atari email archive

a collection of messages sent at Atari from 1983 to 1992.

On royalties and credits for game designers

Imagine Speven [sic] Spielberg directing a film, but not getting credit. How would he feel? Are we cogs in a machine? I am not a number !!! This isn't 1984!! (well OK, maybe it is).

This is a 19-message long thread between disgruntled engineers and management regarding their policies around compensation and credits when coin-operated Atari games were converted to console games.


The first annual Jeff Boscole Memorial letter

(1 / 19)


This letter is dedicated to Jeff Boscole, someone who wasn't afraid
of sounding obscure, to speak his mind, to be strange, to be brilliant, 
to play games, and to use MAIL to its fullest.  I don't remember when
he left,  but it was quite a few months ago.

   To anyone who cares, but especially to game designers with more clout than
FXL,  and to any and all people in power at Atari (not just coin-op):

   Recently I have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to instigate
improvements in royalties, designer credits, and game testing procedures.  I
have had little success. I hereby apologize for all of the negative feelings
and anger that I am emanating because of this.  After all, things are pretty
good here, and certainly better than at many companies.  I do not however
apologize or regret my negative feelings about the recent release of the
Crystal Castles 2600 Cartridge.  (In case you don't know, the cartridge was
released without the approval of the coin-op design team, or anybody else
in coin-op as far as I know).

  This is pure theft!

And I do not even know who to blame for this!!  It isn't the programmer, who is
about as mad (or worse) as I am about this situation.  He was given a unmakable
release deadline (4 days instead of 3 weeks from when he was told). The game is
much worse because of this (according to the programmer Peter Niday).  He had
no choice in the matter.  Yet another unfinished, hurried, poorly tested game
from Atari.  Won't we ever learn? 

Games under license from other companies get reviewed by representatives of
that company (Williams and Namco specifically).  But games developed in-house
are treated like they are in the public domain, while the original design team
of in-house games is treated like dirt.

  This is not an isolated incident either.  Atarisoft, as a matter of policy,
takes Atari Coin-op games, lets outside companies "convert" them for home
computers (like Commodore 64, Vic-20, Apple 2, TI-99 and IBM-PC), and then
produces them, all without the creative input or advice of the original design
teams (just talk to Ed Logg about Centipede, or ? about Battlezone).  Atarisoft
does not ask anyone over here at coin-op for approval for the final version,
but they do show the final version of the game to someone in the legal
department. On the more positive side,  there is a chance that Atarisoft will
contribute to the Engineering Product Bonus Plan in a manner similar to 2600,
5200 and 800 products.  Wouldn't it be nice to have that guaranteed and in
writing?  And shouldn't there be designer credits on Atarisoft products?

    It's ironic that my name is on the packaging of the 2600 Crystal Castles
cart, a product which I only saw an early version of.  Yet when I told people
that the message ("programmed by Franz Lanzinger") appeared in level 10 in the
coin-op version  I was told to take it out, or I loose an amount of bonus to be
determined.   Boy did that make me mad !!! I complained vocally, but only to be
promised that a designer credit policy would be worked on. This policy is still
"being worked on" eight months later.  Now really. It's not that hard to do,
just look at movies, books, not to mention Stern, Mylstar, Simutrek, Sente,
even 2600 carts.  If there were a policy right now, credits could be in in time
for the Crystal Castles kits. As it is, I am still mad about the whole thing.
Imagine Speven Spielberg directing a film, but not getting credit.  How would
he feel?  Are we cogs in a machine?  I am not a number !!!  This isn't 1984!!
(well OK, maybe it is).

   While I'm at it I would like to get one more thing off my chest (right
on!!). You may know that the current "coin-op engineering product bonus plan"
(shouldn't it really be called a royalty plan ?) is out of date. The most
recent legally binding document (if it is legally binding) is dated March 26,
1982,  and it expired at the end of 1983.  It is my understanding by reading
that memo that the bonus plan is still in effect, but it can now be " extended,
enhanced, discontinued or otherwise modified to meet management objectives ".
In other words,  Atari has the legal right to screw us any time they want.
Personally, I would feel much more secure, happy, and motivated to work hard,
if there were an updated royalty plan without a gaping loophole like that.
After all, there are plenty of precedents for people getting screwed here.

   I am tired of fighting a brick wall.  So I will resign myself to the facts
of life at Atari.  These facts seem to be that change is virtually impossible
when suggested by a single empoyee, but mindbogglingly fast if management wants
it.  And I will continue to feel bitter now and then (like right now for
instance).

    How do you feel about all this?  How do you feel about 40% 30% 30% (the
"golden handcuffs")? How do you feel about 1% under 10M, 2% over 10M?  How do
you feel about designer credits?  How do you feel about the delays in actual
payment of royalties? (I still don't have a cent for Crystal Castles, and it
has been seven months since it started to earn millions for Atari).

    What can you, anyone who cares, do to make me, Joe Piscopo (oops, make that
Franz Lanzinger) feel less bitter?  Well, misery loves company. Please tell me,
better yet, tell your favorite manager, supervisor, or even CEO, how you feel
about these issues. It may not change a thing, but maybe your powers of
persuasion will succeed where mine failed.

    Until next year, (when I will write the second annual Jeff Boscole memorial
letter)
			FXL
			(the X stands for "eX trouble maker")

P.S.  please send your answers to @SYS$MAIL:JUNK, or to someone in a position
to take action, best would be both.

P.P.S.  If there are any inaccuracies, please let me know.  The facts are to
the best of my recollection, some of it is hearsay.

Another flame

(2 / 19)


    Another Jeff Boscole Memorial letter, in response to FXL's letter on
Jan 30, 1984.

    I was unaware of any policies regarding 2600, Home computer, or any other
computer system, nor was I told of any.  All I was told about was a bonus
plan if the game I worked on was turned into a cartridge.  This DOES tend to 
say that the creating team will have no say in the cartridge.  I, for one, 
would like to have some say in the final version of the game, since I feel 
very strongly about my game.  

    Since I haven't been impressed by the results of VCS's releases, I DON'T
want them to butcher, maim or mutilate my game for whatever reason.  I
can fully sympathize with Franz, since he put a lot of time and effort into
his game.  By the time my game goes into production (knock on wood), I will
have put at least a year of my life into that game.  I don't want someone
to come along, and rip me off.  I don't really care about royalties from the
other games, I just don't want to have to apologize to anyone about a 
game that has my name in it, on it, or associated with it.

    Also, since I haven't heard anything from management about the bonus plan
lately, I can only assume that Franz's research is correct.  Since I happen
to have a Team Leader that I feel I can trust, I'm not too worried about
getting screwed on the bonus.  That doesn't mean that there shouldn't be
something in writing.  Something my mother taught me - 

	"If you really mean what you what you are saying, 
    then you won't mind putting it in writing."


    While I'm still flaming, I feel that it WOULD be nice to have my name
appear in my game somewhere.  It would really be nice to be allowed to
do this, since Star Wars had the names of the people appear on every odd
wave going into the death star.  It seems a little inconsistant to me that
the Star Wars project could have their names, and Crystal Castles couldn't.
For some reason, that appears to be favoritism, not policy.


    Return flames gladly accepted.

    Peter Thompson.


P.S.  If anyone can show me a good game for the 2600 that we produced, I
will fully apologize, and then go out and buy it.

More on FXL letter (or the second biweekly Jeff Boscole letter)

(3 / 19)


Since everyone else seems to be on the subject I might as well add my two 
bits worth.

First, regarding testing and review of 2600, 5200, 800,... software.  In
the past I was given carts to review, and in some cases they ignored my
comments.  In particular, for the 800 Centipede I saw a bootleg copy and
send my comments back only get see the shit hit the fan because I managed
to see the cart which should not have been possible.  Months later I was
officially given a newer version to test.  I noted some problems and asked
that the game play match the Coin-Op version in several aspects.  I was
told that it was too late because they couldn't make the changes in time 
for the release.  More recently I attended a meeting to decide which
Millipede cart for the 2600 should be released.  The release date was less
than a week away and I was told that the programmer had just gotten one
version working within the last couple of weeks (and only possible thru
7 day work weeks and considerable lack of sleep).  I should also point
out that I sent the complete documentation of Millipede to the team leader
responsible for the VCS cart months prior to this meeting.  I also called
and left my name and number with the comment that I was available for
any assistance.  I received no response until a week or two prior to the
above mentioned meeting.  This leds me to believe that the game was not 
ready for help until the time of the meeting (thus verifying the hearsay
that the game had just been developed in the last two weeks).

Now for the good news!  ATARI did select the VCS version of Millipede over
the version done by GCC.  I was told that GCC was instructed NOT to do this
cart but they went ahead and did it anyway.  I guess they felt that if they
got it done first ATARI marketing would use theirs.  Judging from the 
meeting I attended, I would guess that they were right.  In any case I have
worked with the VCS programmer since and hopefully the cart has improved.
I do NOT mean to say that I necessarily helped but that the cart just needed
time.  I should point out that the cart was not released due to a bug!  Now
why didn't we think of this before?  That sounds like a good strategy to 
follow.  The only reason I was given why the cart was to be released within
a week of the meeting was to have ONE week worth of sales for the first
quarter.  WHAT A SHITTY, GOD DAMNED, FUCKING CSDKFHAS FHLAVFHJ EXCUSE!!!!
What ever happened to quality which the name ATARI is supposed to represent?
Where was VCS management??  I would hope that someone would stand up and
say "THE GAME IS NOT READY.  WE WILL RELEASE IT WHEN IT IS DONE!!"  Who 
are they trying to make look good?  Why impress Warner with 1 weeks worth
of production, when you can impress the consumer 2 weeks later?  It seems
short-sighted to make themselves look good at the expense of ATARI's
reputation.  

Well enough of that, I want to get back on the subject of good news.  Months 
ago I also reviewed a Millipede for the 800 (or 5200 I don't remember).  I 
sent my comments back and just last week received a letter back for Richard 
Frick thanking me and giving me a list of changes they have implemented.
When I talked to him he recalled when the comments came back and how the
programmer grumbled about doing any more changes.  However after the
changes were made the programmer has become very excited about the new
program.  Now ISN'T that a heart warming story.  It sure made my week.
I hope we see more cooperation like that in the future.

Second, as Franz hinted I never received a copy of Centipede to review from
ATARISOFT nor was I even told about any Centipede carts.  Ignoring the
fact that is rather insulting, it is not in the best interests of ATARI.
We should demand quality from any product ATARI puts its name on. 
Considering there is expertise here in Coin-Op to test and evaluate this
product, they should be very interested in hearing from us.  Since there
were no designer credits, I guess it was hard for them to dtermine who
to come to but they could have found out.

Since there seems to be new policies regarding credits for our games and
since there seems to be a lack of trust between certain individuals and
management, couldn't we have some WRITTEN information of these policies.  
In particular, can someone reassure us that the current bonus program is 
still in effect and will remain so until xxxxx.  Can the current policy on 
credits be written down and include if possible the current policy on credits 
with respect to 2600, 5200, 800, and ATARISOFT conversions.  For everyones 
information I was not told that my name would appear on the 2600 Millipede
documentation.  I had to ask Steve Calfee.  In fact it seems logical that 
the names  of all members of the Coin-Op team responsible for developing 
the game should appear.  Can someone write down whether the ASTARISOFT 
software will bring royalties to Coin-OP?

Now for my pet pieve, can we get a little better accounting on
the bonus program?  I was given verbal assurance by John Farrand that this
was possible but maybe he doesn't understand how hard or time consumming
this is.  In the past ATARI didn't want to do this because this would 
release information that the competition is not supposed to know.  In fact
if you want to know the VCS sales of a cart, just call your friends at
Activision or Imagic or Starpath for the info.  I was also told that the
other divisions just paid monies to Coin-Op but did not supply the number
of units sold or other info.  With the new organization I would hope that
this information would be available.  The kind of information I would like 
to see with our bonus checks is 1) Coin-Op units sold (at full price) 2) those
sold at a loss (thus no royalties for them) 3) Coin-Op kits sold (as
above) 4) same for 2600, 800, 5200 and ATARISOFT.


					Ed Logg

P.S. They (Marketing) released the 2600 Millipede on Monday before they
	could test the cart for the required 40 hrs.  There was a screen
	roll failure after 35 hrs.  So by the book they should not have 
	passed the cart for release.

Complaints

(4 / 19)


To: Unhappy People
From: John Ray
Subject: Complaints			Date: 1/31/84

I would like to let you all know what the current status is with the
complaints that have recently been voiced.  I see the complaints
falling into the following subjects: 

1. Consumer conversion of Coin-Op originals without Coin-Op inputs. 
2. Designer credits in the Coin-Op product. 
3. Bonus issues. 

MY VIEWS 

1. I agree that we need to have a great deal more involvement in
consumer conversions of our products.  I talked to Steve about this
when he gave me the Crystal Castles Cartrige one working day before
it was to be released.  He agrees.  I'm sure that it will be much
more convenient to interact with the Consumer Programmers when they
are in our building.  I'm sure that the Consumer management and
programmers will be happy to hear any input you have on one of your
games.  For the long term, I will work with Steve to formalize the
procedure of giving feedback so that we do not repeat past mistakes. 

2. When the Consumer designer credits policy was announced, I was
given the task of coming up with a policy for Coin-Op.  I did this
over Christmas and submitted my proposal to the Team Managers right
after the holidays.  I incorporated some of their suggestions and
submitted the proposal to Dan Van and Steve Calfee on 1/11/84.  Dan
has submitted my proposal to Skip Paul and John Farrand, but with all
the recent organizational changes there may be a longer delay than
normal.  Please have a little more patience. 

3. There are many bonus issues, most of which I have not discussed
with Dan Van.  He IS looking into getting rid of the "Golden
Handcuffs" (40/30/30) and getting an "advance" on royalties. I will
discuss with Dan the other issues that have been brought up as well
as going over the mail messages received on this topic. 

I think bringing these issues out into the open is healthy, but I
don't want you to feel like you have to have a revolt to get me or
Dan to listen to you.  Dan always personally answers any written
messages you send to him.  I always answer questions to the best of
my ability, and take questions to Dan that I cannot answer.  I was
already addressing the issues that Franz has brought to my attention.
The problem is that these types of things take longer than you would
expect.  You may think that it is absurd how long things take, but
remember that designing a game also always takes longer than anyone
expects. 

One last comment, courtesy of Chris Downened:  "Junk" goes to lots of
people who do not participate in the Product Bonus Plan at all. They
may not appreciate hearing about our concerns regarding this plan. It
might be better to use "@sys$mail:engineer.uaf" or a similar
restricted audience. 

Thanks!!
John

<empty subject>

(5 / 19)


to: Franz
from: Chris Downend
Subject: Response to Boscole Memorial Letter

First of all, rest assured the issues you mention ARE being 
worked on - they are constant topics at meetings I attend.
Everybody seems to be involved in making decisions these 
days. This ensures all viewpoints are heard but with a horrible 
speed penalty.
 
The solution is to keep plugging away and enlist support as 
you have! By the way Franz, you are certinly a valued 
employee with clout - one thing Atari undeniably 
values is people that can produce successful products and 
you have certainly done that with Crystal Castles.

I have unique perspective on the situation since I 
have programmed games at the "bottom" and at the 
same time I have seen the decision-making process
at the "top" - I can empathize with both sides.

One word of caution though, I note that you suggest dialogue
thru VAX and the "Junk" heading which routes the text to 
everybody on the VAX including employees who do not 
share in the Product Bonus (royalty) and they just 
might not appreciate hearing about our lofty concerns
about credits and amounts of bonus since they 
get neither. May I suggest the @sys$mail:engineer.uaf heading or a 
similar restricted audience. Management must be sensitive to 
the feelings and desires of many diverse groups inside 
Engineering and this complicates and lengthens the decision-making 
process. A snap decision to address the issue bothering 
one party may upset another party - management has to 
consider the whole picture sometimes.

On Royalities: Yep, Atari can screw us anytime they want.  
I do not think they would for fear of a lot of people 
leaving.  The Company has to protect itself.  Please realize 
that thru much of 1983, Atari paid bonuses 
even though Coin-op was not making money - we 
were operating in the RED and still paying bonuses !  Now thats
commitment. Of course that cannot go on for too long or else the 
whole Company goes down. That's the reason Atari has escape 
valves built in to Bonus plans - it's not really too 
screw the employee, but instead to protect the well-being 
of the Company.
That's the price you pay for the luxury of a steady salary 
and a ready-made work environment including PEOPLE and
technical support. Personally, I have not been screwed, 
and in fact I have found that Atari has handsomely rewarded hard work 
and a willingness to support the Company.  Maybe my expectations are 
lower than those who feel screwed - or maybe they valued themselves 
more than  they were really worth.  
Management does care and Changes are in the 
works, they just take a long time especially when the players 
keep changing( J. Ray becomes Director, then Calfee leaves, then
Farrand leaves etc.  - you have to keep re-educating the new players).
Changes ARE underway  (no promsies, but people want to fix 
	these things if possible):
	-get rid of golden handcuffs
	-generate an advance close to initial production 

As for the "millions" Atari made on Crystal Castles, well 
lets see:
	sales as of 1/13/84: 4363 uprts; 450 cocktails
	sales revenue (approx): $2095*4363 + 1695*500 = $9.98M
		[price was reduced in DEC(?) to $1000(?)]
	cost of goods sold(fully burdened):$971*4363+971*500=$4.73M
	Engineering Expense for Crystal Castles: about $1M
	Engineering Expense for games that don't make it: unknown
	Sales/Marketing Expense: unknown
	Engineering Bonus expense:(.015*9.98M)=.15M
	Pre-tax Income: 9.98-(4.73+1+.15)= $4.1M
	After taxes (50%):		$2.05M
So the Company retains earnings of a couple of million to get thru
the many dry spells this industry faces or to buy new equipment etc.
Also note that Atari had to build about a 1000 games to break even 
on the Engineering costs. Thus, profit doesn't really appear until
1000 games are built, but Atari pays bonus anyway. I agree 7 months 
is a bit long to wait, but Atari has not made all that much and the 
product was not profitable until long after the intial production 
started. Product Bonus was paid quarterly at one time; we should go 
back to that scheme.

As for the 1% or 2%, I don't see a problem there - after all, Atari 
doesn't start making any significant money on a product till a few 
thousand are sold so it makes sense to reduce bonus funding till
a thresold is crossed.  I would however like to see another 
threshold at about $50M when the percentage increases to 5%. A game 
that can generate that much sales is a spectacular achievement 
for the creators and they deserve the reward at that point. 

The Quality of 2600 carts is the pits - no doubt about it.  The 
system was introduced in 1977 so it is SEVEN years old. I think 
Breakout and Space Invaders are decent renditions of the 
coin-op originals and those are 1976 and 1979 games respectively.
But with 14 million 2600's out there, financial issues outweigh 
asthetic issues.
I don't think the public would even buy Crystal Castles on a 2600 
so everybody loses - you and Atari.  Again, we've got new 
management and they have to learn from their own mistakes. By the 
way, Calfee knew the 2600 Crystal Castles was lousy and tried 
to stop it, but he was overuled.  When Marketing wanted to do the 
same thing with Millipede (release the cart with a bug), Steve 
had to go all the way to J.J. Morgan. Fortunately, Morgan 
agreed with Steve and the release was postponed.  One thing to 
remember though, Coin-op profits are small potatoes compared with 
Comsumer profits so every decision is heavily weighted toward 
maximizing profit in the Consumer arena. So, anticipate feeling 
screwed with respect to the quality of carts - it won't change - too 
much money is a stake.  The virtue of Coin-op is extensive 
creative freedom (in game design and hardware base) 
since original work is the lifeblood of the 
Industry. Coin-op also gives you bearable schedules allowing you to do a
satisfying job. And to my knowledge, Coin-op has yet to sacrifice 
quality to get an on-time delivery. Firefox was supposed to start 
production 1/23/84; millions in parts are all staged ready for 
production, but it has not started (1/31/84) because the software 
is not ready.
    

Now for Credits:  Coin-op credits are more complex than Consumer 
credits since more people are involved and people get their 
feelings hurt if they are left out and they feel they contributed 
just as much as so-and-so and so-and-so got their name on the game...
see my point?  John Ray has been working on this as well as 
trying to learn about being a Director and managing the 
Project Office. Maybe its could have happened faster, but John 
manages by concensus which takes even more time.
John has apparently sent his recommendation to Van Elderen/Paul/Farrand
for appproval prior to publishing  the rules for 
credits on the audio-visual portion of the product.
How does seven names in video for the
audio-visual portion strike you??  We do not want 8kbytes of 
EPROM used up putting 500 credits in the game.
By the way, Star Wars got their names in the game because they did it 
and did not tell anybody about it. If your ethics were equally 
low, Franz, you could have done it in Crystal Castles too.
  
What's all this mean? I don't know. I hope it helps though.

					- Chris Downend  

BOSCOLE II

(6 / 19)


	I'll jump in at his point in the discussion re: BONUS.

	Many of you may not know this, but after devoting my first year here
to developing the graphics and gameplay on a game which sucessfully made it 
intoproduction (MAJOR HAVOC), I was quite suprised to find out accidentally 
during an unrelated hallway encounter that I WAS NOT BEING CONSULTED AND/OR 
EVEN INFORMED AS TO BONUS DISTRIBUTION.  Of course, this problem has since been
rectified.  However, if I had not inadventantly asked JUST THE RIGHT, SPECIFIC
QUESTION to the RIGHT PERSON at the RIGHT TIME, it would have been too late
to DO anything at all about 
                           BONUS!

	In addition, during the negotiations on that delicate subject of
BONUS PARTICIPATION, several unexpected suprises kept poking up their noses.
What this means is, of course, that the system as it has been known in the
past is now in a period of flux.  From my standpoint, that's all for the better.
	Now, in the aforementioned BONUS MEMO which makes provision for 
modifications as management decides is fitting and proper, I would like to point
out that it makes a special and specific mention of the broadening of the CORE
GROUP CONCEPT to include the new significant contributors to today's modern
coin-op games, i.e. ANIMATORS.  Of course, it doesn't guarantee that just any
lackluster tell-me-what-to-do-and-I'll-draw-it-for-you attitude will be rewarded
indiscriminately, but creative incentive and contribution to a game is something
that JUST CAN'T BE IGNORED... unless one wants to supress creativity it must 
have room to flourish and IT MUST BE PROPERLY NOURISHED. (This means BONUS)

	So, if the GOLDEN HANDCUFFS don't fit right anymore they should be
reshaped to fit with the loving skill of the patient craftsperson... but they
should be fixed right.

					Thanx,
						Barry

BOSCOLE MCMLXXXIV

(7 / 19)


	I have been watching these soaps with some interest.  I find a wry
humor in them which might just be unique, and would like to share this with
you.

Some background context:
	At all the places where I worked before (in a "production" shop,
either as an applications programmer or as a systems programmer), there was
no bonus program.  I was considered to be a very low level of management,
and thusly was paid a salary.  Consistent with that, if the job required
extra effort, I was expected to put out that extra effort, cuz it was my
job.  That was part of the commitment.  When things went well for the
company, I enjoyed better job security.  When things didn't go as well
for the company, I did my best to correct that where I could.  It was part
of my job.  It wasn't till I came to Atari that I was involved in any
bonus plan at all.

	Since I do not contribute directly to the end product, I am not
eligible for bonuses of the type that is currently under fire.  To keep
me from grumbling about it, and to prevent me "defecting" to games
programming, I am under a "management discretionary" bonus program.  This
translates to:  If I do a good job, I get a good bonus.  If I don't, I don't.

	My first bonus at Atari really blew my socks off.  I had no idea
what to expect;  I was anticipating a $25 or $50 Christmas gift.  (On the
other hand, you guys that are handing out the bucks, now I know, and now
I would take it poorly.)  It is still nothing close to the product bonuses
that you guys are so upset about.  No, I am not going to give any more hints
than that.

Now for the things that amuse me:
	My overwhelming reaction is simple.  A bonus is a bonus.  I get
paid to do my job.  I am not entitled to a bonus, by definition, unless
I do my job better than is expected (and no such thing as a sliding curve).
If I happen to be better than the average joe, and stay that way consistently,
I wouldn't want managements expectations to rise to my superior level,
IN MY CASE ONLY.  After all, if I was worse than the average joe, their
expectations might sink ("Don't give it to Suttles, he'll screw it up")
but their standards wouldn't--I would just be a little less likely to
survive any layoffs.  A "bonus" is like a tip in a restaraunt--the
waitress cannot rely on it, it isn't automatic, and she can destroy any
chance of getting one by just not trying hard enough...which can be a
direct result of believing that the tip is a fixed amount and guaranteed.

	You guys are unbelievably lucky.  I can't speak for the rest of the
Bay Area, but in the places I worked before (in the MidWest), such a feud
as this could not happen.  People who have the gall (guts if it worked) to
stand up in a crowd and shout "management is screwing us" usually find that
from that instant onward, management is SCRUPULOUSLY honest and consistent.
They ensure they make no mistakes, and fire the sucker by the book.

	Our management here is constrained by circumstance not to point out
what I think is obvious (a bonus is a bonus).  But they are NOT constrained
to agree with the outspoken few (even tho there were a lot of letters, there
are lots more who haven't spoken up).  They are not required to support either
the point of view of the people.  They have a company to run.  They have to
make the company profitable, which takes a LOT of justification to "give away"
bonus money of any quantity.  They could quite legitimately tell you guys
"TOUGH &^$%@" (sorry, Ed), and be quite within their legal, AND MORAL rights.

	The point is that I can't fully put myself behind the revolution,
although I would DEFINITELY like to see everyone come out happy.  (If you
think I'm going to say bonuses are revolting, think again!)  It is only
here at Atari that such a discussion could come out well, and there ain't
that many places where such a discussion could exist at all.

	Two final points:  NOBODY wants to put out a shoddy product, or
even a product that is less than it could be.  And did anyone consider that
since the merge, a lot of the people against whom the shoddy products are
blamed, are on the mailing lists?

	Personal note to DanVan:  When do I get the other half of my money?


Steve Suttles

RE: BOSCOLE MCMLXXXIV

(8 / 19)


Well, a touch of sanity (old school style) at last. Actually, 
I, too, have been very pleased with my Mgmnt Disc boni, but 
it also pleases me that my boss thinks I do some decent work
and can show it in that way. But it certainly comes under
the heading of "cake frosting".

What I hope comes out of this is a greater commitment to 
quality of product--- that's what really feeds us all.
There are still too many guys saying "I don't care, it's
good enough, I just wanna get it out of here!" Those are 
the ones who burn my butt!

ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE

(9 / 19)


Since there seems to be a lot of discussion going on about various people's
lack of satisfaction at Atari, I thought I might add yet another viewpoint.

I realize that having been in "management" for so long, and most recently 
becoming a "fellow" ("GUY" for short?), whatever the hell that is, that any 
viewpoints I express are suspect.  Still, I might be able to add some 
insight due to my ten years at a little company that made good in spite of 
itself.

First, as regards bonuses and all related monetary matters, I can say 
without hesitation that the formulation and administration of the 
engineering bonus program at Atari is absolutely the worst, most trying and 
exasperating, most thankless job I ever had to do.  The gripes, fears,
accusations, and general grief that the management of coin-op engineering 
has had to go through in the administration of the various plans is 
something I would not wish on an enemy.  (I still feel a twinge of guilt 
over dumping it in Dan's lap a year-and-a-half ago.)  In all the time I was 
handling the plan, I could only make out one general rule: THE MORE MONEY A 
PERSON MADE IN THE BONUS PLAN, THE LESS HAPPY HE/SHE WAS ABOUT IT.  I 
received nothing but gripes from the people with the big bucks, while the 
people who got considerably less, and worked their butts off in support of 
our products were genuinely thankful.

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that if people could give Dan and the 
other managers some support and thanks occasionally regarding the bonus 
plan that the management team would be very willing try to make the system 
work better for you when you had a problem or suggestion.

As regards credit for games, I am concerned that if we are not careful, we
will find ourselves in an industry which is as screwed up as the motion
picture industry.  Too many people in that business are out strictly for
themselves. There is no team work on many sets because of one or another
cast members who insists on taking more credit or attention than any human
should expect, and EVERYONE is vitally concerned about CREDIT (even before
quality, in many cases).  The one thing that I have always enjoyed at Atari
is the true camaraderie of the engineering group in Coin-Op.  It was the
friendships and team attitudes which made Division Street a fun place to
work.  (Ask an Old Timer what Division Street was.)

All this may sound a little strange coming from the man who "stole" the 
credit from Ed Logg for the Asteroids project.  Let me digress briefly on 
this point.  At the time when I was doing interviews and being given sole 
credit for Asteroids, this company was run by a man who did not trust 
engineers, and had a paranoia about letting the world know who our game 
designers were.  I was (for whatever reason) on the "approved" list as an 
engineer who could do interviews with the press.  I was not, however, 
allowed to name names of the engineers or programmers within our department.
My standard response to the press was that I was a member of the team of 
people who created Asteroids, but our own P.R. department, and the lack of 
other names to associate with the product resulted in my getting credit for 
much more than I ever claimed or felt.  My position on the subject, now as 
then, is that I did in fact INVENT Asteroids (i.e., came up with the idea),
but Ed Logg CREATED the game (i.e., turned an interesting idea into a
successful product), with help from the rest of the team and other people in
engineering. 

The part about "...with help from the rest of the team..." is significant.  
I am concerned that when and if the credit is given, it will get screwed up 
as it has in the case of Asteroids.  There will be hard feelings between 
people who feel they deserved more credit than they got (especially if they 
got none at all).  I think that while individual credits may be important 
and necessary for individuals, it may be the beginning of the end of good 
team feelings and cooperation within the game design groups.  WATCH OUT!

Finally, as regards coin-op programmers reviewing the consumer products 
before they go out, how could I possibly disagree that the coin-op guy needs 
creative approval (control?), especially when his name is going on the box.
We wouldn't want to be embarrassed now, would we?  Steve Calfee and his 
Damned Consumer Division Software Assholes can shove it if they think they 
can get away with this kind of insolence.  LONG LIVE COIN-OP, THE REAL 
ATARI!!  We can start another interdivisional Holy War at the drop of a hat 
(or the drop of a game cart?).  Back to the good ol' days of them 'n us!
Sure, we'll share the building, but share ideas?  Sacrilege! They can blow 
it out their VCS's!  Or maybe we could join forces and revolt against
"marketing" or "management" or some other dark and evil force in the company 
who is taking an unenlightened approach to running the business.  It's so 
easy to see and address the whole scheme of things (the pressures of running
a factory, answering to stockholders, balancing the corporate budget,
forging a new corporate management structure and a new corporate environment
in the wake of one of the most embarrassing fiscal performances of recent
history, and doing so with the lingering morale problems, etc.) from the
engineering building in Milpitas. 

RE: Blow it out your console

(10 / 19)


	I like the idea of them .vs. us.  How about the US from Atari,
and the THEM from those other corporations that are taking away our
sales, thus income, thus profits, from whence all bonus comes?

	Why do we have to do ourselves in when we could be doing them
in instead?

sas

?

(11 / 19)


Hello again. 

	I am overwhelmed.  What a can of worms!!  Jeff Boscole would be proud.
Unfortunately, I don't have time to respond to everything that has been
broadcast in MAIL recently.  Nor should I, after all, I am supposed to be an
ex-trouble maker.  Still, I am glad that so many of you took the trouble to
write down what is on your mind, and then broadcasting it.  Scary, but
worthwhile. 

	This message is going to the JUNK mailing list, as did the Jeff Boscole
memorial letter.  I was unaware that JUNK included via DECNET a number of other
VAXes.  If I had known, I would have sent the JBML to JUNK anyway.  I feel no
need for secrecy.  Better to be in the open than to create inaccurate rumors. 
If you JUNK readers out there are not interested, just type del<RETURN> after
the first page of a message and the message disappears.

	Someone pointed out to me that it is my responsibility to inform the
JUNK subscribers of the prompt responses by John Ray, Chris Downend, and Lyle
Rains to the concerns voiced by the earlier MAIL.  These responses were mailed
to ENGINEERING.UAF,  a mailing list which includes only Kim Newvax users.  A
printout of some of these responses is posted in the home-computer section of
1501.

	Please don't blame me if you feel left out of the discussion. Fight for
royalties if you feel that you deserve them.  Fight for getting credit for
your work.  I am all for personalizing all of industry, everyone should put
their name to their work, good or bad.  Above all fight for quality.  Quality
sells, or are we in it just to make a quick buck? If you feel envious that we
in engineering receive royalties, consider that we (in coin-op) don't make
millions, only thousands, if we are lucky.  We earn these royalties by working
day and night, sometimes it seems putting our whole lives into it.  Even for a
successfull game designer, half the time the things don't even see production.
Usually that means a year or two down the drain. If you are unsuccessful you
get no royalties, only the nagging question: why didn't it work?  If the game
sells, you don't know why either.  Either way, you don't feel secure about the
whole thing. And nobody knows where the industry will be three years from now.
Can you blame us then for fighting for our second in the spotlight while the
power is still on?  Without game designers Atari would not exist, just like
without a screenplay you'd have a pretty dull movie.

"A video game is not a toaster"

		Sincerely,
				Franz X Lanzinger

you guessed it

(12 / 19)


Hello UAF (whatever that means)

	Again, I'll say that I don't have time to answer everybody in
writing, but I can't resist another contribution to the maelstrom of verbiage.

	I appreciate the rather quick response from the management end of
things.  But I've heard enough of 'we are working on it'.  We game designers
work under tough deadlines all the time, we have to show continuous progress,
but you guys just say 'we are working on it'.  I've been patient long
enough.  It's time to be impatient.

	Is Atari really in the 50% tax bracket?  Or do you think I'm stupid,
Chris?  Either way, I second Ed's motion for better accounting of royalties, if
and when we receive them.  And I don't want to hear some bull about secrecy.
Why should our competition know more about sales figures than we do?  Maybe the
real reason is that there just might be a few dollars missing here or there?
Not that I am accusing anyone of foul play, but the potential is there, and
foul play has occurred at this company (as in any large company) in the past.

	Regarding bonus vs. royalties:  Are we engineers, or entertainers? Are
we grammarians, or writers of best sellers?  Are we animators or in-betweeners?
A bonus is icing on the cake for a job well done. Royalties are well deserved
rewards for directly causing huge profits (or at least a huge positive
difference in losses) for a company that is part of the entertainment industry.
Royalties are guaranteed by contracts, or at least in some legally binding
fashion.  I move that guaranteed royalties be paid to us, the in-house people
responsible for the development of our games.  This would be in line with
standard practice in the entertainment industry.  I don't really care about the
specifics.  1% of that, 3% of the other, whatever.  As long as there is some
kind of consensus of fairness, and knowing that the rug won't be pulled from
under you.  And a large payoff for a really big hit would be a great incentive.
We all dream of making another Centipede.  Too bad that all the big hits (30K
units or more) happened under the old bonus plan.

	This is a hit business.  The similarities with the movie industry can't
be ignored.  Why, we are even owned by Warner.  We are entertainers. I program
because I have to do that to make the game do what I want it to do.  If I could
do that in English with voice input, the job would be more pleasant, but it
would be essentially the same.  If the game is fun to play, its because I made
literally thousands of decisions along the way,  listening to hundreds of
suggestions.  If those decisions balance out into a game that people who play
coin-ops like to play, if it is tuned so that it earns well, and for a long
time, then we sell bunches of them. If the game isn't fun, if it is tuned
poorly, if it "cheats", then forget it, you can have an outstanding cabinet,
and excellent manual, not a single hardware problem, but people won't put very
much money into it.

	I shouldn't forget the tremendous importance of quality animation and
sounds.  Our truly amazing animators and equally astounding sound effects and
music people deserve much more credit (this includes royalties) than they are
presently getting (note Barry's message).  Without Barbara Singh, Bentley Bear
would still be a robot.  And the gem-eaters would still be dropping their
pants.

	Oops, it's almost 3 a. m., time to get to work.
			FXL

Aview from the Gruntz

(13 / 19)


	Since this seems to be the medium for voicing one's opinion,
here's mine.
	I DO understand that the game programmer is the so called
"creator" of the game. But what would your great program do without
the hardware, display, power supply, animation, audio development,
graphics, cabinet, harness, tech support, and etc!!! What we design 
here is a PRODUCT. Every person in this building (and those shoved
off to 790) plays an important role in the whole process. The team
effort is NEEDED to meet our ridiculous schedules. As soon as someone
is "better" than someone else the whole system suffers.
	The game "team" works on one project for a year or more. They 
are allowed to slip schedules as they go. They get to pick what project
they want to work on (generally). They have to answer to their team
leader and marketing.
	I get every project. I don"t get the luxury of saying, "Oh, I
don't want to work on that game." I have firm deadlines. They rarely
get slipped. You talk about working your butt off, I work my butt off
on every project. The vast majority of Design Services hasn't seen 
the sun in many months. I have worked here over five years and have
NEVER misses a set deadline. And who do I answer to? I am fair game
for abuse from:
		Manufacturing
		Marketing
		Planners
		Buyers
		Customer Service
	Ireland Manufacturing
		Components
		Team Leaders
		Engineers

		Vendors
		Brownsville

		Sales Reps
		other Design Groups
		my Management
	Some days I want to take my phone and shove it right....

	I would like to address the two specific topics at hand, first
CREDIT.
	I think as soon as you give exorbitant credit to a "few",
you slap everyone else in the face. Where do you draw the line
on who gets credit?
	Some say the difference is creativity. Designing anything
involves creativity. But when you get to the bottom line any design
is performing a task. I'm sure most of you reading this think that
my job involves no creativity. If that was true I would get a new
job. I am constantly researching new methods and new products to
improve the quality and cost of my product. Often I am thrown
problems that can't be solved without getting "creative". And i 
do like getting involved in other aspects of Enginnering that are
more creative. I don't just "do-my-job".
	If you are going to give credit for creativity, then 
everyone of us that walks by a game and says, "gee, wouldn't it
be neat if the guy swung from the trees upside down!" has helped.
And what about all the people that were creative for a year or
more but Atari chooses not to produce their game? A lot of the
time it isn't necessarily their fault it wasn't marketable.

	BONUS
	A bonus is a bonus. I would love to get much, much more.
	I'm not included in the game bonus. The reason must be
because.......I don't do anything  (?)

			Love and Kisses,
			Giggles and Wiggles,
			        Carole

VIEW #1243.

(14 / 19)


Here's another view on royalties and bonuses.  But first I should tell you
that I'm a them.  I've done VCS carts for several other companies and just
completed a computer game for Atari.

I'll give you my definition of royalty and bonus for what it's worth (so to
speak).

BONUS: Something of value given to someone for a job well done.
       Keyword - given.

ROYALTY: A method of payment for a service performed.

Companies don't give money away, they earn it or should.  If a company
could get away with paying employees 10 cent a day they would and should
because that's the U.S. way.  The reason a company pays royalties is to
retain and keep key personnel.  Royalties are not only given to entertainers
and artist, but to anyone who is a short commodity.  Salesmen recieve 
commissions in addition to other compensations in order to attrack and
keep the best.  Top level executives recieve stock options to attrack and
keep those few who have the talent to turn a little into a lot.

My point is that royalties are earned.  And I get very upset when people
refer to royalties as a gift.  It's like the gifts I give my Doctor,
Lawyer and IRS.  People who see royalties as a gift either don't warrant
a royalty or are very naive about their worth.  I also resent opinons that
someone who recieves a royalty would think they are more important or even 
more vital to the company.

I believe Atari's management (present history) is fair and concerned.  But, I
also know that chaos is Atari's only communication system and therefore 
policies take forever to be drafted.  So I think we should keep after what
we want, but I don't think it's time to burn the place to the ground.


			Dan

a different view......

(15 / 19)


BONUS. Noun 1: Something that is given in
addition to what is usually or strictly due.
2:a Brit: Dividend b: Money or an equivalent
given in addition to an employees usual
compensation. c: a premium given by a
corporation to a purchaser of its securities
to a promoter, or to an employee d(1): a
government subsidy to an industry. 2:
a government payment to war veterans. 3:
A sum of money in addition to interest or
royalties charged for the granting of
a loan or privilege to a company, or for
the leasing or transfer of property.

	 That is Webster's 7th definition of the word bonus.
I do not see anywhere in that definition where it says that
Atari (or any other company for that fact) MUST pay a sum
of money to an employee based on sales of a product
designed by that employee or employees. (hey Lyle, I made
big bucks and I'm am for sure NOT complaining!!!)
	Now don't get me wrong. I know alot of you will 
now say..."sure...you did ok by the plan, its easy
for you to say". But that is not the point. I waited 
almost 6 years before I got a product which made bonus.
I did not expect EVER in the 6 years to be paid a bonus 
and I did not stay at Atari for the bonus either. I got
lucky enough to have a product which made bonus for me at
the right time and the right place. For that Bonus I am
thankful to Atari.
	However, I do not think that any of you would NOT
be working at Atari if there were NO bonus plan. I know that
it was not really a decision when I started working here!
I think the bonus plan is a great idea, and now that I've
been included I might feel differently if it were to go.
However, we are all paid a nice salary to do our job.....
.....DESIGN GAMES. Bonus is exactly what the definition
says it is...EXTRA. If you are designing a game strictly
for the bonus it will earn you, then you are in the wrong
business!
	Ok....Atari has a BONUS PLAN. They have always
had some kind of incentive plan for the designers of 
games. I would not want to see it go. And since most of
you did come onto Atari knowing that there was some sort
of plan, it may be a very good reason to stay now. But
lets give Management a break here. I am sure John Ray,
Steve Calfee and Dan Van have had it up to the top of
their heads with grips. If Atari is going to have a
plan, I feel somewhat sure that the plan will be in the
best interests of both the company and the designers!!!
I have LOTS AND LOTS of gripes with the plan myself. I
do not like the way it distributed for example.  I
am fairly sure that no matter what plan were to become,
there would always be gripes. Not everyone is going to
be happy all of the time!
	So...I must agree with Steve Suttles in his
feelings that we should feel lucky to have ANY plan
at all. After all, it is a BONUS, not a ROYALTY!!

	Maybe we should change the subject of these
gripes to suggestions for what you might like to see 
in a bonus plan. Who knows, it just might get somewhere!!!

	As for credit on the games.....Who cares?????
How many of you sit through the credits at the end of
a movie or TV show. How many of you read every credit
in a book?? Who is the best reporter for the S.J. Merc.??
Damned if I know!!! Part of me says "yea, credit might
be nice", but then I think about it a bit longer. I
use to joke about a credit screen, with 50 or so names
running up the screen after each game:
	Designed by:
	Programmed by:
	Engineered by:
	Graphics by:
	Animation by:
	..........................etc
Gads!!!! What a bunch of junk!!!! I really don't care if
my name gets on the screen or not! But I know that if names
were to start showing up on screens, one would have to be very
careful not to leave ANYBODY out!!! I don't want that
responsibility in my program! And what happens to credits when
you need to squeeze 100 more bytes into a program???? Maybe
we could just print a small box on the side of the game with
everybody's name in it??? WOW!!!! My only gripe with credit
is that Atari did not want our names used in the media if we
were interviewed. That is no longer a restriction! There is no
more gripe!!!

	The bottom line????? This has all gotten way to far
out of hand. Are the rest of you really only staying at Atari
for the money and the credit??????

	Owen

e

(16 / 19)


just after i wrote this, I read Owens... Owen, me too.  

excerpts from what I wrote that Owen didn't say:

  No 'creative' person here is taking any risks beyond a lowered reputation
(and less job security, Steve) while working on a project.  The company has
all legal and considerable moral claim to all profits made on a project where
it assumed all costs of development.  The long hours everyone works in the 
'creative team' are really self-imposed and maintained more by peer-pressure
than by orders from management, so don't try bitching to me that you are
owed for them.
Most exciting projects come either with explicit targets (eg. FIREFOX or
GARGOYLES) or are pushed because you'll be able to do more projects and
get better marketing/manufacturing response by speeding development.
If it really bothers you to work under those deadlines, only work on
projects where you yourself can propose a schedule you can meet with an
acceptable amount of work.  Since no-one around here is willing to refuse
to meet 'unrealistic' schedules, everyone has worked excessive hours on
occasion- but most DONT make overtime pay- you do it because you think it
will pay off in: better product/better support/you won't look like an asshole
for agreeing to a deadline and missing.
 Anyone who really wants more credit than ATARI is willing to give, or more
money than ATARI is willing to give, must take the risk that other ATARI
expatriots have taken and assume more risk (that is, COST) of development.
Then you have all the control you want. Remember, 'your' game is ATARI's,
and milking it for all the bucks it can is the prerogative the company has.

		I'm all in favor of pressuring the company for
as much bonus as we can get.  Just as in baseball, the burden is not on
the players to resist making unreasonable demands- it's on the owners to
determine what the company can afford.  I think the issue of credits would
have been best left to the realm of the individual game designers, and let
the team fight it out without management interference.  
	I don't see anything but stupidity in failing to consult a
coin-op designer in developing a cross-over game; at least smile politely
at his input before it's ignored.

  BUT don't let this issue get too deeply under your skin.  Some anger is
appropriate in redressing particular issues, but don't generalize it into
a feeling that you're working in an environment where you're sure to be
burned sooner or later.  I've worked before where people bitched too often
and were unable to fully enjoy their work- and I'm not there anymore.
Nothing can ruin everyone's work environment more than an unwillingness to
feel rewarded by what you're doing, regardless of bonus or salary.  Ever
since I've been here this discussion has simmered, occasionally boiling.
It will continue to do so.  Like your mama used to say, think of the
starving Armenians (didn't your mother say that?) and eat your food.
Noone here is out to get anyone- it's a big group of people with very
diverse perspectives on what a product is and who's responsible for
what.  The diversity is also a benefit- we are exposed to a great range
of disciplines here, with a lot of resources to devote to various loosely
related products/projects.  Don't blow it.

a response to Rubin

(17 / 19)


I sit and read the credits at the end of movies.
			-CP-

Guess?

(18 / 19)


	This has gotten out of hand!  I am NOT mad at Atari about the
Bonus program or credits.  Personally if I added my name it would be 
hidden away where you would be lucky to find it.  I was mad at the
marketing management for their lack of quality control but there was
some good news!
	My goal was to get the issues out in the open and to get 
people thinking, NOT make them mad at management.  Now this is my last
message on the subject because I have work to do.  If you have comments
please see me and we can discuss them.

apology and fate

(19 / 19)


I'm very sorry that I offended some of you.  I am relatively new here. I lead a
sheltered life over here, I bet a lot of you out there do too. The many many
people who work here all contribute in various ways to our successes and
failures.  Team-work is essential.

Regarding game credits, there are many advantages to having no credits at
all (except of course the Atari name, not to mention whoever the game was
licensed from).  The biggest advantage seems to be that noone will be
upset that they aren't included.

Still, credits are inevitable.  They will come, sooner or later.  The process
has already begun.  Many other video-game and even computer software companies
have credit policies.  Atari home cartridges even have credits on the boxes, or
in the manuals. And the day will come when live actors will appear in video
disc games.  It would be difficult to hide the names of those actors, not to
mention that they probably would be members of the screen actors guild.

Regarding royalties, or bonus, may the better company win.  Imagine
a company that gives credit and royalties where credits and royalties are due,
namely to everybody, on a project to project basis.  Such a company would
attract the best people, then produce the best entertainment products, and
then stomp the competition into the ground.  I hope that company will turn
out to be Atari.

			Sincerely, (until next year)
					Franz
Message 1 of 19

Jan 30, 1984