Poor Atari (NASDAQ:ATAR). It reported a dismal fiscal fourth quarter, with a loss of $17.3 million vs. a net loss of $12.7 million in the prior year's quarter. This quarter's bleeding was accomplished on fewer revenues as well: $66.4 million against $84.7 million last year. Yikes.

And now for the full year: The net loss for fiscal 2004 (which included a recapitalization/public-offering process) was $38.6 million, compared to fiscal 2003's profit of $17.4 million. Once again, revenues fared badly this year compared to last -- $468.9 million versus $534.2 million.

Can you hear that death toll tune which accompanies Pitfall Harry's descent into a bottomless pit? I can, unfortunately. And so can everyone at Atari, I'd imagine.

Atari is a laggard in the video game playfield. Companies like Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:ERTS) have performed better, as has THQ (NASDAQ:THQI) with its latest results. And let's not forget the company that programming whiz David Crane -- the creator of the aforementioned Mr. Harry -- helped to build back in the 1980s (after he left the first incarnation of Atari): Activision (NASDAQ:ATVI). Check out that company's fourth-quarter report.

I remember when Atari was exciting for a short cycle last year during the release of its game Enter The Matrix, based on the movie. The stock rallied to over $7 per share, but now, a share of the company can be had for around three bucks.

Atari's brand equity doesn't have that differentiated, maverick feel of yesteryear when it was always associated with the cutting edge of video game technology and was worshipped by hardcore players at the forefront of the video game revolution. Nowadays, it is an all-purpose distributor that finds intense competition in the likes of Electronic Arts and Activision (the latter being a classic rival which has evolved in a similar path, from focused seminal developer to corporate mass publisher).

As with the movie business, a powerful slate of games can turn a failing situation around. With game consoles from Sony (NYSE:SNE), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), and Nintendo becoming more economically friendly to consumers as the timeline progresses -- i.e., prices will fall -- and with new systems on the horizon, who knows what the future holds for Atari. That's the big concern here: If you buy into the company at this point, you are a speculator. Keep that in mind. I myself almost "invested" in Atari during the Matrix excitement (oh boy, am I glad I avoided that oncoming wreck).

The release has the standard "we look forward to better news in the future" platitudinous items in it, and I can understand that. Heck, I could be completely wrong and the stock might beat the S&P for the next few years. But checking a previous Take or two should serve as useful research into the volatility that is Atari (at least at this point in its equity life). Plus, there have been concerns about game development budgets becoming as inflated as the negative costs associated with film production -- that won't help out in this case.

Both Electronic Arts and Activision are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. You can sign up for six months, risk-free to learn more.

Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns none of the above companies.