UPDATED: This should bring back wistful memories for gamers who recall how products including Pong, Tank, and the Atari 2600 shaped the video game industry back in the 1970s — and painful ones for media industry veterans. The French company that owns Atari said today that its U.S. business filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as it looks to sell or restructure the operation. Hours later, Atari S.A. also filed for bankruptcy in France under Book 6 of that country’s commercial code, according to the LA Times. The Execs made the decision after Atari’s main shareholder and lender, investment firm BlueBay, said it couldn’t find anyone to buy the game company — and couldn’t continue to fund it. (Two of BlueBay’s funds are in liquidation.) The filing comes in advance of a credit facility due on March 31 as the company says it “has been starved for funds and unable to finance its continued growth.” Atari CEO Jim Wilson says that by auctioning the U.S. assets “we will seek to maximize the proceeds in the best interest of the company and all of its shareholders.”
It’s another sad turn for a company that had been a symbol of digital-age innovation in the early 1980s. One-time House Speaker Tip O’Neill referred to tech-oriented young members of his caucus as “Atari Democrats.” In its hey-day, Atari was owned by Steve Ross’ Warner Communications and served as the company’s main profit driver. But the poorly managed business collapsed as competitors flocked to the game market. Ross famously contributed to Atari’s woes by cutting an extravagant deal with director Steven Spielberg — who he hoped to lure to Warner Bros — to create a game based on the film E.T. The game was a colossal flop. Warner’s shares collapsed, and it sold Atari in 1984.