Atari has had a long and storied history in the games industry. The name is synonymous with gaming, with many of the IPs bringing thoughts of nostalgia to players young and old alike. In recent years, the company has made numerous changes to the way it deals with gaming, and the most recent is a move to mobile.
Atari recently came out with a game titled Pridefest. This seemingly simple game has you, the player, trying to design and setup a Pride Festival for your fictional town in the game. As you look though the Sim City like landscape, you must improve buildings, bringing the spirit of Pride to everyone.
In a talk that CGMagazine had with Atari CEO Fred Chesnais, he was asked if he was worried about tackling the subject of Pride in the mobile space. He answered, “If you are afraid of controversy, you should get out of making games.” It was obvious that Atari was willing to take risks and that they believed in the idea. It was also obvious that they were not just using this as window-dressing for the game; they were working with New York Pride to ensure that they bring elements people know and love to the game.
In a response from Tony Chien, Senior Director of Marketing at Atari, it is clear they are working with all parts of the community to take a real level of care with the game:
“Atari has been actively seeking feedback and advice at all stages of development of Pridefest, from idea generation to the recent test launch. One way we have done so was by forming a committee of games industry veterans with ties to the LGBTQ community. That committee first came together at GaymerX in the summer of 2014, where we received invaluable guidance on how to make sure we were appropriately representing the community while making a fun, inclusive, and engaging game.”
“It was also imperative for us to get first-hand feedback from the LGBTQ community more broadly, so this last summer, we demoed Pridefest at both New York City Pride and Flame Con. We met directly with dozens of members of the LGBTQ community and allies who gave great feedback on the concept and gameplay. Providing those hands-on demos of Pridefest was an important step to ensuring the audience we are designing the game for has a hand in helping to shape the development of the game.”
These are all great ideals to bring to any new property. It shows they are taking the concept at the core of Pridefest seriously. The worst thing a mobile game developer can do is take a formula that works, slap a coat of paint on it, and call it a day. These are the games that fall to the bottom of the charts like rocks. Atari is using Canada as a test bed, sorting out what works and what needs refinement.
CGMagazine Reviewer Jordan Biordi, in his recent review of Pridefest, expressed concern of the final product. He felt it was too limited to allow players to enjoy the experience, and for a title that cost money, there were too many hooks in place for the player to sink money into the experience. When asked about how Atari will address these concerns, Tony Chien clearly explained that, “This test period is an essential part of the launch strategy as we continue to gather feedback. Based on the early response, our main focus for updates in the next several weeks is around optimization, further balancing the time management, and of course, working through bugs.” He went on to say that, “Feedback has also inspired us to broaden the variety of in-game options and vanity items, including the addition of new businesses and buildings such as an auto body shop, theatre, pharmacy, and a bowling alley. For the longer-term, the team is building out content and incorporating challenges to bring a more in-depth, story-based experience to Pridefest."
The real ability of this game will be for it to make people involved with Pride take notice of the game. Will people view it as a boon for the movement, or will it look like a cash grab? That is up to people playing the game to decide. At very least, Atari will be looking to take parts of Pride festivals from around the world and incorporate them into the game. Fred Chesnais said while talking to him on the matter that “There is the possibility on a case-by-case basis to incorporate aspects from Pride from around the world. Maybe in the terms of floats in the parade that will be taken from select city Pride festivals.” He goes on to say that “It is about fun, colour, and excitement. This should be a game you will pick up and feel good about playing.”
This is a bold change in direction for Atari, and gaming as a whole. There are not enough games that deal with these movements, and few do it justice. If Atari manages to straddle that line, and bring a fun game that everyone can enjoy, it could be another small step in pushing games to be a more diverse space.