Atari is a corporate and brand name owned by several entities since its inception in 1972. It is currently owned by Atari Interactive, a wholly owned subsidiary of the French publisher Infogrames Entertainment SA (IESA).Atari Interactive has in turn licensed the brand name and assets to Atari, Inc. a 51% majority owned subsidiary of Infogrames Entertainment SA (IESA), encompassing its North American operations.
The original Atari Inc. was founded in 1972 by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. It was a pioneer in arcade games, home video game consoles, and home computers. The company's products, such as Pong and the Atari 2600, helped define the computer entertainment industry from the 1970s to the mid 1980s.
In 1984, the original Atari Inc. was split, and the arcade division was turned into Atari Games Inc..Atari Games received the rights to use the logo and brand name with appended text "Games" on arcade games, as well as rights to the original 1972 - 1984 arcade hardware properties. The Atari Consumer Electronics Division properties were in turn sold to Jack Tramiel's Tramel Technology Ltd., which then renamed itself to Atari Corporation. In 1996, Atari Corporation reverse merged with disk drive manufacturer JT Storage (JTS), becoming a division within the company.
Atari Interactive started as a subsidiary of Hasbro Interactive, after Hasbro Interactive acquired all Atari Corporation related properties from JTS in 1998.IESA in turn acquired Hasbro Interactive in 2001, and proceeded to rename it to Infogrames Interactive. In 2003, IESA then changed the company name entirely to Atari Interactive.
The company that currently bears the name Atari Inc. was founded in 1993 under the name GT Interactive. IESA acquired a 62% controlling interest in GT Interactive in 1999, and proceeded to rename it Infogrames, Inc. After IESA's acquirement of Hasbro Interactive and its related Atari properties in 2001, Infogrames, Inc. intermittently published Atari branded titles for Infogrames Interactive. In 2003, Infogrames Inc. licensed the Atari name and logo from Atari Interactive and changed its name to Atari Inc.Currently, Atari Inc. develops, publishes and distributes games for all major video game consoles, as well as for the personal computer, and is currently one of the largest third-party publishers of video games in the United States.
In 1973, Atari secretly spawned a "competitor" called Kee Games, headed by Nolan's next door neighbor Joe Keenan, to circumvent pinball distributors' insistence on exclusive distribution deals; both Atari and Kee could market (virtually) the same game to different distributors, with each getting an "exclusive" deal. Though Kee's relationship to Atari was discovered in 1974, Joe Keenan did such a good job managing the subsidiary that he was promoted to president of Atari that same year.
In 1975, Bushnell started an effort to produce a flexible video game console that was capable of playing all four of Atari's then-current games. The result was the Atari 2600, one of the most successful consoles in history, sometimes called VCS for Video Computer System. Authors on the history of videogames have consistently presented the possibility the 2600 was named after the frequency 2600 hertz used by a blue box to gain control of telephone networks, or "2600: The Hacker Quarterly," which began as a magazine for telephone phreaking. Bushnell knew he had another potential hit on his hands, but bringing the machine to market would be extremely expensive. Looking for outside investors, in 1976 Bushnell sold Atari to Warner Communications for an estimated $28 - $32 million, using part of the money to buy the Folgers Mansion. He departed from the division in 1979.
A project to design a successor to the 2600 started as soon as the system shipped. The original development team estimated the 2600 had a lifespan of about three years, and decided to build the most powerful machine they could, given that time frame. Midway into the effort's time-frame, the home computer revolution was taking off, so the new machines were adapted, with the addition of a keyboard and various inputs, to produce the Atari 800, and its smaller cousin, the 400. Although a variety of issues made them less attractive than the Apple II for some users, the new machines had some success when they finally became available in quantity in 1980.
Under Warner, Atari Inc. achieved its greatest success, selling millions of 2600s and computers. At its peak, Atari accounted for a third of Warner's annual income and was the fastest-growing company in the history of the United States at the time. However, Atari Inc. ran into problems in the early 1980s. Its home computer, video game console, and arcade divisions operated independently of one another and rarely cooperated. Faced with fierce competition and price wars in the game console and home computer markets, Atari was never able to duplicate the success of the 2600.
These problems were followed by the infamous video game crash of 1983, with losses that totaled more than $500 million. Warner's stock price slid from $60 to $20, and the company began searching for a buyer for its troubled division. In 1983, Ray Kassar was forced to leave Atari, and executives involved in the Famicom deal were forced to start over again, and the deal eventually died. With Atari's further financial problems and the Famicom's runaway success in Japan after its July 16th, 1983 release date, Nintendo decided to go it alone.
Financial problems continued to mount and Ray's successor, James J. Morgan, had less than a year in which to tackle his predecessor's problems before he, too, left. In July 1984, Warner sold the home computing and game console divisions of Atari to Jack Tramiel for $240 million in stocks who then used it to create a new company under the name Atari Corporation. Warner retained the arcade division, continuing it under the name Atari Games, but sold it to Namco in 1985. Warner also sold the fledgling Ataritel to Mitsubishi.
Under Tramiel's ownership, Atari Corp. used the remaining stock of game console inventory to keep the company afloat while they finished development on a 16-bit computer system, the Atari ST. In 1985, they released an update to the 8-bit computer line, the Atari XE series, as well as the 16-bit Atari ST line. In 1986, Atari launched two consoles designed under Warner - the Atari 2600jr and the Atari 7800 console (which saw limited release in 1984). Atari rebounded, making $25 million profit that year. In 1989, Atari released the Atari Lynx, a handheld console with color graphics, to much fanfare. A shortage of parts kept the system from being released nationwide for the 1989 Christmas season and the Lynx lost market share to Nintendo's Game Boy, which only had a black and white display, but was available. Also in 1989, Atari Corp. sued Nintendo for $250 million, alleging it had an illegal monopoly. Atari eventually lost the case when it was rejected by a US district court in 1992.
In 1993, Atari positioned its Jaguar as the only 64-bit interactive media entertainment system available, and sold around 200,000 units (at $250 each) in its first year on the market.
By 1996, a series of successful lawsuits and profitable investments had left Atari with millions of dollars in the bank, but the failure of the Lynx and Jaguar left Atari without a product to sell. Tramiel and his family also wanted out of the business. The result was a rapid succession of changes in ownership. In July 1996, Atari merged with JTS Inc., a short-lived maker of hard disk drives, to form JTS Corp. Atari's role in the new company largely became that of holder for the Atari properties and minor support, and consequently the name largely disappeared from the market.
On March 6, 2008, Infogrames made an offer to Atari Inc. to buy out all remaining public shares for a value of $1.68 per share, or $11 million total. The offer would make Infogrames sole owner of Atari Inc., thus making it a privately held company. .