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Phil Harrison leaving? Is Atari changing strategy again?

By on May 29, 2009
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The rebirth of Atari seems to be very painful, if the latest corporate shenanigans are anything to go by.

Stronghold Kingdoms teaser image

Today’s announcement by Atari sets out a change of senior management. Phil Harrison becomes a non-executive and Jeff Lapin (former CEO of Take-Two and representative of investors Blue Bay) becomes COO. The new executive board is:

  • David Gardner, Chief Executive Office and Director
  • Jeff Lapin, Chief Operating Officer and Director
  • Fabrice Hamaide, Chief Financial Officer
  • Jim Wilson, Chief Executive Officer at Atari, Inc.
  • John Needham, Chief Executive Officer at Cryptic

This looks like a “boxed-product” board, not a “new online business” board. Even Cryptic, which is a successful MMO developer, tends to focus on the World of Warcraft-style model of a paid-for game plus a subscription, rather than the radical new world of browser- and Unity-based games that Atari previously seemed to be espousing.

The release also appears to confirm my suspicions that the delay in receiving regulatory clearance – and hence the cash payment of more than €30 million – for the disposal of Atari’s remaining stake in Distribution Partners to Namco Bandai meant that Atari did not have the cash resources to publish Ghostbusters, and had to sub-contract the game to Sony in Europe instead:

"The closing of the divestiture from Distribution Partners is expected in July 2009. Assuming completion of the Distribution Partners divesture as of March 31, 2009 generating an estimated minimum of €30 million cash, Atari adjusted cash balance would have reached €35.9 million."

My conclusion is that David and Phil had originally thought that Atari would be a great launch pad for a new kind of online games destination, complete with a powerful and historic brand. Unfortunately, Atari may have turned to be much more dysfunctional than anyone realised and needed huge management attention to fix. As a result, Phil has not had the cash or management resources to build “a leading 21st century online gaming company”.

So he has moved on. But I suspect that the ambition to build that new 21st century games company remains as strong as ever.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com