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January 21, 2013

Atari in the United States Files Chapter 11 to Divorce French Parent Company

By Steve Anderson, Contributing TMCnet Writer

A shakeup in gaming investing came just hours ago as the United States-based operations of Atari filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in a bid to get out from under its parent company, Infogrames Entertainment, currently located in France. The American branch of Atari hoped to get out from under Infogames Entertainment in a bid to secure new investments and focus on growth in both the mobile and digital gaming sphere.

Back in 2000, Infogrames Entertainment bought a stake in Atari, which grew toward the remaining shares in 2008, with an accompanying name change, calling Atari, Atari S.A. But it didn't take long before Infogrames and Atari S.A. alike noticed that, when it came to the balance sheet, Atari S.A. was pulling most of the load. Fiscal 2012, meanwhile, showed that digital and licensing revenue were an ever-increasing part of the revenue picture, and sales in brick-and-mortar operations were on a steady drop. Atari S.A., meanwhile, said that a credit agreement with BlueBay, one of its investors, would expire at the end of the year, and it was both in need of capital and in the process of finding ways to raise that capital, with a "significant loss" poised to end the 2012 fiscal year.

Atari, which only last year turned 40, has had a long and storied history in the industry, and as such, has a massive amount of intellectual property to its credit including a host of iconic titles like "Centipede," one of the earliest games ever in "Pong," one of the most controversial titles ever in "Custer's Revenge" and of course, what is regarded by many as the worst video game ever made, "E.T. The Extra Terrestrial," copies of which are still reportedly buried in a New Mexico desert.

But it's also had its share of financial difficulties, including several new owners as well as a variety of financial problems. The bankruptcy filing itself points to between $1 and $10 million in assets, while boasting $10 to $50 million in debt. It's actively looking for approval on $5.25 million in debtor-in-possession financing, and expects to either sell off its assets or bring out a restructuring plan in six months or less.

But with Atari already likely planning something of a comeback--it's got plenty of intellectual property to work with, and much of it tailor-made for the mobile and casual gaming markets--it's a safe bet that no one's seen the last of Atari just yet. Its plan to get investment to get back into those markets is a sound plan, especially given the kind of growth that's been found of late in both mobile devices and the related gaming markets for same. Atari may be down, but it's easy to see where it may not be out to match.

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Edited by Brooke Neuman
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