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So - if the Atari was so great, why was it ignored by the UK development industry?

Posted by Tickled_Pink, 16 February 2012 · 1,092 views

I've been reading through the first issue of Zzap 64 and there was a section on how the 64 was 'the world's greatest gaming machine'. Perhaps. But maybe not, according to those in the industry at the time who were interviewed for the piece. Some of the comments are eye opening.

"In terms of hardware the 64 is clearly superior to the Spectrum, but I think the Atari machines have the edge on the Commodore. The problem for Atari in the UK is that it didn't get the support of the UK software houses." Ian Stewart, Gremlin Graphics Director.

"Obviously it's a good machine, but I don't think it's as good as the Atari - I could never understand why the Atari died, it's the weirdest thing. I'll be looking at the new Atari when it comes out." Tony Crowther (described as 64 graphics king).

Actually, looking at the mini-interviews, there seemed to be a 50-50 split between those favouring the 64 and those the Atari 8-bits. But it makes you wonder why on earth Atari UK failed so miserably to get developers on board when there clearly seemed to be support and admiration for the hardware, whereas Commodore almost hit the ground running when the C64 was released, with everyone seeming to be on board for the new machine.

I suspect that developers ignored the Atari because it was deemed to be too expensive for most households when there were cheaper, if less capable, systems around. There may be some truth in that, although I knew two people with the early Ataris - one with a 400 and the other an 800. However, I knew none with an Apple II. And I have never met anyone who had an Apple back in the day. So developers in the UK tended to support those cheaper systems with the largest UK user base, which is simple economics. The ZX81 and Sinclair Spectrum received heavy support.

The BBC Micro received a fair amount but primarily from Acorn-centric developers. There was very little in the way of cross platform support for the Beeb. Again, this was almost certainly due to Acorn pricing the BBC Micro out of most homes, even though they had got them into most schools in the UK. The Amstrad CPC was similar but with a little more cross-platform development.

Then we have the C64 which sold in bucketloads. Again, pricing was the crucial factor. It was undercut by some margin by the Speccy but was a more powerful system so people were prepared to pay up to twice as much for what seemed like twice as much power. The Ataris didn't stand a chance since they were at least FOUR TIMES the price of a Spectrum. The XL range came out too late to save it in the UK, even though it finally started to shift pretty well.

What's interesting in all this is that things now seem to be the opposite. People are now prepared to pay silly money for less powerful systems if they ooze quality. Yes, I am talking about the iMac. If the battle was fought now, Atari would have found their niche - I dare anyone to say that the 800 isn't an iMac and the C64 a Dell.

I think that C64 is the first computer who has 64k like a standart and it was cheaper than Apple II with 48k and IBM and Atari 8-bit with 16k.

Also I'm surprised that c64 is stay popular until the end of the 1990s with it's slowly disk drive,
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I only knew a couple of people with a C64. First time I saw the drive working, I thought there was something wrong with it.
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I never seen a c64 in action but I played some games with a c64 emulators. I can tell you some games take forever to load. But still. C64 is a great computer with great graphics and sounds.Atari 8-bit has great graphics and sounds as well. Too bad. Atari 8-bit was dropped around 1987-1988 for Atari ST.
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I agree that it was probably down to price. Back in the day, most of the school kids where I lived had ZX Spectrums or Amstrad CPCs, a few had C64s or BBC micros, but I don't remember anyone with an Atari 8bit.
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Many times it all has to do with distribution and local regulations / requirements. How much work is it going to take to sell something in a different country? For the Atari 8-bits this would include:
  • AC power plus certification
  • Television standards, may also require licensing and government approvals, may also require software changes due to resolution and frequency
  • Localization - language, currency, time, manuals & support, and don't forget advertising
  • import duties, taxes, trademarks
Then you have to set up the distribution network and warehousing, and hopefully get the product into the retail stream at a pricepoint which generates enough profit to cover the additional costs.
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well, from what i heard, atari were more interested in openly using pirating tools in their disk drives (i.e happy/SA/ISPlate 1050 etc) then they were in wooing the likes of usg,gremlin, uk activision, elite/ocean etc

And i don't think warners atari were any good at promoting the a8 to the software houses, tramiels atari improved things but only by a little bit

And anyway, going from what i recall reading in atari user, the likes of elite/ocean/usg, alligata etc did release more atari 8bit games but only in euroland, not the uk
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