Deep-dive Q&A: How Atari's new bosses plan to bring the company back from the brink

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Do you consider your gambling initiative a way to fund riskier games on the narrative side or are they entirely separate?

FC: We're in the business of making games. We have to stay on the same path. We have to make sure we stay solvent.

But I'd say money comes second. The first thing is "Can we create a game or product that will attract a lot of users?" Why casino? I feel like it was a natural step for us, instead of going in other directions. I think there's a small bridge or step to go from games to gambling. After that I think we can maybe attract our audience from games to gambling a little bit.

It's not purely a financial investment because otherwise I would put the money of the company somewhere else or I'd take more risks. It's a question of taking advantage of the brand and pushing it towards where the people who know the brand are.

TS: And keep in mind there was an original 2600 game, Atari Casino. And as an adjunct to that, the original Pong machine was for a very different audience. We're now very much a family-focused and inclusive company across the board, but these games were in nightclubs and bars and people were fighting to stack their quarters to get them in. It's appealing to a little bit older demographic, and there's a certain love of the brand in some of those demographics that's very active in the casino space as well.

Man plays classic arcade cabinet Asteroids

FC: And especially on the PC you have games and gambling, but you'll have a new category soon which we call hybrid skill-based games. That's where people spend their time and we'll be there.

A few months back you discussed getting into hardware. You mentioned the Flashback earlier, but at the time you also talked about smart watches, et cetera. Is that still a plan?

FC: Yeah, it was an example we gave at the time. The key message we gave at the time was that we're an entertainment brand. Clearly we are relevant in games, but we had the Atari 2600 at the beginning, so we are also a hardware brand. So it would be relevant for us to go into the hardware business.

That being said, you have two different questions. How, and for what type of product?

So how: we're going with a licensing business model, and the Flashback is the first one. In the very short term there's no plan to go direct with this type of business because it's very complex, it's very difficult, it's really capital-intensive.

atari flashback

The second question, once you've looked at how you do it, is what do you want to do? So we had examples, such as watches, such as consoles with the Atari 2600 and the Atari Flashback. There are many opportunities down the road. We'll take our time. Think about, in general, gamified products—meaning a product combining the brand, some gamification, and a product that is really useful to our audience. We have no plans for this year—this is for the very long run. But I think we can be relevant with some very well-selected hardware products.

Again, this relies on capitalizing on Atari's name, right? Even though Atari now is a very different company than, say, thirty years ago?

FC: It's different because of course the world is different. Every piece of this is different than it was thirty or forty years ago. But yeah, we take advantage of the brand. There's a difference between trying to make a new company and a new game without any name, or saying "Hey, we're relaunching Rollercoaster Tycoon. Hey, the next installment of Asteroids will be here in six to eight months."

We're very motivated and excited to work on that, and hopefully the combination will provide an audience. If you look at Rollercoaster Tycoon—people have tried to make some rollercoaster games, but I don't think they've been very successful so far. Because we have that in our DNA, we love the franchise, I hope that everyone will say "Wow, they were able to find the right team, put the right features, at the right time and deliver that to the market."

It's difficult to make a game, I can tell you. People think you just wake up and put a bunch of programmers in a room. It's a little bit more complex than that.

It's a great ride. We're all passionate about the brand. All the guys have more than ten years with the brand. But that doesn't mean we don't make mistakes. We all make mistakes. We all try to learn from that. But I think we'll make sure we stay relevant on PC. That's the best way to interact with the audience, listen to the audience, and deliver modifications, upgrades, and corrections very rapidly.

What kept everyone at Atari for ten years even through the downswing?

TS: Pure love of the brand, in my case. And I think certainly for others. We believe in this. We believe in this font of creativity that it's been, and it has been consistently. Even through some of those lows, there were some very good things happening. It was just a changing time in the industry.

FC: Look at me: I was there ten years ago when we launched Rollercoaster Tycoon 3. So it's really the experience of a lifetime to be able, ten years later, not to program the game—don't get me wrong—but to be able to put the resources so we launch a new one. People stayed because we loved the brand, and as time goes by we have more and more opportunities with the brand because more and more people know about the brand. If we wait another day, we have more opportunities.

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