Atari: Suits, lawsuits, and next-gen engines

Publisher hires new execs, is sued by Railroad Tycoon creator, and licenses Epic's Unreal Engine 3.


RollerCoaster Tycoon

Today was a busy day at Atari. Besides the fact it shipped The Matrix: The Path of Neo, The France-based publisher was the subject of three stories of significance to gamers.

On the development tip, Atari announced it has licensed the Unreal Engine 3 to build games for next-generation consoles. The multi-title license agreement makes the publisher the latest in a growing number of companies to adopt Epic Games' toolset, following in the footsteps of BioWare, VU Games, Sony Computer Entertainment, and others.

The deal is especially interesting, given the fact that Epic broke off a long-running publishing partnership with Atari in July 2004. The former had distributed the latter's Unreal shooter series for PCs and consoles for more than four years. Midway Games, another Unreal Engine 3 user, currently publishes the Unreal series, whose most recent entrant is Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict.

In terms of the business beat, Atari today appointed three new members to its board of directors. Ronald C. Bernard, a former NFL and Viacom executive, will serve as chairman of Atari's audit committee. He will oversee another addition to the board, Michael G. Corrigan. Most recently an entertainment consultant and financier, Corrigan was previously senior executive vice president and chief financial officer of film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), which was recently bought by Sony.

The final addition to Atari's board is Evence-Charles Coppee, the deputy chief operating officer of Infogrames Entertainment SA, Atari's parent company.

The last bit of Atari business is a report from the legal front. An article in today's London Times said the publisher is being sued by the creator of one of its top PC franchises. The daily reports that Chris Sawyer, the mind behind the popular RollerCoaster Tycoon, is taking Atari to court over a royalty dispute.

According to the Times, Sawyer is claiming that the publisher owes him $4.8 million in residuals from sales of RollerCoaster Tycoon and Transport Tycoon games from 1999 to 2003. The suit alleges that Sawyer was only paid $30 million from the $180 million in revenue generated by the two series, and accuses the publisher of violating its agreement with the designer more than a dozen times.

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