Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Beep Boop Bleep *Insufficient Funds*

Seems like, once again, the Atari Corporation is going to declare bankruptcy again. Atari has had a troubled history; after its spectacular (and lucrative) beginnings to the great video game crash of 1983 (fueled, in between, by some smart coding and massive amounts of cocaine), it has bounced around from owner to owner, basically being unprofitable and trying to squeeze every last drop of money from its iconic logo.

Truth be told, it didn't seem like Atari was that well-run of a company for it to be so proud of its heritage. Sure, it brought to the masses some of the most iconic video games in history--games that are even recognized by the ungrateful whelps in today's fickle gaming market--but they seemed to be only moderately long on creativity and short on management or business experience. And even that scant creativity seemed to dissolve as soon as most of the people in charge--which, in Silicon Valley in the 1970's, included little more than cokeheads and swingers (and, no, that's not much of an exaggeration)--went away to rehab or establishing pizza joints featuring singing rats.

In some ways it's difficult to forget how big Atari was. They were more or less the only game (ha!) in town, and they were very, very good at marketing. Early video game culture is cringe-worthy now--it's not even awesome in the standard so-bad-its-good variety--but it permeated our culture quite a bit. (There was even a phrase, "Atari Democrat," that gained modest popularity in political circles, and you still occasionally hear it.) But all of their positives quickly became negatives as the markets adapted.

So what value could Atari bring to anyone, really? Twenty years ago there was still a brand and at least some semblance of a disorganized group of coders and creators that could at least bring something of value to the table, but Atari's inability to be reliable caused it to bounce from one company to another. As far as I can tell, Atari mostly lives in its own past: the only things I can dredge up that it still does is mobile versions of its vaunted titles. Valuable, yes, I suppose, but it's like an old, weary relative telling the same war stories every time you see him. It's not exactly surprising that the first thing most people think when they hear that Atari is going bankrupt was that they assumed this happened twenty years ago.

Atari isn't the first company to milk nostalgia, of course, and there's certainly still some valuable properties on their portfolio. But I won't lie and say it isn't sort of sad to see a once-great company bought and sold like a flea market milk crate full of junk.

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