Atari has filed for bankruptcy. In an effort to break free from their troubled French parent, the famed game-maker’s U.S. department and three of its affiliates have filed for chapter 11 reorganization and hope to find a buyer to take the company private over next few months.
The developer already had a fairly modest business model, mostly relying on the digital and “retro console” sales of hits such as Asteroids and Pong. The company, with just 40 employees in the U.S., was mostly developing games for smaller platforms (such as mobile phones). With small profits ($11 million and $4 million of the last two years) and plummeting revenues (34% in 2012 and 43% in 2011), this really wasn’t unexpected.
For some weird reason, this hurts me more than I expected. It has been a long time since I played anything with the Atari name on it, and the major franchises that do bear that name don’t have anything to do with the U.S. office. Still, at times like this I feel old, like I’ve seen this too many times.
Once upon a time, companies like Atari and Sega used to compete with Nintendo for console supremacy. That Sega Genesis box held a lot of memories. And I had to sell it because of financial hardship. Financial hardship: that’s another one of those terms invented by people who’ve never faced it because those that have don’t need a word for it.
And today, once again, I feel like I am to blame. Atari compiled their “Greatest Hits” packages again and again, and I never bought them, even though I think they were for me. It was like an old friend was trying to remind me how much fun we used to have, asking me to come outside and play again. And I turned him down, again and again.
People don’t understand gamers. Politicians think we’re deranged lunatics that like to shoot people. Game-makers think we’re crazed perverts that constantly want to watch pixilated parodies of real women. Movies think we live exclusively in a virtual reality. But that’s not it.
Sega and Atari gave me more joy than I can ever thank them for. When I started crying one day because I knew the girls in my class didn’t like me — would never like me — it was Sega and Atari that I went to. When I wasn’t even noticed at real playgrounds, Atari and Sega were the place where I was king. Whenever it was my birthday or a holiday, the thing I asked for first was a game cartridge; that was my celebration. In every way that matters, Atari and Sega were my friends.
And today, for another one of my friends, it’s game over. And I don’t know if he has any spare lives.