Decades ago, owning an Atari and playing its arcade titles like Pong or Pac-Man was the essence of gaming cool. But the gaming company is a different beast since its 1970s heyday, having being whittled down by mergers, acquisitions and bankruptcies over the years. Today, the once-iconic gaming brand is trying to cash in on its reboots of their classic title from the golden age of gaming.
Metro spoke with Atari’s CEO Fred Chesnais and COO Todd Shallbetter about the future of the once-iconic gaming brand and how Atari can compete with the likes of Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo in today’s home entertainment industry.
Atari has passed through difficult times in the last few years. What do you think inspired you to continue believing in the brand?
Todd Shallbetter: I have been with the company for 10 years and a fan since Atari first went to market with the Atari 2600. I have always believed in the brand from a personal and professional perspective and continue to do so because of what we are doing now and what we are setting out to accomplish. We are sitting on a rocket!
How is the company per- forming now?
Fred Chesnais: Atari is doing well and we have a positive outlook following our strategic roadmap. We have assembled an experienced and lean team in our New York City headquarters and partner with many first class external studios throughout the world. We are a publicly traded company on the Paris Stock Exchange.
Do you still consider Atari a strong name in the games market even with such huge firms as competitors like Microsoft and Sony?
Fred Chesnais: Atari is an iconic brand that transcends generations and audiences. Atari will always be known as the pioneer of video games. I think Atari still has a strong name in the games industry and is widely recognizable among those who grew up with the brand and their children.
Since last year, you have talked a lot about rebooting classic games. How is this plan?
Fred Chesnais: Yes. Part of our corporate strategy is to reimagine classic Atari titles and re-introduce them as new games to a new generation of gamers. Last year, we released an updated version of “Haunted House” on PC and “RollerCoaster Tycoon 4 Mobile” on iOS and Android platforms. We saw great success in RCT4M where it reached the top of the charts in several countries. In March of this year, we released “Asteroids: Outpost”, a dramatic reboot of the arcade classic in Early Access on Steam and it was great.
And what else can the pub- lic expect for this year?
Fred Chesnais: There are some other games we announced to be released later this year. It includes the new action-horror title, “Alone in the Dark: Illumination”, that will be on Steam in the next few weeks, and the next installment of the beloved RollerCoaster Tycoon franchise, “RollerCoaster Tycoon World”. We look forward to launching these highly anticipated games on PC.
So, you don’t have plans to reinvent the console one day?
Todd Shallbetter: Our current focus is on PC games, both single and multiplayer, digital, online and mobile platforms, besides casinos that use real and social currency. Our game “Asteroids: Outpost” is in Early Access now and we continue to work on the game. And there will be more news to share on the title soon.
The death of console video games has been forecast for years, but they continue being a very strong device for users. Do you think there is a prevision for them to get to an end and people just focus on computer games?
Todd Shallbetter: Based on the continuous innovation and tech advancements being made in the console market I believe there will be a strong console market for many years to come. However, there is a huge PC market and we are concentrating our efforts in that space.
But aren’t you afraid that only older players would be interested in your re- launched games? How do you intend to conquer the younger public?
Fred Chesnais: While that is a possibility, we are creating games that will appeal to a new generation of gamers. The games we are developing are on various platforms such as PC, mobile and online and by offering different ways to engage with our content we are reaching a broader audience. In addition to re-launching classic titles we are working on brand new games that are not based on classic IP. In the next few months we’ll be releasing “Pridefest”, a new LGBTQ themed social sim game on iOS and Android. Introducing new and innovative game experiences is a priority for us.
Yes, Atari has announced this LGBTQ title last year. How is it developing?
Todd Shallbetter: We are in the last phase of development and expect to release the game on iOS and Android devices this summer. We are very excited to be working on a unique game that celebrates inclusivity and diversity. We are a proud sponsor of NYC Pride, the largest Pride event in the U.S. and demo’ed our game at Flame Con, the first “Queer Comic-Con” in Brooklyn, NY in June.
Even with new titles, some people say that Atari is still very much attached to its successful and iconic past...
Todd Shallbetter: Atari is one of the world’s most recognized publishers and producers of interactive entertainment. One big competitive advantage we have over other publishers is our legacy and evergreen brand. Our vast collection of 250+ classic games affords us the luxury of an abundant amount of content that we can reimagine as new game experiences on various plat- forms. So yes, we still believe in our iconic titles and the possibilities are endless.
How have you dealt with being a small player in the now big arena of gaming?
Todd Shallbetter: To survive in this competitive industry you must have thick skin and we do. We under- stand our fans and com- munity are very passionate about Atari’s classic games and the brand itself. We pride ourselves at working at a valued company where our fans only want us to create the best games.
Can you say that you have learned with it?
Todd Shallbetter: We have an active community and we love to hear from our fans. We welcome all sorts of feedback and try our best to respond to them and implement their suggestions whenever reasonably possible. We received a good amount of critique on “RollerCoaster Tycoon 4 Mobile” and have spent a significant amount of time listening and responding to our fans on social media and working to improve the game based on their input.
What is your opinion about the documentary produced by Zak Penn about the col- lapse of Atari in the early 80s, called “Atari: Game Over”? Do you think it can be good to spread the “relaunch” the company or not?
Fred Chesnais: We recognize the history of Atari is extensive, complex and fascinating. We appreciate our fan base and their deep interest in the company’s inception, evolution, and rebirth. We’re trying our best to continue the Atari legacy and hope our fans will stick with us for many years to come.
What do you think about the volatile games industry we have now?
Fred Chesnais: We are working in an ever-changing landscape that moves super- fast. And as a publisher, you have to adapt with the market and focus on what your strengths are otherwise you will not succeed. With competition comes innovation and I think that is great for the games industry.
We know that your unique style has made the name of your company, but things are very different from years ago. How do you see Atari’s future in this scenario?
Todd Shallbetter: Our mission is to create fun and engaging games that resonate with our longtime fans and new gamers alike. I think as long as we continue to deliver quality content on various platforms we will have a promising future.
Will Atari expand into other areas of technology, like wearables for example?
Fred Chesnais: That is a possibility. The Atari name affords us the opportunity to expand onto various platforms that would be considered natural extensions given the tech and innovation behind the brand. Think wearables, mobile devices and other electronics.