Source: Hollywood trade magazine Variety.
What we heard: Two weeks ago, Atari's turnaround experienced a sizable hiccup when the publisher announced an annual loss of $319 million and the departure of high-profile executive Phil Harrison. Following the earnings announcement, Atari CEO David Gardner told GameSpot that the publisher had significantly cleaned house, canceling a number of projects and shifting the publisher's focus to taking its franchises online.
One leader in the online department is Cryptic Studios, which Atari acquired in December. With Champions Online for the PC slated for September, an Xbox 360 edition to follow later this year, and Star Trek Online due by April 2010, the City of Heroes creator may now be prepping yet one more massively multiplayer online venture.
Variety is reporting today that Atari plans to leverage its Dungeons & Dragons license with a new MMOG based on the Neverwinter Nights fantasy role-playing universe. Citing unspecified sources, the Hollywood trade reports that Atari hopes to release the online title in 2011, though no other details on the project were revealed. However, Variety did say that a Neverwinter Nights MMOG was a primary reason for Atari's acquisition of Cryptic last year.
BioWare, better known as the studio behind Mass Effect and the upcoming MMOG Star Wars: The Old Republic, crafted the well-regarded original Neverwinter Nights for PCs in 2002. Alpha Protocol studio Obsidian Entertainment developed Neverwinter Nights 2 for Atari, a game that received high marks in 2006.
If reports of a Neverwinter Nights MMOG prove accurate, it would be Atari's second attempt at bringing the Dungeons & Dragons franchise to the online gaming hemisphere. In 2006, the publisher teamed with Turbine Inc. on Dungeons & Dragons Online, a game that received decent reviews but lackluster commercial success. Just today, Turbine said it would begin offering a free-to-play, microtransaction-supported option this summer.
The official story: Atari had not responded to requests for comment as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: Looking dubious that if such a game exists it would be ready by 2011. Atari already has a Dungeons & Dragons-themed MMOG that didn't exactly gain a massive following. Plus, Cryptic has not one, but two MMOGs that it expects to release within the next 12 months, both of which will undoubtedly receive expansion packs, updates, and other postlaunch support. Adding a third MMOG on a tight turnaround time (for MMOG standards, anyway) to this equation seems like a recipe for disaster, and a disaster is the last thing that Atari can afford...literally.