In an interview with Polygon, Atari explains how a combination of old and new IP, licensing, digital publishing, and a smaller operation will put the company back on the right track after surviving bankruptcy.
Now debt free and retaining most of its original IP, Atari has plans to fully exploit its massive collection of old and new IP, though it will focus the majority of its distribution efforts on the digital space. The new Atari has only 15 employees, with most of its workforce headquartered in New York City and a handful of employees handling administrative work from Paris.
Todd Shallbetter, chief operating officer of Atari, told Polygon in a phone interview that their plan going forward is to keep costs down by running what he calls a low-overhead digital business, and rely on the company's massive catalog of owned IP to make new games or to license to others.
"This is an ever-changing marketplace in the video game business," he told Polygon. "I think that the traditional publishing model is very, very difficult to succeed in, as we've seen many of our peers like THQ and others just … It's a fight that just is very difficult to win right now." In particular, Shallbetter cited the challenges of the retail environment, including the costs associated with producing and distributing physical goods, as well as retailers' price protection policies.
Shallbetter also clarified that this business model does not mean the company is moving away from publishing video games.
"We are certainly still a game publisher, without question. That's what we do; that's in our DNA," said Shallbetter. "We have a very solid view of the next 18 months. And we're launching multiple games on multiple platforms." The common thread linking all those projects is that they're digital games, whether on consoles, computers or mobile devices. Shallbetter explained, "We're really not involved in physical distribution or manufacturing any longer."
That strategy is possible because Atari only lost a few IPs during its bankruptcy such as Total Annihilation and Master of Orion. The company still owns 220 properties including Asteroids, Centipede, Combat, Pong, Alone in the Dark, RollerCoaster Tycoon, and many other major brands. Atari hopes to wring new life out of some those franchises by licensing them.
"The fun part is, being Atari and who we are, with this great catalog, we're very frequently approached by our friends in the space — be it studios or other publishers — who are very interested in working with us or for us in bringing some of these old reimagined titles to market," said Shallbetter.
Atari is also looking into the online video space, with the possibility of entertainment ventures that may take the names "Atari TV" or "Atari Channel."
One of the most interesting things to come out of this conversation – which you should read in its entirety at Polygon – is the company's plans to focus on reaching the LGBT community. Atari's first foray into this space is a game with the working title, PrideFest, the same name as the festival celebrating gender equality. Shallbetter thinks the LGBT community is "very underserved audience," but making games for the space isn't just about money."
"It's something we feel very strongly about here, institutionally," he said. "We like to think of ourselves as a very inclusive brand, as a very inclusive company… And we seek opportunities, and this is an opportunity that we think could be beneficial to us as a company — commercially, as well as just, it's the right thing to do."