Atari Is Like A Ship With A Hole In The Bottom, Leaking Water, And His Job Is To Get The Ship Pointed In The Right Direction
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By Doctor Octagon on June 11, 2014 | Opinion
His name is Fred Chesnais. Currently he’s CEO and majority shareholder of what we once called Atari and their dozen or so employees that remain on the books. His strategy for making Atari relevant again: “Let other people be Atari” by licensing the name to miscellaneous mobile gaming studios and Chinese manufacturers who have a knack for selling crap to an all-too-fawned-over “new generation.”
So far the results have been pathetic. Boring mobile games, cheesy slot machines, zero innovation. Now Fred is squarely placing Atari in the “me too” category with mobile phones, or rather, licensing the Atari name to ravenous Chinese manufacturers to stamp on their off-brand Android devices, because they think “Atari” sounds better than “Mr. Wassonasong Phone”. I mean, Amazon has a phone, so why shouldn’t Atari have one too? Like #omg you guys, Millennials send selfies with those.
This guy is the worst CEO I’ve ever seen. That’s not to say he’s special. Atari has had a long succession of myopic CEOs. Yep, some were better than others, but what’s happening right now feels like a desperate move by an ugly prom date.
Remember Ray Kassar? For all his sassiness, Ray wasn’t really a bad guy. But he was clueless about how special the brand and the people were that he had been placed in charge of. Atari was the fastest growing company in American history, filled with immense talent of the sort that up until then had never been seen. So in walks this guy Ray from the textile industry whose been put in charge of it all. It’s no wonder he couldn’t understand what he had. It’s like showing your dad how to use Facebook on his iPhone. He probably didn’t know how, and couldn’t relate to those who did.
Then there was James Morgan who stood out like a yeti in the desert. James Morgan came to us from Phillip Morris but was a really down to earth guy who nearly saved Atari from the brink of oblivion after Kassar was fired in 1983. Morgan’s vision for restructuring the company and ability to relate to Atari’s talented crew in ways Ray never could earned him the recognition that comes from sincere leadership. Here’s a person whose incredible self-control led to ridiculous achievement. Men like Morgan are rare for a reason. They make choices that allow for success. Even Nolan for all his innovative spirit made some major missteps early on.
So while Ray wasn’t really a bad guy, I’m sure the same can be said about this guy. Fred looks nice enough. Surely he’s smart. He just doesn’t really understand what to do with what he has.
To think that a brand once as recognizable as Kodak or Disney, so platinum that it still shines through its patina, would be willfully stamped on slot machines and off-brand telephones to be dumped on the American public is the epitome of laziness and derivative thinking. This is like writing “Tesla” on a Suzuki. In crayon. Sure, maybe you could’ve gotten Eazy-E to tool around in one with Ray and his houseboys, but even that would’ve been reaching.
Every step of the way, Atari in its current iteration is cashing in on the illusionist’s party trick of name recognition and nostalgia rather than coming up with great new stuff. It’s a form of laziness. To anyone over thirty, Atari is synonymous with fun. To adhere that brand to lame products is bait-and-switch, and nothing short of abusive. Even Jack Tramiel’s most ardent detractors would credit the Lynx and Jaguar as both being innovative new products that were ahead of their time.
Atari didn’t achieve success this way the first time around, and they aren’t going to now. What made Atari so wondrous 30 years ago, like tech giants today, was that they came up with new ideas and culture-defining products. Apple, Google, Tesla, SpaceX, they didn’t just build great products, they built great companies. They’re establishments of innovation that employed some of the world’s most creative people that every day found new ways to push the world forward. Thirty years ago, this was Atari. For many of us Atari is an institution, like Harvard or Saturday Night Live. Today, Atari is gladly forfeiting their character and culture of innovation for an illusion of it. Barf.
This article was penned by Doctor Octagon. Click here to discuss this article in the Forums.