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Did Jack Tramiel HELP OR HURT Atari in the Video Game Wars?


Justin
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Did Jack Tramiel HELP OR HURT Atari in the Video Game Wars?  

10 members have voted

  1. 1. Did Jack Tramiel HELP OR HURT Atari in the Video Game Wars?

    • HELP
      2
    • HURT
      8


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Did Jack Tramiel HELP OR HURT Atari in the video game wars? Vote in our poll and share your thoughts as to WHY or WHY NOT below!

 

Consider some PROS:

☑️ Saved the Atari 7800 and brought it to market in 1986

☑️ Gave us the Atari Lynx

☑️ Gave us the Atari Jaguar

☑️ Gave us the Atari ST / TT / Falcon

☑️ Extended Atari's life in the home video game market by over a decade

☑️ Pushed truly innovative hardware at an affordable price

☑️ Gave us some incredible Atari 2600 games such as and Solaris and Secret Quest

 

 

Consider some CONS:

☑️ Halted 1984 release of the Atari 7800, allowed it to be delayed by two years

☑️ Anemic support for the Atari Lynx

☑️ Anemic support for the Atari Jaguar

☑️ Atari not viewed as a serious competitor in the home video game market during Tramiel's era

☑️ Cut corners whenever possible, B&W cartridge labels, no music, unfinished games

☑️ Games such as Dracula: The Undead had missing rooms & elements to save money on memory

☑️ Questionable business practices re: EPYX, MOS, unpaid invoices, alienated retailers, litigious, etc.

 

 

large.175372678_2019-05-24112519_670.jpg

 

This Polaroid was taken inside Atari at a meeting with Jack, Sam and Garry Tramiel and other Atari corporate hotshots. This Polaroid is one of the many interesting pieces from my personal collection.

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I voted "hurt", and here's why.  I rewind the clock a bit more.  When Jack was with Commodore, he trashed the home computer market by creating a price war.  The race to the bottom pretty much drove everyone out of business (including Commodore!)  Video game console makers were just collateral damage.  Who was going to buy a video game system when the computers at the time were cheaper, had better games, and had free games (via piracy)? 

He wasn't trustworthy.  He wasn't honest.  Making a deal with him was always one-sided and poison.  People like him are wrecking-balls of life. 

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Sure, he was a horrible businessman. But, did you know he was also a survivor of Auschwitz, a concentration camp in Poland during World War II? It's true. Some of his family members were killed there. I am sure it was traumatic for him. But, differences aside, he still could have done better with Commodore and Atari. He destroyed Atari. Well, he's gone now. There's no longer anything anybody can do about it. Sad legacy.

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2 hours ago, RickR said:

I voted "hurt", and here's why.  I rewind the clock a bit more.  When Jack was with Commodore, he trashed the home computer market by creating a price war.  The race to the bottom pretty much drove everyone out of business (including Commodore!)

Interesting perspective!

 

2 hours ago, RickR said:

He wasn't trustworthy.  He wasn't honest.  Making a deal with him was always one-sided and poison.  People like him are wrecking-balls of life. 

WOW!!

 

58 minutes ago, DegasElite said:

Sure, he was a horrible businessman. But, did you know he was also a survivor of Auschwitz, a concentration camp in Poland during World War II? It's true. Some of his family members were killed there. I am sure it was traumatic for him. But, differences aside, he still could have done better with Commodore and Atari. He destroyed Atari. Well, he's gone now. There's no longer anything anybody can do about it. Sad legacy.

@DegasElite Yes, I'm aware of all of the above. However that doesn't automatically make him a good person. Nor does it excuse the more atrocious items that one could list on the "Cons" list. 

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1 hour ago, RickR said:

Most of the cons you list are due to his focus on hardware and dismissal of software IMO.  We should give him his due for pushing and getting some truly innovative hardware. 

I would add though that while giving Jack Tramiel due credit for pushing truly innovative hardware at a reasonable price, he also undercut that innovative hardware by not supporting much of it with truly innovative games that were fun to play. You can have the most innovative gaming hardware in the world, and then release Club Drive on it.

This is the give-and-take with Jack Tramiel that I find fascinating. 

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1 hour ago, Justin said:

Yes, I'm aware of all of the above. However that doesn't automatically make him a good person. Nor does it excuse the more atrocious items that one could list on the "Cons" list. 

No excuses here, either. He was the guiding force that destroyed Atari. He was mean, uncouth, and despotic. Understood. Thanks for letting me share.

Edited by DegasElite
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Imagine if Atari hadn't cratered and was not available for Jack Tramiel to "buy".  Would he have simply faded away at that point? 

It's just so fascinating how things work out.  If Ray Kassar wasn't so Ray Kassar-ey and had foreseen what was coming....treated the Amiga team better with more funding...went through with the NES distribution...released the 7800 with more gusto...pushed for a better 2600 Pac-Man...had given David Crane what he wanted....

I guess I'm going too far down the rabbit hole.

 

 

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It's a shame that James J Morgan never got a fair shake at turning the ship around before Atari sold to Tramiel.

Tramiel's first mistake was not buying the Arcade division. That was a well spring of original IP for years after the split and could've served as a source for exclusive first-party content. Think about how things might have played out if Marble Madness, Gauntlet, Roadblasters, Paperboy  and others would have been 7800 exclusives!  They might have served the same role as SEGA AM2 did for Sega.

You can have all of the amazing hardware you want, without great games it won't matter.

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The story of Atari is a little like the story of coffee.  Back in the 1950s , 1960's, and 1970's the consumption of coffee had been on an ever increasing downward trajectory.  Why?  Because the companies involved increased the ratio of Robusta beans (cheaper and more bitter) over the percentage of Arabica beans (more flavorful).  While at the same time Percolators Pots were the "in way" to brew coffee which turned out to be the worst way to make coffee ever devised.  In the end, the product got worse, so people were no longer drinking it.  So you ask, how does this relate to Atari or the other video game manufacturers?  It's simple really, if you try to squeeze every last penny out of the consumer with no regard to quality, and the products are lousy, they leave, plain and simple.  Coffee has made a comeback, as well as gaming, which reminds us of the old adage, "Give the people what they want", namely a decent product at a fair price.

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17 hours ago, Marco1019 said:

I recall being very high on the Jaguar when it was first released, and being very disappointed when it ended up going nowhere.

I was singing the praises of Jaguar when it came out, and I was disappointed when it failed myself. It's too bad, really. It could have done very well. It had the horsepower and the technology. It was grossly (and I mean grossly) under-marketed and underdeveloped. What a shame!

Edited by DegasElite
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RickR pretty much nailed it with his comments about Tramiel.  The guy was just a ruthless businessman and his track record for that is a mile long.  Certainly his experience during the holocaust shaped him.  To paraphrase a line from "V for Vendetta", what they did to him was monstrous, and the result was they created a monster.  The sole reason he bought Atari was to compete (get back) with Commodore for firing him.  His motivation was one of pure revenge, and his focus was on the home computer market.  Whereas there were several causes of the video game crash, there was only one cause for the home computer crash - Jack Tramiel.  In his effort to hurt Texas Instruments, he initiated a price war that nearly toppled everyone.  He effectively 'erased' the market by lowering Comodore's prices to the point where only Commodore could make any money, thanks to their vertical integration (from owning their own chip fabrication company - MOS Technology).  He tried a similar tactic with the XE and ST lines, pricing them far below the competition, except this time he didn't have MOS to back him up, so he turned to making them as cheap as possible.

As for the video game market, all he did in the first 2 years of his ownership was sell off the backlog of inventory in Atari's warehouses as a means of raising money for his computer ambitions.  He had zero interest in competing in the vg market, and publicly stated that several times.  It was only when he saw the vg market roaring back with Nintendo and Sega did he decided to make an effort to re-enter it.  But even if he had paid GCC's contract obligations and kept the 7800 on the market in 1984, it still would have failed - the NES was the future, and they had the IPs and the creative development folks behind it.  Jack's mindset at Commodore was, if he released good hardware, the software would naturally follow (from others); it happened with the VIC-20 and C-64, but only with those.  The Lynx only came into Atari's possession due to Jack's unethical business practices, basically putting a financial squeeze on Epyx until they were on the verge of collapsing, allowing him to grab the Lynx for cheap.  That pattern would repeat itself with Jack many times over.  The Jaguar could have really made an impact in the market, but besides Tempest 2000 (which was the only reason I bought a Jag), aside from a few standout titles (Alien vs Predator, Doom) the software library was mostly forgettable.  Its hardware was also hamstrung when compared to the Playstation.  Like the Lynx, the 3rd-party support was almost nonexistent.  Atari's time in the vg marketplace under Tramiel was one of missed opportunities.  Tramiel had the NES and Amiga in his grasp, and dropped them.  The Atari ST was a terrible game machine, but then again, unlike the Amiga, it was never designed to be.  The TT and Falcon aren't even worth mentioning as they made zero impact in the computer market, much like Atari's PC clone. The Lynx was really the hidden gem in Tramiel's lineup.  Great machine that should have captured the handheld market, if not for its unyielding size and voracious battery appetite.  The Lynx II was an improvement, but once again - too little, too late.  Like the VCS, Nintendo's GameBoy won out against superior consoles with its simplicity.

To summarize, Jack hurt Atari's reputation in the video game market.  Nothing released under him had much of an impact.  He also hurt Atari financially by trying to support multiple systems (VCS, 7800, XEGS, Lynx, Jaguar) because he didn't have the money to effectively market them and compete with Nintendo, Sega, and Sony.  It wasn't a case of David vs Goliath, it was a case of David vs 3 Goliaths.  As for the ST computers, The Amiga outsold them more than 2 to 1, and that was mainly due to its fantastic abilities to run games.  So ultimately, his plan to exact revenge against Commodore failed.

Edited by Scott Stilphen
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On 12/23/2021 at 2:17 PM, Marco1019 said:

Thank you, @Justin for this poll and thanks to everyone who has contributed to this thread.

Conversations like these are at the core of why I created Atari I/O. Critically examining the history of Atari and the early gaming industry with an open mind and digesting what we find in an open, civil and cerebral conversation free of raw feelings and flame wars is sublime. Posting about homebrew development is fun but these discussions are what fascinate me. Here's to those who take the odds 🥃

The goal of this topic is not to tar and feather Jack Tramiel nor to laud him as a hero -- but rather to merely consider and discuss various perspectives of the man and his imprint on Atari's legacy.

I'd like to open up more objective discussions such as this one in the future so we can examine history from a fresh perspective. This is the right group to do this with.

 

On 12/23/2021 at 2:17 PM, Marco1019 said:

I recall being very high on the Jaguar when it was first released, and being very disappointed when it ended up going nowhere.

I lived through the Jaguar like I lived through a tragedy. I was there in November 1993 with high hopes on day one. I brought home the first Jaguar in my state, invited all of my friends over to play. The Jaguar was the most advanced video game system, it was going to be a new 2600 all over again and history was going to repeat itself. I was unaware Rob Fulop and Howard Scott Warshaw were backing the 3DO. I lived as an underdog and fought to support the system beyond the point of being a lost cause. At that age it was traumatic and I still have the scars today. It's partially how I ended up here with these forums.

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I'm going with hurt on this one.  Here's my reason.  Jack did not understand the computer and video game market at all. While his Atari had interesting hardware, computers and consoles, they feel cheap and flemsy compared to hardware Warner Atari had put out prior.  Even my 5200 feels better built than my STe.  The 5200 is structurely more solid, it doesn't feel like I'm going to break it by touching it.  Time is also proof as the 2600 and 5200 consoles I have seem to have aged a bit better.

Then there's software.  I don't care if you have $40 machine or a $4000 machine... without software to support and take advantage of the technology inside that machine is worthless.  I remember the Jaguar ad I got in the mail decades ago.  Listed a ton of games and I knew Atari was pretty good about supporting their hardware.  Only a handful of those games actually made it.  Finding them was a different story.

Last, I watched a Computer Chronicles episode on YouTube where Jack was talking about the ST.  He said America was the leader in computer technology and he liked it that way.  Pretty much politely dogged Asian countries yet he sourced all parts for his hardware overseas.  Not that it was a bad thing but he sort of contradicted himself.

I don't give him credit for anything.  His R&D guys did most of the work for practically peanuts.  All he did was own the Atari brand and he destroyed it.  The real Atari was under Warner.  That's when everything Atari just seemed magical.

 

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Well, the real Atari was under Bushnell.  The VCS and 800 were already being planned and developed by the time Bushnell sold Atari to Warner.  The only new hardware that was developed and released under Warner/Kassar came out of the coin-op department, which thankfully was largely free of Kassar's influence.  Kassar allocated millions to Atari's R&D department, only to sit on everything that was developed.  When Tramiel took Atari over, all that wonderful tech that was created walked out the door, along with all the engineers who developed it.  If you think about it, Kassar was handed a company that was positioned to be where Apple is today, but he had absolutely no vision for the future, let alone the mindset to effectively manage Atari during his time.  So under Kassar, Atari "rested on its laurels".  Under Tramiel, Atari tried to reinvent itself into a computer company - something it never originally set out to be.  The 800 was never intended to be a computer, but Apple's success with the Apple II prompted Warner to re-purpose the hardware.

Edited by Scott Stilphen
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There were actually 3 people who were involved with founding Atari (another Ampex co-worker of theirs - Larry Bryan), but the '5th Beatle' dropped out before the paperwork was filed.  And Dabney was bought out the following year (1973), so Bushnell was the one at the top making all the major decisions.  Having guys like Al Alcorn and Joseph Keenan certainly helped with Atari's early success, as did the guys from Cyan Engineering.  So when I refer to Bushnell's Atari, there's a lot of people under him who helped and deserve credit as well :)  The 'real' Atari was run by engineers who were always chasing the latest innovations.  Warner's Atari was run by 'suits' who had no desire to make any meaningful changes to how it was run, because that's what Kassar wanted, and all he understood - keep selling the same product over and over.  Like people are happy buying the exact same model vehicles or the same furniture...

Edited by Scott Stilphen
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55 minutes ago, Scott Stilphen said:

There were actually 3 people who were involved with founding Atari (another Ampex co-worker of theirs - Larry Bryan), but the '5th Beatle' dropped out before the paperwork was filed.

Interesting. Kind of like the situation with the third founder of Apple Computer. I forget that guy's name.

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