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Lord Mushroom

Would Atari had been better off if Bushnell hadn´t sold it?

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124 members have voted

  1. 1. Would Atari had been better off if Bushnell hadn´t sold it to Warner?

    • Probably yes
      49
    • Probably no
      38
    • I have no idea
      37


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Atari reading Howard Scott Warshaw's book, I say it would have been better off.

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8 hours ago, high voltage said:

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Just for Mr Fungus, it is a very interesting, I would recommend it.

 

For somone who doesn´t want me to discuss this, you sure seem eager for me to do so.

 

Regarding the book:

-The reluctance of retailers to buy in 1984 was concerning the AVS, and as many changes were made to make it the NES, it should be regarded as part of the development.

-The kid focus group didn´t like it, I will give you that. But when they launched it shortly after, it did well. You could say the kids who didn´t like it were few, and the kids who did were many. :)

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26 minutes ago, Lord Mushroom said:

For somone who doesn´t want me to discuss this, you sure seem eager for me to do so.

 

Regarding the book:

-The reluctance of retailers to buy in 1984 was concerning the AVS, and as many changes were made to make it the NES, it should be regarded as part of the development.

-The kid focus group didn´t like it, I will give you that. But when they launched it shortly after, it did well. You could say the kids who didn´t like it were few, and the kids who did were many. :)

It didn't do that well until 2-3 years after the nationwide launch.  The NES did not take off overnight like Jack and the Beanstalk.

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7 hours ago, RGC said:

Atari reading Howard Scott Warshaw's book, I say it would have been better off.

It's a good read. Warshaw certainly paints a dark picture of Atari under Kassar, and how the crash was almost inevitable due to the increasing chasm between management and reality.


That said, he never worked under Bushnell. Read some interviews from the guys who worked with him before concluding that he'd necessarily have done better.

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1 hour ago, zetastrike said:

It didn't do that well until 2-3 years after the nationwide launch.  The NES did not take off overnight like Jack and the Beanstalk.

Sales were of course better later, but sales weren´t first bad then good, they were first good then great. 

 

In 1987 (one year after the nationwide launch) they sold 2.9 million. The Atari 2600 didn´t have sales like that until 1981 (their 5th year), and those figures were for the world.

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13 hours ago, pacman000 said:

There are apparently some factual errors Game Over gets wrong: Hardcore Gaming 101: Video Game Book Reviews - Game Over (kontek.net)

The pages posted here are interesting; if true it means Nintendo was planning a lock-out chip before the U.S. market crashed, but we'd need another way to verify things.

There's always 'errors', that commonly happens on the internet, forums, and the world. 

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5 hours ago, high voltage said:

Family Computer....Famicom....AVS....NES...a rose by any other name......

Except the AVS and the NES were very different. The AVS was an expensive console/computer, and the NES was a cheap console.

 

AVS

800px-Nintendo_AVS_display_case_(high_an

 

NES

515358a2ecad040535000010?width=1200&form

 

And according to Wikipedia, the failed presentation of the AVS happened in 1985, not 1984 (see Advanced Video System home computer (1985), 3rd paragraph))

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Nintendo_Entertainment_System#North_America

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On 8/12/2021 at 1:22 AM, DavidD said:

Question time...

Atari released Donkey Kong for home computers.  Does anyone know how Atari/Nintendo/etc. officially defined "computer" versus "console" in this context?

 

I feel like I remember reading that this actually came down to Yamauchi selling the rights to both Atari AND Coleco, and browbeating the argument away with the notion of "console" vs. "computer," but I wasn't sure if we had access to any Atari/Coleco correspondence referring to that.

 

(I am reminded of the infamous Tetris licensing rights, where ELORG appeared to distinguish between "computer rights" and "game system rights" only after Nintendo specifically inquired about the latter.)

 

Home computers were defined as having keyboards and being used for other purposes besides playing games.  Video game systems, or "consoles", were only made for playing video games.

 

The Tetris thing was ELORG having a more definitive definition of "computers" which also include a disk drive and operating system.  (Yes the Famicom had a disk drive but it was only used for games and not computing.)

 

On 8/12/2021 at 8:54 AM, pacman000 said:

If I remember right, it was actually "magnetic media rights" (Atari) vs. "cartridge rights" (Coleco.) But I could be mistaken.

 

The Atari 800 version of Donkey Kong was on cartridge, and I have a copy.  But Atari was only allowed to make the game for their computers but not game systems.

 

On 8/12/2021 at 8:58 AM, zzip said:

So the Adam version of Donkey Kong that upset the Atari execs...  was that on Tape or Cart?

 

It always sounded like the deal was console vs computer, but on the other hand, Frogger seemed to be licensed by media.  Parker Bros producing carts,  Sierra OnLine and Starpath production cassettes/disks often leading to multiple versions of the game on the same system.

The ADAM version was on magnetic tape and was shown running on a computer with a keyboard (Even the Expansion Module add-on version qualifies it as a home computer). 

 

That's what Kassar saw on display and it ended up tanking the Nintendo deal...

 

Edited by MrMaddog
That was the deal between Atari, Coleco & Nintendo. The whole licensing thing with Frogger, that's a whole different & complex tale.
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Infogrames would be called Fairchild instead of Atari in this scenario. Lol.

 

As iirc it was important for getting Atari VCS off the ground.

 

Of course we dont know how well Bushnell would have done without them, but without that massive truck of cash from Warner it does change the playing field.

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On 8/13/2021 at 12:11 PM, Lord Mushroom said:

Except the AVS and the NES were very different. The AVS was an expensive console/computer, and the NES was a cheap console.

 

AVS

800px-Nintendo_AVS_display_case_(high_an

 

NES

515358a2ecad040535000010?width=1200&form

 

And according to Wikipedia, the failed presentation of the AVS happened in 1985, not 1984 (see Advanced Video System home computer (1985), 3rd paragraph))

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Nintendo_Entertainment_System#North_America

Except, the book is very well researched, Wikipedia, any NES fanboy can scribble.

But ok!

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On 8/13/2021 at 3:11 AM, Lord Mushroom said:

And according to Wikipedia, the failed presentation of the AVS happened in 1985, not 1984 (see Advanced Video System home computer (1985), 3rd paragraph))

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Nintendo_Entertainment_System#North_America

I'm not that up on this at the moment, but that seems off to me.  The NES was rolled out in New York in October of 1985 -- I thought the AVS was from the toy show the previous year, but got revamped into the 1985 version.

 

I could be wrong, of course.  I have noticed issues with Wiki entries on gaming multiple times -- the problem is that one person reports something correctly, and then folks everywhere take it as "the truth."  One example is the original launch list of titles for the NES -- there were widespread errors in the reporting of that, with multiple 1986 titles appearing on the "official" lists all over the place, and they weren't commonly corrected until original marketing materials and display images clearly showed which titles WERE part of the 1985 release.

 

Sadly, we still can't pin down the exact launch date of Super Mario Bros. for the NES...

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I'm very solidly in the "I have no idea" category.

 

Bushnell is awesome, no doubt, and would have tried to push innovation further than Warner.  (I'm probably jaded from my years at large corporations).  

 

However, from what I've read - Warner's advertising bonanzas in the late 70s really helped propel the Atari 2600 to fame and fortune - which was arguably Atari's biggest success ever.  That super popularity may have indirectly caused the crash of 83, where a slower ramp up might not have crashed in 83.  OTOH, if the 2600 never took off, what would that have meant for Atari?

 

Warner's biggest mistake (IMO) was that they never really advanced the Atari 8-bit platform (the XLs were decent but a bit late, and the 1050 floppy drive should have been better, no real path to 80 column support sucked), but I'm not sure if Bushnell would have iterated more or faster due to funding and other distractions.  (The other lost opportunity with the Atari 8-bit of course was not embracing 3rd party developers early enough - a sign of Warner culture to be sure).  

 

Help educate me - who exactly solved the innovators dilemma with the 2600 and the Atari 8bit?  I think it was Bushnell?,  but I'm not sure he would have gotten the $$ to both advertise the 2600 to success and develop the Atari 8-bit line in time for them to be relevant, thanks to the crappy financial markets of the late 70s.   Without the Atari 8bit being successfully launched (and funded by Warner), we wouldn't have gotten Lorraine / Amiga (via experience from designing the 8bit + passion from the original engineers) so although i think Bushnell would have been very interested in helping make Lorraine happen at Atari, I'm not sure it would have happened in the first place (due to finances).  

 

Now I look forward to reading others' opinions :)

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5 hours ago, DavidD said:

I'm not that up on this at the moment, but that seems off to me.  The NES was rolled out in New York in October of 1985 -- I thought the AVS was from the toy show the previous year, but got revamped into the 1985 version.

I have tried googling a little to find out if it was in 1984 or 1985, but I haven´t found a clear answer. I didn´t make much of an effort, though. 9 out of the 10 websites I found said it was 1985. One of which was from a book called "Encyclopedia of Video Games: The Culture, Technology, and Art of Gaming" Second Edition edited by Mark J. P. Wolf. 

Edited by Lord Mushroom

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On 8/6/2021 at 4:06 PM, zzip said:

Jack was a one-trick pony.  The only thing in his playbook was "sell it cheaper than everyone else, cut corners if you have to", and as you say, he did that over and over.    But he failed to invest in other areas that make a product world class.   That's why you got cheap devices with poor software support and weak marketing

 

Well I honestly don't know.   It's not uncommon for entrepreneurial types to be terrible at running the day-to-day operations of the companies they started.   That's why they bring in the "suits" with their MBAs to handle that stuff.   But often those people end up being short sighted.   I think you need a balance of both personality types to have a successful company.

 

 

I agree with the sentiment overall, but one side effect of Tramiel's cut corners and sell for cheaper is that you actually sometimes get more innovation that way.

 

Take a look at the Amiga chipset evolution under Commodore -- Paula and a few other chips were manufactured on the same ~ 1983-1984 process until Commodore closed in 1994.  Literally no changes other than very minor changes (really fixes) to OCS to add a few new resolutions, and AGA was a pretty minimal change very late in the cycle (1992).   There was also no combining of chips - which should have happened to reduce cost, indicating that even Amigas sold in 1994 were using manufacturing technology from 10 years prior.

 

The Atari ST platform got *3* versions of the main chipset, on different manufacturing nodes each time reducing cost and potentially improving performance. 1.   The original ST "chipset";  2.  the STE chipset which combined and improved the original ST chips.  You got Glue+MMU on one chip (= cheaper to produce), and you also had Shifter upgraded to include DMA sound, and a larger color palette (= new features, and cheaper to produce since the final chip was likely smaller with manufacturing advances in 5 years).  3.  Finally, the Falcon took the STE chipset and combined further down the stack, reducing cost, and improving performance on a newer manufacturing node, etc.   Technically there's even a 4th ST based chipset - in the TT030 chips. 

 

IMO, Tramiel's antics did advance hardware, and while he was cheap -- he definitely wasn't at the extreme edge of cutting corners like Sir Clive Sinclair.

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On 8/8/2021 at 8:10 PM, Stephen said:

Fill in the name of every single company / venture he has done.  The only difference being, after Atari & Chuck E Cheese, there was never a big success.  The guy was definitely lucky, in that he was in the right place, at the right time, and surrounded himself with the right people.  It was Jay Miner and team that made the 2600, 8-bit, and Amiga the amazing machines they were.

It also took Atari's culture to enable Jay Miner, Joe Decuir, and friends the room to innovate and create the 2600 and 8-bit (which led to dreaming up the Amiga) as well.

 

Even superstar engineers can be assigned the wrong projects at the wrong times - if the company culture isn't there to support and enable them.   Bushnell lit that spark ..  

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2 hours ago, Xebec said:

I'm not sure he would have gotten the $$ to both advertise the 2600 to success and develop the Atari 8-bit line in time for them to be relevant, thanks to the crappy financial markets of the late 70s.

Apple was founded in 1976 and had a start-up capital of $1000 or something like that. Their first two computers where made by largely one man, and 4 years later they had an IPO, which brought $100 million in capital and valued the company at $1.778 billion.

 

So it was definately possible at the time to succeed without selling the whole company. It was probably more difficult to get funding to develop/launch a console than a PC (I mean "a computer" :)), though

Edited by Lord Mushroom

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2 hours ago, Xebec said:

Help educate me - who exactly solved the innovators dilemma with the 2600 and the Atari 8bit?

I think the big difference in price tags took care of that.

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2 hours ago, Lord Mushroom said:

Apple was founded in 1976 and had a start-up capital of $1000 or something like that. Their first two computers where made by largely one man, and 4 years later they had an IPO, which brought $100 million in capital and valued the company at $1.778 billion.

 

So it was definately possible at the time to succeed without selling the whole company. It was probably more difficult to get funding to develop/launch a console than a PC (I mean "a computer" :)), though

So I think the story I read was the reason Bushnell sold to warner was he needed the money to get the Atari 800 off the ground - not just design but also the manufacturing contracts, advertising, and engineering that goes beyond the computer (disk drives, tape drives, cartridges, software development, etc).   The book also talked about Bushnell not being able to get capital for the computer so that's why he sold.   The 800 would have been delayed for sure if he hadn't sold - the question is - how much, and what would that mean for Atari?

 

Agreed, it was unfortunate that Atari was always typecast in the US as a games company :/.  

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3 hours ago, Xebec said:

Warner's biggest mistake (IMO) was that they never really advanced the Atari 8-bit platform (the XLs were decent but a bit late, and the 1050 floppy drive should have been better, no real path to 80 column support sucked)

The 1050 should have been true-DD for sure.  Apart from that I don't have too many issues with the XL line.  Should it have been earlier to compete better with the C64?  Sure.

 

However competing platforms like Commodore and Apple did a bunch of 8-bit innovation in 85/86 with 80 columns 128K ram, improved graphics /sound chips.    That was the Tramiel years and it's when I feel that the 8-bit fell behind in innovation.   Yes they did a 128K model, but their 80 column solution was late and kind of a joke.   They had no improved graphics/sound.    They promised a 3.5" drive, but instead they released a new 5.25" one.

4 hours ago, Xebec said:

Take a look at the Amiga chipset evolution under Commodore -- Paula and a few other chips were manufactured on the same ~ 1983-1984 process until Commodore closed in 1994.  Literally no changes other than very minor changes (really fixes) to OCS to add a few new resolutions, and AGA was a pretty minimal change very late in the cycle (1992).   There was also no combining of chips - which should have happened to reduce cost, indicating that even Amigas sold in 1994 were using manufacturing technology from 10 years prior.

 

The Atari ST platform got *3* versions of the main chipset, on different manufacturing nodes each time reducing cost and potentially improving performance. 1.   The original ST "chipset";  2.  the STE chipset which combined and improved the original ST chips.  You got Glue+MMU on one chip (= cheaper to produce), and you also had Shifter upgraded to include DMA sound, and a larger color palette (= new features, and cheaper to produce since the final chip was likely smaller with manufacturing advances in 5 years).  3.  Finally, the Falcon took the STE chipset and combined further down the stack, reducing cost, and improving performance on a newer manufacturing node, etc.   Technically there's even a 4th ST based chipset - in the TT030 chips. 

True but on the other hand, the STe updates in 1989 still did not match where the Amiga was in 1985.  It took until the Falcon seven years later until Atari bested Amiga at its game, but by then it was too late-  Innovation in the PC market was running circles around both the Amiga and ST to the point where "Power without the Price" didn't really apply to the Atari line anymore-- you could get more bang for the same money in the PC world.

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Tramiel seemed fairly good at moving in the right direction early in his career. From repairing typewriters, to assembling them, to building adding machines, then calculators, then computers. Shoot, the Atari St was finished fairly quickly after he left Commodore too. I think he made a mistep when he bought The Federated Group, & he never really recovered after that. It's kinda hard to innovate when a division of your company is loosing tens of millions each year. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federated_Group

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47 minutes ago, Xebec said:

So I think the story I read was the reason Bushnell sold to warner was he needed the money to get the Atari 800 off the ground - not just design but also the manufacturing contracts, advertising, and engineering that goes beyond the computer (disk drives, tape drives, cartridges, software development, etc). 

Bushnell has said that he sold to finance the development of the VCS (and because he was tired).

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On 8/6/2021 at 2:41 PM, pacman000 said:

Voted no. Bushnell's a visionary, but he's not a good business man. Atari needed someone who was both, & I'm not sure they ever got it.

 

Jack Tramiel might've been close, but by the late 80's he seemed to be repeating what he did in the past. That's the opposite of visionary. And he had a tendency to burn bridges, which hurt him on the pure business end of things as well.

Agree.  Nolan would be great at operating a "green" dispensary (smokem if ya gotem).  His other biz ventures all failed (Chuck E. Cheese's aside).  Robotic kitty kats. Andy the Robots.  All failures.  Bad Biz man.  

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9 hours ago, Lord Mushroom said:

Apple was founded in 1976 and had a start-up capital of $1000 or something like that. Their first two computers where made by largely one man, and 4 years later they had an IPO, which brought $100 million in capital and valued the company at $1.778 billion.

 

So it was definately possible at the time to succeed without selling the whole company. It was probably more difficult to get funding to develop/launch a console than a PC (I mean "a computer" :)), though

"Possible" is a dangerous word. For instance, it would also be "possible" for Bushnell to have raised the $120 million that Warner pumped into the development of the VCS by walking into a newsagents, buying 120 scratch cards and winning a million bucks on each of them. That's absurdly unlikely to happen, but it's still "possible."

 

While not that improbable, there are still a lot of 'lightning in a bottle' moments in the history of Apple. They sold maybe a couple of hundred computers in the first year, which is OK for a couple of guys operating out of a garage, but not what you'd call a rip roaring success. Even the Apple II wasn't that big a hit initially, selling only a few tens of thousands to hobbyists. It's only the subsequent flocking of third parties to their platform that sustained that year-on-year growth and made it into a multi-million seller. You can perhaps put that down to Apple, alongside Commodore and Tandy, having one of the better price-to-performance platforms on the market, but it wasn't something directly within their control. If things like VisiCalc, EasyWriter, the Z80 SoftCard, the Videx 80 column card and all the games hadn't turned up at the right time, it'd probably have been a much more modest success.

 

So, while Atari in 1976 are probably in better shape than Apple, they're playing a very different game. That kind of gradual expansion isn't an option to them and their platform is closed, at least until the creation of Activision. It's all or nothing with the VCS, and if they don't get it out by the holidays of 1977, the company is probably dead. As such, Warner stepping in with a wide-open money tap still looks a much better option than attempting to raise the money piecemeal over time.

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13 hours ago, Lord Mushroom said:

I have tried googling a little to find out if it was in 1984 or 1985, but I haven´t found a clear answer. I didn´t make much of an effort, though. 9 out of the 10 websites I found said it was 1985. One of which was from a book called "Encyclopedia of Video Games: The Culture, Technology, and Art of Gaming" Second Edition edited by Mark J. P. Wolf. 

If I find a quote, I'll post it -- I'm just going with the logic that it seems unlikely they would have had had time to create the new design and manufacture it that quickly -- 1984 makes more sense for the AVS, as I know that the NES was written up in articles BEFORE the launch which implies it had its own showing.

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