atari story, reckons the French arm may seek “legal protection to find a buyer or dissolve in that country.” So could we end up with two totally different Ataris? Depends, I think, on if Atari Inc. is sold outright or if its CEO Jim Wilson – also CEO of Atari S.A. – drums up enough backing to keep/gain control himself.

Messy. Unsavoury. I’d say the Atari brand had become so toxic by this point that it wasn’t worth trying anything, but that just isn’t true – I’ll warrant the bulk of the gaming world, especially those parts of it which wear faux-retro Atari t-shirts, have absolutely no idea the brand ever changed hands. There is money in them that retro hills, even if I increasingly lose faith that it would be mined in a way that impressed me.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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