Atari gets Cryptic, Star Trek Online due in '10

One week after unveiling an ambitious slate of releases, resurgent French publisher acquires developer of City of Heroes and Champions Online; sci-fi MMORPG now two years out.

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Last week, journalists and retailers were invited to London's O2 arena for a major press event held by Atari. Although the French publisher marked the occasion with announcements of new distribution deals and previews of games such as Ghostbusters, an even bigger announcement came today. San Francisco Bay-based developer Cryptic has been fully acquired by Atari, becoming the once-destitute company's first in-house massively multiplayer developer.

Atari will keep on Cryptic's 150-odd employees, as well as all of the company's properties, technology and work-in-progress. This includes two console-PC MMORPG projects: the superhero-themed Champions Online, due in 2009, and Star Trek Online, which is now set to launch in 2010. The release also teased another upcoming game from the developer, which will be revealed in the near future.

Cryptic has previously developed City of Heroes and City of Villains, which earned more than $100 million in lifetime revenues for the studio and the game's Korean publisher, NCsoft. NCsoft purchased the City of Heroes/Villains license outright in 2007, giving Cryptic seed money for a now-canceled Marvel Comics MMORPG that was to be published by Microsoft. That project went on to become Champions Online, based on Hero Games' classic pen-and-paper role-playing title, and 2K Games signed on as publisher in July.

Atari's announcement did not mention 2K Games, and reps for the company had not returned requests for comment as of press time. An Atari rep gave the following statement: "Regarding the existing deal between Cryptic and Take-Two (2K Games) for Champions Online, Atari's acquisition of Cryptic is obviously new information for Take Two and we are talking to them to secure the best future for the game. More information will be coming soon."

The Cryptic news is a rare bright spot in a cloud of bleak announcements in the MMOG space. At the end of November, Age of Conan developer Funcom revealed that it was axing an unspecified number of jobs. In the same week, NCsoft announced that it would shut down Tabula Rasa in February 2009, just after Hellgate: London closes on January 31. On the upside, Blizzard's World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King sold 2.8 million copies in just 24 hours--equating to some $108 million in sales.

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