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Phil Harrison leaving? Is Atari changing strategy again?

By on May 29, 2009

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: