Friday, August 26, 2011

Atari, moving forward


There has been quite a bit of interesting commentary recently from industry experts concerning Atari, its future direction and its problems. Atari, in its current incarnation, has gone through so many changes and employees that you might find it hard to remember them all. "Revolving door", the "Grand Central station" of employment - both are phrases used recently by industry experts.

Nicholas Lovell has written an interesting piece on Activision (see gamasutra), which bears some similarities with the situation Atari currently finds itself in. Atari seems to be moving away from AAA titles to smaller projects including social and mobile gaming releases where development costs are lower and where the risk is reduced. Now Nicholas warns that Activision is running down its old IP , and in many ways Atari are doing the same although the vast majority of their IP is much older. In order to succeed surely there has to be a combined strategy of new key AAA titles whilst using the social and gaming markets for titles that wouldn't necessarily make it in conventional retail. Of course there is plenty of scope also for using these rapidly expanding markets as a crossover point for the big AAA titles. EA are doing it, you can play Dragon Age on your Xbox 360 then play a Dragon Age branded game on Facebook. Of course it doesn't compare to the real thing but it serves to generate additional revenue and , perhaps more importantly, bring the Dragon Age franchise to a huge market at relatively low cost and hopefully inspire people to go out and buy the full priced game for the console or PC - plus buy all that value added DLC.

Breathing new life to a classic Atari title is always going to be risky. Many people have very fond memories of their time growing up with their Atari 2600 or Atari 8-bit. The Atari consoles and computers had a huge catalog of killer titles and many would rather stick with their memories rather than see a game they were (and still are) very fond of be resurrected for the Xbox 360 or PS3 - only to see the whole thing be handled very badly.

Star Raiders is a classic example of a massive franchise opportunity handled very badly. When Atari broke the news that it was to be re-released the vast majority of Atari enthusiasts were excited and couldn't wait. Sadly, the end result was a game that didn't look too bad but when it came to playing it most found themselves turning off their Xbox 360 and digging out the old Atari 800 from the attic.

The recent Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale was another opportunity to use a decent franchise and drive revenue. Leaving the whole fiasco with Hasbro to one side (both sides seem to have kissed and made up), many gamers have complained that the game is buggy, customer support has been lacking and at least one reviewer has branded the title an "unmitigated disaster". The developer responsible (Bedlam Games) appear to have effectively closed with most staff on the street under "temporary layoffs" and without severance pay. Most of those affected appear to have already moved on.

Whilst Atari has a vast and aging IP which they can tap into, it should be a case of quality not quantity when considering titles for a revamp. For fans of the brand there would probably be nothing better than to see new, AAA quality titles appearing for the current generation consoles under the Atari brand.

When I say "probably be nothing better", I refer to the fact that many brand loyalists would also like to see a new Atari branded next generation console - but we have to be realistic here folks, Atari is in no position to do that.

Some recent decisions have been made out of economic necessity - that is understandable, but Atari shouldn't lose sight of those new AAA titles. Star Raiders is just one example of a franchise that has been wasted, let's hope Atari get things right moving forward.

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