The Internet has been heaping congratulations and praise on Atari in celebration of the company's fortieth birthday, but for those who have closely followed Atari's story over the years, it's painfully clear that the Atari we know today is far removed from the Atari that gave us Pong, Asteroids, and the Atari 2600. As Luke Plunkett at Kotaku explains, today's Atari is just a walking corpse pretending to be a once great company. The Atari brand has changed hands several times over the years, moving further and further away from its origins and today exists primarily as a recognizable name with distribution rights to the original Atari's back catalog that runs alongside a few original projects based on licensed properties.
In 1984, a year after the great Video Game crash, the company was cut in two. One half handled mostly arcade stuff, and was called Atari Games Inc. The other was called Atari Corporation, and handled mostly home consumer electronics. Atari Corporation was the company responsible for products like the Atari 7800 and Atari ST home computer, and at least through the 1980s maintained a reasonable level of success. In 1989 it released the Lynx, a serious competitor for Nintendo's Game Boy, and in 1993 released the Jaguar, the Atari brand's last meaningful contribution to the home console market.
By 1996, with the Jaguar a failure, Atari Corp. merged with hard drive manufacturers JTS. Only two years later, JTS offloaded the Atari name and properties to Hasbro. Still with me? Well, in 2001 Atari's corpse traded hands again, this time to French publisher Infogrames, who in 2003 then began adopting the Atari name for itself. By 2009 this process was complete, and the people once famous for publishing games from the likes of Microprose had completed their public cosplay act and become a company that, for all intents, didn't really exist anymore.
We've come a long way since Atari National Pac-Man Day. It's sad to see Atari's history exposed as a series of transfers, sell-offs, and closings. The modern Atari still releases new games, mind you; they've released a slew of games based on Dragon Ball, The Matrix, and Godzilla as well as my beloved Ghostbusters: The Video Game, and I really hate to kick the company on the anniversary of the founding of the original corporation, but looking back over its history, it's evident that the Atari brand is one of those things that is passed around the corporate world every few years. Considering how much money the current incarnation of Atari has lost recently and knowing that the company has given up on most conventional retail releases in favor of cheaper digital distribution products, I can't help but wonder who will take the name next.