The division of the Hasbro toy company saw sales double in 1997, to $70 million, good for a 5% share of a computer games market currently dominated by Cendant Software and Electronic Arts. Hasbro Interactive's products have consisted largely of titles based on Hasbro game properties, such as Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit.
Last fall, Hasbro Interactive made a strong push into the action-game market with a license to the 1980s classic Frogger, aimed at the computer and traditional videogame console markets. Success pointed the direction of future growth.
"Acquiring the Atari titles was a strategic decision for Hasbro Interactive, making it a bigger player in the action-game category, the second-largest category in the computer gaming segment and the largest in the videogame console segment," said Tom Dusenberry, president of Hasbro Interactive.
More than just an effort to cash in on retro trends, Mr. Dusenberry sees the Atari name and the acquired Atari games -- including Centipede, Missile Command, Pole Position and Pong -- as enduring brands fixed almost mythically in the minds of videogame players young and old.
`SOME POWERFUL MARKETING'
"What was compelling to me was that from 1980 to 1984, Atari sold 130 million units and had $2 billion in retail sales. That's some powerful marketing and branding," said Mr. Dusenberry.
Centipede will be launched this fall, backed by an estimated $3.5 million ad push created by Griffin Bacal, New York.
The products will carry the Hasbro Interactive and Atari brands.
Hasbro Interactive will first issue original versions of the games, with their now-outdated graphics and game play, before releasing more sophisticated updates. Mr. Dusenberry believes that strategy will help lure adults who played the original games as youngsters.
The Atari games will be marketed to computer and videogame console consumers. Mr. Dusenberry said Hasbro Interactive intends to share the Atari brands with its new sister unit, Tiger Electronics, for hand-held videogames.
At the same time, Hasbro Interactive is pushing to create original games. HEDZ, which stands for Heads Extreme Destruction Zone, will be the first.
The game hits the market in October, with ad support from Griffin Bacal starting in September.
HEDZ: ACQUIRE HEADS
In HEDZ, players must do battle with up to 225 different characters. The goal: acquire as many enemy heads as possible.
It's not as gory as it sounds, said Mr. Dusenberry, who added that the head-harvesting isn't a bloody endeavor.
HEDZ is the latest in a growing trend toward games with almost countless characters. This year also will see the launch of Tiger's Mutoids and Nintendo of America's U.S. introduction of Pokemon.
Mr. Dusenberry said such games appeal to consumers because they add longevity, richness and narrative to game play. The games appeal to marketers because they require replenishing, which consumers will pay for.
With HEDZ, for example, consumers will be able to purchase additional characters via the Internet.
In the second half of the year, Hasbro Interactive also will introduce eight titles based on Hasbro properties, including The Game of Life, Battleship and My Little Pony, and computer games based on summer flicks, including Sony Corp.'s "Godzilla" and DreamWorks SKG's "Small Soldiers."