One of the most important companies in the history of video games, Atari, was incorporated 40 years ago today. Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney’s original business, Syzygy Engineering, was started about a year earlier, but never formally incorporated.
Of course, the Atari corporate entity that exists today and the original company are quite different. Atari as we know it today is actually French video game developer and publisher Infogrames Entertainment SA. The original Atari Corporation was bought at the height of its success by Warner Communications. After the video game crash in North America, Warner split the company into three; Atari Corporation, the home computer and console games division, which was sold to Tramiel Technologies, Atari Games, the arcade game division, which was sold to Namco in 1985, and Ataritel, which dealt with phones was sold to Mitsibushi.
The Tramiels sold their stake in Atari, leaving the company to merge with a hard drive manufacturer JTS to form JTS Corp in 1996. The marriage was short-lived, with JTS selling the Atari name and assets to Hasbro Interactive in 1998. Hasbro sought to free itself of Hasbro Interactive in 2001, selling the division to Infogrames, which subsequently rebranded its North American division as Atari, Inc. It also made Atari Interactive, the division it bought from Hasbro a separate entity.
After years of losses, Inforgrames SA bought out all existing shares in its listed American entity Atari, Inc. and then rebranded itself as Atari SA.
Atari Games, on the other hand, only stayed with Namco for a year. A group of employees decided to buy the company out, and operated it until 1993 when Time Warner , which technically originally owned the company, bought it from the group. Time Warner held onto the company for three years before selling it onto WMS Industries, better known as Midway Games. It was renamed Midway Games West when Hasbro began using the Atari name for home console software again. The division stopped producing arcade games in 2001, and was disbanded in 2003. The holding company for all of these assets still existed as late as 2009, and amusingly, found its way under the Warner umbrella again when Warner Bros. Entertainment bought the remnants of Midway.
That ought to do it for today’s lesson in corporate history.