Atari sells 'Driver' franchise to Ubisoft to raise cash

Posted by Scott M. Fulton, III

New York (NY) - The name "Atari" has perhaps never in its long and storied history been associated with a financially stable company. 2006 is proving no exception, as the unit of French game publisher Infogrames announced to the surprise of many that it is selling the property rights to, as well as the studio behind, one of its most lucrative game franchises, Driver, to competitor Ubisoft, for $26 million in cash.

The Driver franchise presently includes Test Drive, considered by many the longest-running racing brand in gaming history. Its ownership roster is somewhat historic as well, having been launched in 1987 by Accolade - the group formed by breakaway Activision programmers, who themselves were breakaway Atari programmers - as the one racing game the Atari ST had that the Amiga didn't...at least, not for almost a year. The franchise spawned its first console game in 2002, by that time owned by the Infogrames group that would later save the Atari name from extinction.

At the end of last month, Atari reported a quarterly loss of $32.8 million, and revenue of only $24.2 million - down 77% year-over-year - this while holding onto supposedly successful game franchises. Today's sale at least makes up for a good portion of that loss.

"We are focusing the energy of the Company on a select number of franchises in order to optimize their impact among consumers and increase shareholder value," Atari CEO Bruno Bonnell said in a statement today, channeling Sam Tramiel. "In the driving category, we consider Test Drive our key franchise which will require more resources and attention to build it as a landmark of its genre."

Slight correction there: It's now one of Ubisoft's key franchises. "We are thrilled with this acquisition," stated Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot today, "which will allow us to add a prestigious title to our catalog and to enter into the driving games segment, one of the most important segments in the gaming industry."