Atari has been synonymous with games and gaming since it was founded in 1972 by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. The company’s products, such as “Pong” and the Atari 2600, helped define the computer entertainment industry from the 1970s to the mid-1980s.
However, about five years ago, the company got away from developing their own games to focus on publishing and distribution. Atari CEO Jim Wilson said it was a complicated time for the company and the brand.
“(Atari) got bought by this retail distribution company that focused primarily on building non-Atari brands and distributing third-party titles,” Wilson said. “The Atari name was then being used as a corporate name on a retail distribution company. That didn’t make any sense to me.”
Wilson wanted to take Atari back to its casual gaming roots and recognized the best way to do that was embrace the social and mobile change in the gaming landscape. He said there are new business models in gaming and the company is ready to take advantage.
“What we’re doing is we’re going out to the best and the brightest of the developers in the mobile business. We’re looking at different ways to reinterpret or reinvent our classic franchises in ways that people are playing games today in the business model that people are playing today.”
Atari released “Atari’s Greatest Hits” for the iOS in the spring of 2011 to a resounding cheer from fans around the world. The game featured classic arcade games like “Centipede” (Wilson’s favorite as a kid), “Lunar Lander” and “Missile Command” as well as games from the Atari 2600 home console such as “Adventure,” “Haunted House” and “Yars’ Revenge.”
The game in the Apple App Store has been downloaded more than 3.5 million times. It was recently made available in the Android Marketplace, further expanding the market for Atari products.
“The great thing about Atari and its very brand is that it is recognizable. You understand what it is, and frankly, in the App Store or the Android Marketplace, discoverability is a big issue for people who are releasing their games. One of the benefits of Atari is that it creates instant recognition and discoverability in the App Store and the Android Marketplace.”
Wilson then focused on reimagining some of Atari’s classic titles to make them more appealing to today’s gaming audience. He said their core audience is male, over 30 so they’ve grown up with Atari, and they have the money to spend on games.
“What we’re looking to do is build games. Some of our games are going to have a much more broad appeal and, for us, the ability to generate a community.”
“However, we also to address a larger audience and that’s what it’s going to come down to – making games that appeal to a broader audience.”
“Asteroids” was the first game to be reinterpreted as “Asteroids: Gunner,” a top ten bestseller in the App Store in its first two weeks in November. The free app game featured a new look and new weapons as well as the opportunity to micro-purchase Space Bucks in game to enhance your spaceship.
“We’re looking at different ways to reinterpret or reinvent our classic franchises in ways that people are playing games today in the business model that people are playing today,” Wilson said. “We believe there are multiple ways to reinterpret ‘Asteroids,’ and ‘Asteroids: Gunner’ was a great opportunity for us to create a time-based, premium model that seemed to go over well with our core male audience.”
The company released “Breakout: Boost” in December and have garnered more than two million downloads in the App Store alone. The game offers 5 free levels and more than 200 more that can be purchased through micro-transactions.
It would be easy for Atari to continue to reimagine and re-release their classic titles, but Wilson said to appeal to a broader audience, the company is also working with developers on original intellectual properties that fit the Atari brand and ideals.
He said they are expecting to release 10 to 15 new titles in the next year with about five of those titles coming from outside developers. They will be games that hold true to the Atari brand, but could appeal to those gamers outside the male-dominated, core audience of traditional Atari games.
Wilson is counting on a blend of reinterpreted classics and original games for the social and mobile gaming arena to drive Atari’s business for the near future. The company has slimmed down to 65 employees, most of whom are targeting the mobile gaming platform.
“If we stay true to the original brand ideas and we work with some of the best talent in the industry and we listen to our consumers, I think we have a very good opportunity to make a big statement and bring Atari to a new stage. We have an opportunity to bring back a powerful brand that consumers know and love.”