Turn of the Year

Les Ellingham


Issue 7

Jan/Feb 84

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In order to look forward we must first look back to see how Atari computers and third party support fared in the U.K. in 1983. The picture is unfortunately not particularly good as Atari themselves made a number of marketing mistakes and the level of third party support failed to increase significantly.

The biggest mistake of the year was Atari's announcement of their new range of machines long before they became available. Much of the range is still not available and may not be until well into 1984. Most dealers reported a significant drop in sales of the 800 when the new machines were announced as people held back waiting to buy a new machine. They waited, and waited, and many stopped waiting and went out and bought a Commodore 64 instead. Commodore increased their profits whilst Atari increased their losses. This type of marketing seems very strange for an American Company - the land that invented fast food. Today's society is an instant society where we are conditioned to expect everything NOW. In the States if you don't get your hamburger or pizza within a couple of minutes of entering the shop, you walk out and spend your money across the road. It is no different at any level except that the minutes become weeks but in the end if you don't get served you go somewhere else. During the three months to November, Atari lost a considerable number of sales in the U.K. simply because they could not supply what everyone knew was coming, and they kept the price of the 800 at too high a level. Not too high for what is undoubtedly the best home computer on the market, but too high for a machine that would be 'out of date' in a couple of months. That's another aspect of today's society - nothing is worth buying unless it is 'new'.

The other major area where Atari have gone wrong is in the pricing structure of their software, where they continue to defend their policy of very high prices. Mr Eric Salamon, Atari's U.K. marketing manager was recently quoted, when defending the prices for Atari's conversions to other machines, as saying 'These games are the best-selling games worldwide and at the end of the day you are paying for artistic input'. Wrong, Mr Salamon, absolutely wrong. Nobody cares about 'artistic input', computer games have reached a stage where it is taken for granted. Sad, but true. Computer games are not works of art but are ephemeral consumer products that hold their interest only until something new comes along and the average owner would rather buy two or three 'new' items than one 'work of art'. Over the last year, the software market has changed and people are no longer willing to pay out large sums of money for single items, and if you don't believe it ask yourself why all the original stockists of Atari related software are now selling off huge amounts of stock at severely discounted prices.

On the third party side development has been very slow with only a couple of names springing readily to mind. Only English Software and Channel 8 Software have produced any significant amounts of software and Channel 8's are mainly conversions from other machines. One of the reasons for this lack of development is that Atari came as an 'instant' machine. All of the software was already available from America and had reached such a standard that most owners believed they could not compete. With a newly introduced machine such as the Dragon, no software existed with the result that ordinary owners - like you and me - chanced their arm and put out software they had written. Some of them flourished to form a home grown software industry. As part of the research for this article, I looked at the advertisements in YOUR COMPUTER and COMPUTER & VIDEO GAMES and found a total of 26 independent companies offering Dragon software and only 8 selling software for the Atari.

There are only a few small companies willing to have a go at producing Atari software such as Soflow Software of Leicester and C.S. Software in Cheshire and they should be congratulated and supported for sticking to Atari in a very strange market that in general does not support home-grown Atari software. Companies such as these deserve your support for even if their products are not up to the top U.S. standard - and I am making no adverse comment on their software - they deserve all the support they can get. It takes time and encouragement to produce the best software. Encouragement comes from selling products and that is where you can help to develop a strong U.K. market with Atari software available at very reasonable prices.


So what of 1984. Firstly, I can only hope and pray that some of these wonderful new products we all know about appear very, very quickly. The longer they are delayed, the more people will turn away from Atari. Secondly, I believe that Atari will see the light and reduce the price of their software quite drastically. American software will continue to be available but only from specialist outlets, you will have to buy Mail Order or make a special trip. A very small number of new companies will be offering U.K. produced software for the Atari whilst English Software Co. will dominate the market and will grow into a company equivalent to the big U.S. producers. Calisto Software, who seem to have had a very quiet year after the initial explosion of interest in Atari, will bounce back with several new titles but will also be manufacturing for other machines and are unlikely to concentrate on Atari.

The biggest influence in 1984 though, will be YOU. You will decide whether or not you want to pay high prices or support home produced software from some of the smaller as well as the bigger U.K. producers. The way you spend your money will determine exactly who survives and grows in 1984.

Finally, one bright and rising star to look out for in 1984 is STARCADE who have already produced two excellent and unique games that can match anything put out across the water. I urge you to look at their products in 1984, for if they gain the support needed to continue to produce games of such high quality and originality, they will be the undoubted stars of 1984 and, along with English Software Co., will make you glad you bought the finest home computer ever produced.