Atari CEO: The worst is behind us

Q&A: David Gardner lays out publisher's path to profitability, including online gaming and licensing out its IP.

In the past three decades, Atari has seen some of the highest highs and lowest lows in the gaming industry. Though the company bearing the name today bears little resemblance to the one that became synonymous with gaming in the 1970s, it has continued a tradition of turmoil. That history may indeed be a thing of the past now, given that Atari Worldwide CEO David Gardner told GameSpot today that the publisher is "most definitely through the worst and the hard patch" of its most recent turnaround story.

Today it was revealed that former Sony Worldwide Studios head Phil Harrison stepped down from his position as president of Atari Worldwide, and the publisher posted more than $319 million in losses for its most recent fiscal year. However, Gardner said that the personnel change and losses (most of which Atari brushed aside as one-time expenses related to the restructuring) aren't keeping the publisher from making headway on its turnaround plan.

"I don't want to pick on any franchises because it hurts people's feelings, but we had a lot of products that needed to be canceled, a lot of franchises written down," Gardner said. "It's like moving house; you throw away the stuff you don't use and don't really need. You figure out how you want to live and what you want in your new place, and that's what you focus on."

For Atari, that means focusing on taking its franchises online, whether it's a massively multiplayer online game sold at retail and built on monthly subscription fees, a digitally distributed game, or traditional retail games with online components.

One thing likely to change in the publisher's future is its reliance on licensed properties. In recent years, Atari has leaned heavily on its licensed Dragon Ball Z and Dungeons & Dragons games to bring in sales. Although Gardner said that the company will continue investing in long-term licenses such as the one it holds for D&D, it needs to strike a balance between working with its own intellectual properties and those of others.

"What we've all realized in the senior management team is that we should be doing more to develop and promote our fantastic catalog," Gardner said.

The IP exchange will flow both ways for Atari. Atari Inc. CEO Jim Wilson told GameSpot that the company's own stable of brands might be available for other developers to work with. Though Wilson didn't specify any brands in particular, the publisher holds a wide-ranging catalog of games, from arcade classics such as Pong and Asteroids to more modern fare such as Baldur's Gate.

"You'll see us developing titles based upon our core IPs, and you could see some licensing activities from IPs that we don't consider core at this time," Wilson said. "We have a stable of at least 80 IPs, and we're going to put some focus on the ones we consider important to the company. Others, we may license off."

Gardner likened the approach to one used by movie studios, who commonly develop projects in-house as well as externally.

"There's a more commercial sensibility around that, and we need to do a better job with it," Gardner said. "Frankly, the whole industry could be a lot smarter about that, I think. It's one of the things we see a big opportunity around."

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Discussion

29 comments
TTDog
TTDog

"The worst is behind us"... translation, "We've kicked out that tall lanky loser we got from Sony."

guynamedyeah
guynamedyeah

baldur's gate 2 was an awesome game, then they made all these weird spin off games. hopefully they get some common sense :)

Scullyy
Scullyy

"because it hurts people's feelings" hehehehe

Yojimbo25
Yojimbo25

Phil Harrison should have stayed at Sony. I knew from the get go him going to Atari was a bad bad idea.

godzillavskong
godzillavskong

Hopefully they can get on the right track, although I don't care much for Phil Harrison. He seems brash and arrogant, but maybe it comes with the title. I know I didn't really care for a lot of his comments during the initial release of the 360 and upcoming release of the PS3. Atari is one of the pioneers of the gaming industry, so I would hate to see them go under.

ldonyo
ldonyo

The worst from Atari is yet to come. Hopefully, they'll sell the publishing rights to every RPG to a company that will stand behind the games, unlike Atari.

thenephariouson
thenephariouson

Im definately feeling the 'Baldurs Gate' vibe. you want a hit!, give us a third!

BtmnHatesRbn
BtmnHatesRbn

Atari? Atari? When the Flashback consoles made more money than their actual games for the last decade, maybe Atari needs to look at that as their focus. Why wait? Re-release the Jaguar.

Mr_Versipellis
Mr_Versipellis

Baldur's GHate 3 from Obsidian PLEEEAAAASEEEE!!!! And this time, give us dropdown menus, instead of the crummy old interface! ;-)

combatsoldier
combatsoldier

I agree with an earlier post. Baldurs gate three would be AWSOME! you should send them a message with your idea brother.

papaya84
papaya84

Come on we need Baldur's Gate 3!

FatalFantasy206
FatalFantasy206

When I think of all the entertainment Atari has given me since I was just a young kid, I really hope they succeed. It always seems they are just about to collapse and never be seen again.

magusat999
magusat999

I cant wait for ET 2: The Return... MMO

wandernn1
wandernn1

Did they fix Temple of Elemental Evil yet? Still over 1000 bugs last I looked.

thirdykal
thirdykal

"taking its franchises online" meaning perhaps another Test Drive Unlimited?

Red122
Red122

Man Atari I remember when these guys were looked upon to be leaders in their field.

SmitedMonkey
SmitedMonkey

It's a good thing Phil Harrison stepped down, but I think Atari needs to completely restructure. Obviously the current leadership of the gaming giant isn't headed in the right direction if they are reporting three-hundred million dollars in losses. And frankly, looking at their current game line-up, I see more negative earnings in the future. I'm not trying to necessarily bash up-coming games such as Riddick or Ghostbusters, but I don't see any game in their current line-up that will provide them with the continuous positive earnings that they need. What Atari really needs is a single big-hitting game. Lets hope we see something soon that is truly promising for the titan, and that worst IS actually behind them.

lordoflol
lordoflol

I must admit that I have lost faith in Atari sinse Neverwinter nights 2. but I hope they manage too get up again, after all they pioneered gaming in the late 70s-early 80s.

NemesisLives
NemesisLives

with 2 more decent MMOs on the way I'm sure they will be fine

jasonharris48
jasonharris48

I hope so. Atari is great and they get more cool points for publishing the Witcher.

combatsoldier
combatsoldier

@FoxMcCloudDS I definitely hope so brother, I am eagerly anticipateing Ghost Busters. I hope it delivers and helps me have fond memories of my child hood.

FoxMcCloudDS
FoxMcCloudDS

Just from the news of ghost busters, I think we are safe to say that the worst is Definitely behind us.

gatsbythepig
gatsbythepig

I certainly hope so, if things got any worse they'd be bankrupt.

combatsoldier
combatsoldier

I personally love atari. However they definitely had a rough year last year. I am a huge fan of Atari but if they release more games like Alone in the Dark and another Dragon Ball Z game that was bad as it was last year then I will no longer be a fan. However Atari, lucky for you I am a fan. this your last chance in my book. Give me a quality Dragon Ball Z game this year or im done.