(apparently, I am unable to choose between past and present tense – be warned)
PART 1: Atari
THE INDEPENDENT YEARS aka THE PONG YEARS (early/mid 1970s)
Nolan Bushnell and some other guy start the company. Their first game is a flop but they have the first video game super hit with Pong, a rip-off/improvement of the first digital video game released by Magnavox. Atari’s first “console” is released in 1975. It’s just a home version of Pong. We would consider this a “plug n play” type release today but at this time that’s all that consoles were. And they weren’t cheap, they were just as expensive as a Wii or PS3 today.
THE WARNER BROS. YEARS or THE 2600 YEARS (late 1970s – mid-1980s)
Bushnell sells the company to Warner Bros. to secure financing for the Video Computer System, Atari’s first system that actually uses cartridges, leading to endless possibilities for games. The system is soon renamed the 2600 and is the first megahit system. Atari releases a home computer that comes in various configurations that are collectively referred to as the Atari 8-Bit Family. It’s really expensive and a mild failure. It’s turned into a TV console, the Atari 5200, which is a flop.
THE BIG SPLIT!
During the video game crash of the 1980s, Warner Bros. decided to sell off the company but they carved it up. They sold the home video game system part of the company to Tramel, a company founded by the guy that used to own/run the Commodore computer company. This company retains the Atari name. The arcade division is briefly owned by Namco but then becomes independent. This company is named Atari Games. So now there are 2 Ataris . . .
PART 2: Atari Games (the now-independent arcade company)
INDEPENDENT YEARS (late 1980s to early 1990s)
Atari Games chugged along with some decent arcade hits like Xenophobe. During this period they also entered the home market under the name Tengen. Tengen is most famous for releasing unlicensed games for the NES on black cartridges.
MIDWAY YEARS (mid 1990s until forever)
Business eventually dried up and Midway snatched up the company, assuming control of Atari Games’ assets and also the development studio, which they renamed Midway Games West. A few years ago, this studio was shut down, ending any real link to the old Atari arcade unit. However, Midway still owns many of the properties and sometimes creates sequels/remakes. This ain’t so great, though – Midway is not what they once were.
PART 3: Atari
THE TRAMEL YEARS (mid-1980s to mid-1990s)
Tramel used the Atari brand to release a new home computer, the Atari ST, which was a mild success. In 1989, the handheld Atari Lynx is released but is pretty much a flop. In 1993, Atari attempts to re-enter the home console market with the Jaguar. Another flop but they even release a CD add-on with only about 10 games released for it.
THE HASBRO YEARS (mid-1990s to late 1990s or something)
Everything is sold off to Hasbro, who immediately gut the company. The end of an era.
THE INFOGRAMES YEARS (now)
Hasbro doesn’t keep the properties long and they never kept any of the staff. They basically sell the name to Infogrames, who then rename themselves Atari. And then back to Infogrames and then back to Atari.
IN CLOSING . . .
You can still walk into Generic McStore and buy games that are published by “Atari” (especially Dragon Ball Z and Godzilla games) but there is truly no connection to the old company other than the trademark on the name. Midway did basically absorb Atari Games into its infrastructure but Midway kinda sucks now so . . .