Nolan Bushnell Returns to Atari


Nolan Bushnell, the industry icon who founded Atari back in 1972, has rejoined the company as a member of its board of directors.

Bushnell, a member of the Video Game Hall of Fame and the Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame, has founded more than 20 companies including the famous Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant chain, but he’s a legend among gamers as the co-founder of Atari, the pioneering home videogame company. He left Atari in 1978 but now he’s back, joining the board of directors along with “online entrepreneur” Tom Virden, where he will “contribute actively to the company’s planning.”

“I am very excited to be reacquainted with Atari at a time when it is poised to make interesting strides in key growth areas of the games industry,” Bushnell said in a statement. “The company and its iconic brands have always been important to me, and I look forward to further guiding them at the board level.”

The announcement of Bushnell’s return was accompanied by news that David Gardner and Phil Harrison had resigned from the board. Gardner had previously been an executive with Electronic Arts while Harrison was the president of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios; both joined Atari in 2008 as part of a high-profile effort to turn the company around. But they were shuffled out of their executive positions fairly quickly, although they remained on the board in non-executive roles.

As for Bushnell himself, he’s made no secret of the fact that he dislikes the current state of the game industry, saying in October 2007, “Videogames today are a race to the bottom. They are pure, unadulterated trash and I’m sad for that.” More recently he described social gaming as “sitting in a dark room in your underpants talking to thousands of people… it’s not cool.”

Bushnell’s return has obvious nostalgic appeal, but does he have a vision or is he just a cranky old man who thinks that everything new sucks? The departure of Gardner and Harrison, which merited only a single-line footnote at the end of the press release, is also potentially troubling, although something Gardner said during an interview in June 2009 may shed some light on their reason for leaving. “We can’t trade on nostalgia. It’s great for making art books about the past, but it doesn’t build you a successful company for the future,” he told IndustryGamers. “We have to innovate, we have to redefine the IPs and renew IPs, so in a year’s time I don’t want to be known as the nostalgia company.”

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