Atari locks down D&D; Hasbro buys back Transformers

$65 million deal sees toy giant reclaiming game rights for most of its brands, though confusion about platforms remains.


In a deal announced today, Hasbro paid Infogrames $65 million for the game rights to a series of toy properties including My Little Pony, Connect Four, Candyland, Playskool, Tonka, and the Transformers. It also reacquired the rights to the ever-popular card-trading game Magic: The Gathering. Infogrames acquired a 15-year exclusive to all the property rights when it purchased Hasbro Interactive and from Hasbro in 2000.

The deal also saw Infogrames secure "an exclusive, seven-year license on nine major Hasbro properties," including Monopoly, Scrabble, Game of Life, Battleship, Clue, Yahtzee, Simon, Risk, and Boggle. However, the carefully worded statement said that the agreement covered "wireless, Internet (online games), and interactive television formats," and it made no mention of consoles, PCs, or handhelds.

Those same exact words were repeated by Atari chairman Bruno Bonnell, who said, "[By] obtaining seven-year rights to nine major properties for wireless, Internet (online games), and interactive television formats, we have strengthened our relationship with Hasbro and taken steps in anticipation of technological developments in our industry."

The ambiguous wording was curious, as the joint statement makes a point of saying that Infogrames will retain exclusive rights to Dungeons & Dragons in "all interactive formats" for another 10 years. It has held the fantasy license for several years, publishing D&D role-playing games such as Neverwinter Nights and action games like Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone under the Atari brand. The deal also means Atari will still publish the forthcoming D&D games Dragonshard, Neverwinter Nights 2, and Dungeons & Dragons Online.

But while the wording of the two companies' joint statement was confusing, statements from their pleased executives were crystal clear. "This agreement is consistent with our objective of providing more resources for the Group's growth, while concentrating on brands with a significant potential and investing in Atari's new products," said Bonnell.

Unsurprisingly, Hasbro president and CEO Alfred J. Verrecchia was also pleased. "This new agreement allows Hasbro to fully exploit its brands in a wide variety of growth platforms, including next-generation consoles, around the world." he said.

Last month, Rhode Island-based Hasbro posted a loss of $3.7 million for the quarter ending March 27, 2005. That compares to a profit of $6.5 million for the same quarter a year ago. The business press picked up the company's video (vs. board) game division as one of the prime drivers of that loss: Sales at its games division fell to $99 million in the quarter, from $127.6 million a year earlier.

Analysts viewed the deal as a good one for Atari. "We view this news positively for Atari in that the financial situation of parent Infogrames is significantly improved while still retaining most of the value of the Hasbro license," said Michael Pachter of Wedbush Morgan Securities.

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