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.
(1 / 19)
Date: January 30, 1984 02:01
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.
(2 / 19)
Date: January 31, 1984 10:07
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.
(3 / 19)
Date: February 01, 1984 09:54
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.
(4 / 19)
Date: February 01, 1984 15:10
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
(5 / 19)
Date: February 01, 1984 17:22
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
(6 / 19)
Date: February 02, 1984 12:30
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
(7 / 19)
Date: February 02, 1984 13:42
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
(8 / 19)
Date: February 02, 1984 15:17
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!
(9 / 19)
Date: February 02, 1984 17:17
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.
(10 / 19)
Date: February 02, 1984 17:57
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)
Date: February 03, 1984 00:58
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
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
(12 / 19)
Date: February 03, 1984 02:54
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
(13 / 19)
Date: February 03, 1984 09:32
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
(14 / 19)
Date: February 03, 1984 10:37
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
(15 / 19)
Date: February 03, 1984 11:07
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
(16 / 19)
Date: February 03, 1984 11:19
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.
(17 / 19)
Date: February 03, 1984 11:33
I sit and read the credits at the end of movies. -CP-
(18 / 19)
Date: February 03, 1984 11:42
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.
(19 / 19)
Date: February 06, 1984 16:19
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
Jan 30, 1984