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Farewell E3

Atari boss Bruno Bonnell on the demise of the industry's biggest event.

As the industry continues to come to term with the news that E3 is over - in its traditional form at least - sat down with famously outspoken Atari CEO Bruno Bonnell to discuss what the long term impact is likely to be.

We also got the chance to ask Bonnell what Atari's prospects are looking like, following its poor financial performance in recent months and concerns over the company's ability to carry on.

Unsurprisingly, Bonnell is distinctly optimistic about the future as far as Atari goes - but with regard to the future of E3 and the next-gen console battle, things aren't quite so clear cut. Read on to find out what Bonnell has to say about the end of an era, the impact the ESA's decision is likely to have on other trade events, and how Atari plans to move forward. Are you sad to see the end of E3 in its traditional form?

Bruno Bonnell: It's always a sad moment when you have to finish something that you're used to, and E3 was around for the last 12 years - so in the industry, it was something pretty stable in our agendas.

Having said that, I think that decision to turn the event into something else is probably a wise one, because we lost - especially over the last few years - the spirit of it, which was to talk about the industry, reveal the industry, but on top of that, to keep lines of communication open between people within the industry. And it became a gigantic circus, where it was just impossible to communicate with people any more.

So I'm sad to see it going, but I'm happy to see that the industry has the energy to reinvent itself.

Who do you think the new format E3 will benefit most - publishers or retailers?

First of all, I have read a lot of stuff about this new format, and I don't think that anything is set in stone yet. I believe that the only thing that's [been said] is that we need something new and fresh. But at this stage, I don't think that anything is set in stone.

Having said that, I really think that E3, as it is today, organised by the Entertainment Software Association, should first and foremost benefit the publishers - who need to communicate better with the media, and therefore give more information to retailers. But the first beneficiary of any form of future E3 should be the publishers, both small and big.

Does Atari intend to be involved with the next E3?

As I told you, we have no idea what it's going to be, so if it makes sense for us we'll be there - if it doesn't make sense for us, we won't be there. We don't even know if it will go on for a week, for a day, for two months... It's far too early to discuss it. If there is a gathering of the industry, I don't see how Atari wouldn't be there; it just has to make sense financially and in terms of communication for us.

So far, Nintendo is the only platform holder to have confirmed that they will be at next year's E3; Microsoft has said they're supportive of the ESA's decision, but has yet to commit, and Sony has yet to comment. Will Atari's decision be dependent at all on what the platform holders decide?

No, absolutely not. The decision will not be linked to any platform manufacturers, for the reason that interactive entertainment now goes far beyond those hardware manufacturers. People are more and more going to cell phones, going to online, going to interactive television... I believe this console-centric business is expanding into new areas, and I don't see why we should be focused only on the decision of those guys to move ahead.

Is Atari supporting all three of the next-gen consoles equally?

We're supporting them fairly equally; it's just that we're lacking information about the PS3 at this stage, because we have basically a rough release date and a high retail price point.

As far as the Wii and the Xbox 360 go, we'll be there for this season; for PS3, we'll probably have to wait a little later in the year before we release some new titles.

So we might not see any Atari titles on PS3 until 2007?

Yes, which was always planned. We are just accelerating some of the Wii titles, because with the technology being so close to the GameCube, we are able to effectively convert teams faster than on PS3.

Do you think there's a risk the PlayStation 3 is too expensive? Is there a risk it will fail because the price point is so high?

Bruno Bonnell:No, I don't think there is a risk there will fail. I think that by deciding to put the PS3 at this price, Sony has chosen to really differentiate itself from the other consoles, and the fact that you have Blu-ray, and the fact that it's HD compatible - all this is driving me to think that Sony is picking up the high-end of the market, the hardcore, passionate fans.

There will be a time they can reduce the price and access more people, but clearly that's a technical choice that Sony has made to be selective on the field at stage one.

Returning to the issue of trade shows, do you think we're going to see shows like Leipzig and the Tokyo Game Show becoming more significant now?

I think it's the concept of the trade show that is really puzzling publishers - why spend millions on a floor for three days when we desperately need those millions to effectively communicate our products? I don't see why they would expand Leipzig or TGS presence. It's not like a marketing budget that you allocate like you slice a pie; it has to make sense.

I think that the success of Leipzig or TGS, for some publishers, is due to the fact that people are focusing their costs locally on what they want to achieve with those shows. I'm not seeing an inflated Leipzig in the future - if that would the case, we'd just make the same mistake as E3. We need to reinvent the way we communicate. And Leipzig has already captured that spirit, by staying as it is today.

Will Atari be putting in a presence at Leipzig again this year?

Yes, we have a presence at Leipzig this year, as every year, which is driven by our European teams. It's a fairly small presence, as every year, where we present the line-up for the rest of the year. Leipzig is more like a retailers' awareness show, I would say, than anything else.

How strong do you think Atari's line-up is looking this year?

Well, look at Test Drive Unlimited, which is to be released in September, and is perceived by many websites as one of the top titles of this year. We have the Arthur franchise, which is a major motion picture out between December and January. For the PSP there's Hot Pxl, which takes full advantage of the Wi-Fi capabilities of PSP, not to mention DBZ on Wii... I think we have very strong titles, and we intend to passionately occupy some of the top positions during the Christmas period.

Do you think those titles are good enough to lift Atari out of the financial difficulties you've been having lately?

That's one of the things about business. Very often people look at the share price, or the financial situation of the company, to reach a conclusion about the quality of the products we're releasing. I think those two are fairly separate. Atari has been fairly consistent in achieving very good positions in the charts, even in the worst times.

Is this year going to be the year we're out [of difficulty]? As we don't give any guidance, people may wonder, but I would say that we're fairly consistent with the path we've designed. Which is reduction of costs, adding more flexibility to the company, and improving the quality of the product. That's the path we're following.

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Ellie Gibson: Ellie spent nearly a decade working at Eurogamer, specialising in hard-hitting executive interviews and nob jokes. These days she does a comedy show and podcast. She pops back now and again to write the odd article and steal our biscuits.