Atari’s betting its future on gays and gamblers

Atari's betting its future on gays and gamblers

“If I had a gap in New Mexico, perhaps that one [the Challenge Runway recreation] would have made it there.”

Todd Shallbetter, Atari’s chief working officer, is simply joking in fact. He is referencing the corporate’s notorious 1983 transfer to bury numerous quantities of unsold gaming hardware and E.T. recreation cartridges underneath a slab of cement within the desert. Shallbetter does not deny his firm’s rocky legacy. Quite the opposite, he embraces it, utilizing its failures as a counterpoint for a brand new model of Atari he is serving to to construct. To push the corporate previous the €31.7 million (about $forty two million) in revenues it earned within the 2011-2012 fiscal yr (PDF), Shallbetter is concentrating on markets that the majority corporations would quite ignore; markets that symbolize tons of of billions of dollars. Atari goes after gays and gamblers.

“We now have a love for the model and a love for the corporate and the issues it represents — that is not bullshit; that is the reality.”

By December, Atari will launch Pridefest, a cellular metropolis-constructing recreation targeted on the lesbian, homosexual, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) group. It is also launching a web-based on line casino service. Sure, each of those initiatives are coming from the identical firm liable for Pong. However once you take a look at the sum of money these two seemingly disparate sectors characterize, it is clear why Atari is making such an enormous push in these instructions. On-line playing could also be having hassle gaining a foothold within the US as a consequence of regulatory legal guidelines, nevertheless it’s booming in Europe. By 2015, the European Union predicts the business will pull in some €thirteen billion (over $17 billion). Witeck Communications, which specializes within the LGBT shopper market, forecasted that 2013 would see the LGBT group’s complete shopping for energy attain $830 billion in the USA alone. For a corporation that is been struggling for the higher a part of the final 4 many years, all of that cash should look extremely engaging — no matter the place it comes from.

Within the Asian board recreation Go, a checkers-like pastime favored by such recreation-business luminaries as Nintendo’s Hiroshi Yamauchi, calling “atari” is akin to placing somebody in examine in chess. Sometimes, this leaves the participant with one final transfer earlier than dropping all of it. And but, as irony would have it, Atari — the corporate named after such a transfer — has persistently discovered itself on the opposite aspect of that decision.

Atari's betting its future on gays and gamblers

A lady performs a digital actuality demo for Atari’s sixty four-bit Jaguar online game system at E3 in 1995.

It hasn’t all the time been that means, although. As soon as upon a time, the corporate bought tens of millions of its 2600 console and, regardless of competitors within the early Nineteen Eighties, it managed to grow to be synonymous with video video games. Its fall from that nice peak, nevertheless, was swift and it is now a properly-documented little bit of gaming historical past: New administration took over and put income forward of high quality. This strategic flip truly pushed the agency deep into the purple, forcing it to bury unsold stock within the New Mexico desert fairly than pay to retailer it someplace. In late 1982, then-CEO Ray Kassar dumped 5,000 shares of firm inventory mere minutes earlier than issuing a press launch that Atari’s earnings can be “considerably” decrease than expectations. This triggered the attention of the Securities and Change Fee and set the tenor for many years to return.

The corporate tried to reenter the gaming hardware market twice. As soon as in 1989 with the Lynx handheld, and once more in 1993 with the Jaguar house console — each of which failed fairly spectacularly. Later, in 2008, Atari was delisted from the NASDAQ, one thing that occurs when a inventory’s worth drops under $1 per share. Throughout that point, the corporate additionally made a bid to publish massive-price range retail video games — an try and go toe to toe with the likes of Activision. Regardless of a couple of successes, this endeavor was finally weighed down by a variety of excessive-profile failures, specifically the aforementioned Challenge Runway. In 2013, Atari filed for, and exited, chapter.

Atari's betting its future on gays and gamblers

The brand for Pridefest, Atari’s upcoming LGBT-themed metropolis-builder recreation.

“We have carried out stuff through the years the place we have been in some challenged positions,” Shallbetter admitted. “We’re not in these positions anymore.” Regardless of its prior stumbles, Atari has managed to remain afloat because of being purchased, bought and divvied up all through its forty-plus yr historical past. Shallbetter attributes the corporate’s current success, although, to loyalty. “Anyone might have bailed and walked away from this and let the factor fall to ashes,” he stated. However a core eleven-individual group in New York that is been with the corporate for over a decade is the rationale why it hasn’t, he stated. “We now have a love for the model and a love for the corporate and the issues it represents — that is not bullshit; that is the reality.”

Loyalty alone is not sufficient to assist Atari discover a area of interest of its personal. Actually, it seems as if the corporate has simply been enjoying a recreation of comply with the chief; taking path from different, extra profitable corporations’ fashions for fulfillment. If Atari has an id now, it seems like considered one of desperation — throwing something on the wall to see if one thing sticks, together with a YouTube channel and unremarkable countless-runner video games on the App Retailer.

Sooner or later early this fall, Atari On line casino will go browsing with each digital- and actual-cash video games the place you possibly can win, and virtually assuredly lose, enjoying at blackjack and poker tables plastered in Asteroids and Centipede branding. It is an strategy Shallbetter stated would assist to broaden the corporate’s gaming tradition. You need not have grown up enjoying Atari’s basic hits to understand the irony of betting cash on an organization that is had extra monetary downs than it has ups. However Atari’s wagering that the era that did develop up on these titles has fairly a little bit of discretionary revenue that, coupled with a constructed-in nostalgia issue, might assist pad its backside line. Very similar to its forthcoming cash-seize strategy to the LGBT group, these branded on line casino video games appear to be not more than a rapidly utilized veneer atop a confirmed framework.

On paper, Pridefest reads like an uninspired guidelines of “homosexual” tradition; it is little greater than Atari ticking a number of packing containers off on an inventory of circumstances for fiscal success.

On paper, at the least, Pridefest reads like an uninspired guidelines of “homosexual” tradition; it is little greater than Atari ticking a number of packing containers off on an inventory of circumstances for fiscal success. The sport, a simulator, does not strategy LGBT themes the best way a cross-platform AAA blockbuster like Mass Impact three did. In that recreation, gamers had the choice to create a variety of avatars, together with an brazenly homosexual or lesbian character. Or think about the instance of indie hit Gone House, the story of which facilities on a teenage woman popping out to her household. There is a putting distinction between these two notable approaches to LGBT themes and Atari’s personal: inclusive versus opportunistic. That is as a result of the builders of these video games have been extra motivated by offering gamers with a welcoming expertise somewhat than making an apparent play for income from an underrepresented phase.

And whereas inferences from numbers or how a recreation has been described are one factor, Shallbetter’s phrases drive the actual level residence. In the identical breath as speaking about how the LGBT group is lengthy overdue for a recreation to name its personal, he stated the next: “We’re in enterprise. We do love the craft, however, on the finish of the day, we’re making an attempt to return one thing to the shareholders. [Pridefest] is sensible from a enterprise perspective.”

Atari's betting its future on gays and gamblers

Attendees at this yr’s GaymerX2 conference dressed up as characters from the Tremendous Mario Bros. franchise.

That revenue-pushed intention, although daring-confronted, does not matter as a lot to outstanding members of the LGBT group. What finally issues is that a agency of Atari’s stature is even contemplating an LGBT-themed recreation in any respect. No matter perceived exploitation, the existence of Pridefest is seen as progress. It is a coup for homosexual players in all places.

“We’re in enterprise. We do love the craft, however, on the finish of the day, we’re making an attempt to return one thing to the shareholders. [Pridefest] is sensible from a enterprise perspective.”

“Even when it is a pure enterprise determination, I feel that it is truly a really robust step ahead,” Matt Conn, the CEO of MidBoss, stated. MidBoss organizes the annual GaymerX conference, which celebrates the LGBTcommunity’s place within the online game business. Conn stated that if you see corporations like Atari or developer Naughty Canine together with LGBT parts of their titles (the latter with its current recreation, The Final of Us), it sends a bigger message to the sport business that the group is value representing.

By getting out in entrance of the subject, Atari is addressing a problem that some corporations would both not acknowledge or fake does not exist. Shallbetter emphasised this level, saying, “Do not assume this LGBT factor is not with out danger.”

Think about the current controversy surrounding Nintendo, an organization that prides itself on being a household-pleasant model. Its weird life-simulator Tomodachi Life just lately got here beneath hearth when it was found that a glitch within the unique Japanese launch allowed similar-intercourse marriage. The corporate moved shortly to patch this “error,” urging gamers to obtain a software program replace in the event that they observed “human relations that turned unusual.” That particular phrasing was Nintendo’s oblique method of referencing occurrences of similar-intercourse couplings — e.g., male couples having youngsters and dwelling collectively as heterosexuals would.

Atari's betting its future on gays and gamblers

Nintendo’s life-simulator, Tomodachi Life, courted controversy for patching the power to pair similar-intercourse couples.

When the bug resurfaced previous to the sport’s stateside launch, Nintendo confronted a unique public response: an web marketing campaign for the corporate to incorporate similar-intercourse marriage as a future patch. The agency issued a remark saying that it by no means meant to make any type of social commentary with the sport. However, after on-line uproar to what many perceived as a non-response, Nintendo apologized and bowed to the strain, promising to make any potential sequel “extra inclusive, and [to] higher symbolize all gamers.”

Whereas Nintendo deliberately sidestepped LGBT inclusion, and suffered a PR nightmare in consequence, Atari is being proactive. Matt Kane, director of leisure media for GLAAD, does not assume this give attention to the LGBT group ought to essentially be seen as an underhanded transfer. “In the event that they’re particularly making an attempt to draw LGBT players, nicely, there [are] worse issues they might do on the earth than that,” Kane stated, laughing.

“Do not assume this LGBT factor is not with out danger.”

Shallbetter is adamant that Pridefest is not a shallow try at pandering to the homosexual group. He stated that Atari labored with numerous Satisfaction organizations across the nation for enter and collaboration on the sport, although he did not identify any particularly. What’s extra, he thinks that Atari is uniquely positioned to deal with the undertaking given the corporate’s historical past with simulations just like the lengthy-operating Civilization and Rollercoaster Tycoon franchises.

Based mostly on his descriptions, Pridefest ought to play like a typical metropolis-builder — one thing alongside the strains of, say, SimCity. However regardless of its considerably imminent finish-of-yr launch, Atari wasn’t capable of share screenshots or movies of it in motion. That is as a result of the sport is nonetheless within the early levels of improvement, making Shallbetter’s 2014 launch promise a bit doubtful.

Although he admitted that his descriptions of the sport have been obscure, Shallbetter maintained that there was extra to Pridefest than planting rainbow flags and constructing profitable LGBT-owned-and-operated companies. “We’re definitely not reskinning FarmVille and calling it one thing else,” he stated. Gamers will have the ability to design their very own parade floats, in addition to clear up puzzles — there’s even a deliberate social facet to the sport. Regardless that it sounds in any other case, Shallbetter stated that Pridefest is greater than only a rote laundry record of duties seen in different titles, albeit with an inclusive theme.

Or is it? Based on a outstanding LGBT member of the sport business who has seen Pridefest in motion, and agreed to talk beneath the situation of anonymity, Atari’s secrecy could possibly be justified: “It does look like a reskinned Rollercoaster Tycoon type of factor.” The supply additionally famous that the sport felt like a means for the corporate to recycle an present franchise into one thing that was LGBT-targeted, including, “I do not understand how badly queer individuals are craving [the ability to design] their very own Delight Pageant.”

The supply famous that the sport felt like a method for the corporate to recycle an present franchise into one thing LGBT-targeted, including “I do not understand how badly queer individuals are craving [the ability to design] their very own Satisfaction Pageant.”

“I do not assume that it is made by the group,” the supply continued. “I feel that it is made by an organization that is predominantly straight, white dudes. I truthfully do not have tremendous-excessive expectations of its high quality, however I do not assume that [quality] is that essential.” It is a affirmation of the purpose Conn and Kane each expressed; that Pridefest exists in any respect is essential as a result of it is a constructive LGBT portrayal from a serious firm.

Conn likens it to the iOS title based mostly on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Dragopolis, saying that merely having LGBT-themed video games accepted for Apple’s App Retailer represents a serious shift in attitudes towards the LGBT group. “I feel you are going to see extra iterations of that now,” he stated. “Even when [the games] aren’t good, they’re serving to break down the wall [to positive mainstream representation].” This, nevertheless, might ship the fallacious message to corporations in murky monetary straits like Atari; that each one it’s essential drive success and income is a floor-degree LGBT theme.

Shallbetter’s conscious that Pridefest has the potential to courtroom controversy, and he defended the corporate’s determination to go after that market, saying that Atari is “extremely selective” with the merchandise it produces. “We’ve got to ensure that we’re creating related merchandise or we should always simply grasp it up,” he stated. Provided that the corporate just lately reworked the basic Breakout right into a recreation about Denny’s breakfast meals, although, these phrases ring considerably hole.

[Image credits: Marissa Roth/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images (Atari Jaguar VR); Atari (Pridefest logo); Matt Baume/MidBoss (GaymerX2); BagoGames/Flickr (Tomodachi Life)]

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