Bloomberg, and others, are reporting today that Atari’s U.S. operations, owned by French parent company Atari, SA, have filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. Although it sounds pretty bad, given Atari’s checkered corporate past it could just be another in a long line of legal moves to keep the company alive. In this case it looks like Atari U.S. is using the bankruptcy in order to separate from its French parent company, Atari, SA. This does put everything up for sale, including the rights to iconic titles such as Pong, Centipede, and, my favorite, Missile Command. However, I don’t quite think that Atari is down for the count just yet.
Atari’s golden age is long behind us, but their effect on gaming remains. It’s sad to see the once unrivaled developer reduced to legal and corporate tricks just to stay afloat, but the truth is it’s been this way for a long time. They were forced to restructure after the video game crash of 1983, shifting everything into a newly formed corporation, Atari Corp. Then after years of poor console performance in the 90s, specifically with the Jaguar, in 1998 Atari Corp was sold to Hasbro. They kind of disappeared into the wind until 2001 when Infogrames, which eventually became the French Parent Atari, SA, began reassembling the Atari brand back into what it used to be, kind of.
If it seems confusing, that’s because it is. It took me about an hour to write the paragraph above, which is ridiculous. Atari, it seems, doesn’t make games anymore, it’s just a name that shuffles around from one company to another, dodging the hangman’s noose with lawyers and clever legal maneuvering. They lost the battle, years ago, to Nintendo and Sega, but have somehow hung-on all this time thanks to the iconic success of a few decades-old titles.
So while Atari may still go belly-up, there’s a chance, there always is with them, that this is just another piece of their torrid corporate story. If Atari U.S. can manage to successfully navigate this bankruptcy then I’ll bet this isn’t the last we’ve heard of them, if not they sure did put up a fight over the last 20 years.