DDGC - The Atari Situation Part 2

February 26, 2006

Publishing games is a far more lucrative business than developing games. In publishing, all one has to do is find a completed game, buy the rights, and put up the money for manufacture and distribution. As long as one chooses a good/popular game, there's easy money to be made. In Atari's case, getting the publishing rights to Dragon Ball Z (from Bandai et al.) was a godsend. DBZ games have been one of their highest sellers for Atari for the past couple of years. They would have paid a pretty penny to get the rights, but at least they didn't have to pay for the development. Better to pay a little for a game that will sell than pay a lot to make a game that might not.

Let's talk about another case - the cult-favourite Ikaruga on Nintendo Gamecube. Sounds strange that Atari, of all people, would publish the game internationally, right? It was Melbourne House that got that ball rolling. In fact, I was in the room during one of the 'suitability' sessions. After a rather sorid battle between Melbourne House and Atari Japan, the game was eventually published by the Japanese office much to the surprise to many a Treasure-fan. The 'battle' I mentioned resulted in someone leaving the company (ousted, if you will). Anyway, guess how much the Ikaruga publishing rights cost? About as much as I make for one year - pretty damn cheap. And while Ikaruga may have not been a bestseller, it did make Atari 'cool' for a brief moment in the eyes of the hardcore/old-school gamer.

Here's what I believe is why Atari is in the state that it is currently in. As I said in Part 1, Atari is better at publishing than it is in developing. It is used to making money quickly without much work. They approached development in the same way that they approached publishing, and that doesn't work. While we may cry out against the sequels and franchises that make up 90% of the titles on the market, the fact is, you need franchises both in a monetary sense and also a development sense. You need to invest in your titles; think of them as a series of games, not as a one-shot (which Atari does). Grand Theft Auto wasn't the cashcow that it is now until GTA3, some several years after the series first appeared (and GTA1 wasn't that great a game). If Atari had had GTA, they would have abandoned it after the first game; passing up on any chance of improvement via iteration. They don't see the long-term picture unless money is made from the get-go. You can do that in publishing - it just doesn't work in development.
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