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Atari's  Test Drive Unlimited  Studio Goes On 'Symbolic Day Strike'
Atari's Test Drive Unlimited Studio Goes On 'Symbolic Day Strike'
May 11, 2011 | By Kris Graft

Test Drive Unlimited 2 developer Eden Games is initiating a "symbolic day strike" in response to layoffs and alleged "mismanagement" by parent Atari, according to a statement sent to Gamasutra.

The statement said that the studio is in the middle of a redundancy plan that targets 51 out of the total 80 employees at the Lyon, France-based developer. The strike is taking place today.

The cuts are significant, and occur as Atari continues to focus more on MMOs and games that implement online business models, rather than the packaged games that Eden specializes in such as Alone in the Dark and the Test Drive Unlimited series.

"Eden Games pays now for Atari mismanagement," according to a statement from Eden Games employee representatives, forwarded by a software engineer at the studio.

"For several years we are witnessing multiple leader changes at its head, they did not hesitate to get rich despite financial difficulties," the statement said.

The statement added that redundancy plans have been following one after the other at Atari for 10 years. "Each time the recovery project was beautiful and promising, and ended in a failure. We are skeptical about the proposed project," that statement claimed, without going into further detail about potential projects.

It continued to say that "Atari does not play the game of negotiations with employee representatives on the redundancy plan measures. Employee representatives of Eden until now have been extremely collaborative, respecting the very tight deadlines of the redundancy plan."

This week, the studio went on strike for a day "To show the employees determination and mobilization." During that strike, Eden said it hopes to "communicate and interact with the CEO, Jim Wilson, who has never introduced himself to his employees."

The studio also wants to hold negotiations about the redundancy plan, be sure that "an employee of Eden Games is compensated the same way as an employee of Atari," and have "real visibility on the future of the studio after the restructuring, especially in giving us the financial records requested by our accountant."

A rep for Atari said, "At this time we’re not going to comment or participate in any interviews regarding Eden and their statement to the media."

[UPDATE: An Eden Games employee representative answered the following questions from Gamasutra, explaining that layoffs are expected to actually hit in June, and that the studio expects its latest release, Test Drive Unlimited 2 to sell around 900,000 units. The Q&A follows:

So there might only be 29 people left?

Yes, only 29 on 80 will remain after the plan is effective.

When will the layoffs start?

Layoffs start as soon as we have reached the legal time defined by French law (should be around June).

What is the proposed project that Eden is skeptical of?

We cannot tell you the names of the future projects. Atari told us that they have a plan for the company in the near future, but regarding Atari's previous actions -- different restructuring plans that have been unsuccessful, one CEO following another -- we're far to be sure that this restructuring plan will be the last one.

How did TDU2 perform commercially?

We don't have official sales, because the head of Atari didn't provide us this information, but we can expect [sales of around] 900,000 copies of the game.

We're aware that there were several issues at TDU2's launch, but players continue to play and enjoy the game, so we believe it can be a long-time seller.

Have you had any luck contacting Jim Wilson?

Unfortunately, we never had the opportunity to talk directly with Jim Wilson, we are negotiating with his French financier.

How has Atari management reacted to this move?

We didn't receive at this time any information or feedback from Atari management. We hope that this symbolic strike will have an impact on the current negotiations.

When exactly did the strike occur? When was it decided that employees would strike?

The strike is happening today [Wednesday, May 11, 2011]. It was decided yesterday with the support of Eden employees.

Have you actually started negotiations with Atari?

Negotiations started two weeks ago, but Atari doesn't seem ready to move from their position at the moment. That's why we decided to start this strike.

How do you know Eden employees are not being compensated as fairly as other Atari employees?

We know the content of all the Atari previous restructuring plans. And the actual conditions of our plan is basically half of the previous one [in 2009]. We're convinced that this is not fair for the game developers.

What kind of financial records are they withholding?

Unfortunately we cannot give you the details of the missing documents, this would break the confidentiality agreement.]

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Fabio Macedo
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All good luck for them. Still, it's kinda inevitable, isn't it? None of Eden's franchises are particularly great or sell very well.

Unless there really is some shady thing to be discovered, I'm intrigued by the financial records part.

Todd Boyd
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Alone in the Dark was FANTASTIC.

Sting Newman
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being good and selling well are not the same thing.

Paul Lazenby
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I'm not going to comment on Eden, as I don't believe I know anyone working there.

But I have worked for Jim Wilson. He is a solid executive, excellent at political maneuvering, and is a fine self-preservationist.

But he knows nothing about the games industry and nearly destroyed Vivendi/UI games when he was there. Failed IPs that never launched, horribly bad licensing deals, and a clueless approach to development that caused incredible animosity amongst the teams involved in creating the games.

I think the track record of Atari since he has joined continues that de-evolution.

Good luck to all involved, you're going to need it.

Baroness Raven
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So on the one hand Jim Wilson is a solid executive but on the other hand he stinks at the game industry.

How does that make him a solid executive? In fact you mention he's excellent at politics and self-preservation, sounds like he's a solid executive if the goal of the company is to implode.

ignace saenen
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Infogrames has a bit of a smelly record when it comes to taking care of developers.. it somehow manages to first acquire successful IP (or studios owning successful IP) and then killing one after the other. I hope Eden manages to convince them.

A bit of game studio history:

Katharine Neil
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Solidarity and best of luck to workers at Eden. Respect for standing up for your rights! If Atari execs want to cry poor and innocent then let them open their books for some accountability.