Atari Goes After Retro Fanbase

Atari, a company synonymous with gaming since 1972, has brought their legal muscle to bear by telling non-commercial fanbase sites to hand them over to Atari. The past few years have not been good for Atari, with the recent selling of Crypt studios and the 2011 Q1 report stating that they have seen a 56.8% drop in revenue in the same FY of 2009/2010.

According to atariuser, Atari has asked Andrew Davie, operator of atari2600.org since 2000, to turn over the site to Atari. According to the report, Mr. Davie received the notification from Atari SVP and General Counsel Kristen Keller, and is reported to be “disappointed,” but is considering his options.

The following message was left on the atari2600.org site:

“Following a ‘request’ from Atari Legal’s lawyer to hand them this domain, and to show my good faith and intentions with regard to their trademark and claims thereof… I have removed all content of this site. I’m a bit of a retro-gaming nut. Over the 11 years I’ve ‘owned’ this domain, the site was used as a personal/hobbyist site for my interest in ‘2600 homebrew programming. It’s variously been used to promote my ‘2600 game Qb (2001-2003), my extensive tutorials on ‘2600 programming, as a domain for the ‘2600 programmers’ [stella] mailing list (2004-2010) and more recently linking to some of my videos and demos for the platform. The ‘2600 platform has been near and dear to my heart for a long time.”

This isn’t the only site that Atari is targeting. Starsoft Berlin, a German fansite, has also been contacted by Atari. Here is a copy of the letter sent to him via a forum post he made on Atari Age.

Dear Domain Admin:

I am writing on behalf of Atari, Inc./Atari Interactive, Inc. (“Atari”) to demand that you immediately and permanently cease and desist from the infringing activities described below and comply with the other demands set forth in this letter.
Atari is a global producer, publisher and distributor of interactive entertainment software for all market segments and all interactive game platforms. Atari is the exclusive owner of intellectual property rights, including copyrights and trademarks, in numerous interactive entertainment software products, including those listed below, and vigilantly protects its rights.

Thank you.

Regards,

Kristen Keller,
SVP & General Counsel

A request for comment was left with Ms. Keller, but as of press time, we have not heard back.


Analysis: Atari has tried to make their retro games relevant again by re-releasing them on the XBox 360, Playstation 3, Wii, and other direct to TV peripherals, but they haven’t seen the same kind of success that Nintendo has with its retro line up. The reasons vary from one person to the next, but for me, it comes down to enjoyment: do I enjoy playing these games again? The truth is, I don’t enjoy them the way that I use to because they’re too simple. Now, is it fun to go back and play these games like Pitfall or Asteroids from time to time? Yes, and I do have a Atari Classic disc in my console game folder for that, but my desire for complex games has changed what I want play with what free time I have. This isn’t the case for all gamers as many do repurchase these games over and over, but for me, I just can’t justify buying these games again when I get so little satisfaction from them or to satisfy Atari’s quarterly needs.

I believe this is a wrong move by Atari. They’re moving in a direction that stifles the community that still gets Atari’s name out there. I agree they should be allowed protect their products, but they haven’t had a problem with hobbyist or ROMs sites until now. This new strategy we’re seeing may be in response to seeing less revenue or something else, and is that really the community’s fault? I don’t think so. I wonder if all of this is just a ploy to put more attention on Atari to increase their visibility. When that happens, they might just turn around and say, “We love our community! This was just a misunderstanding.” Only time will tell, but considering the high visibility Ubisoft is getting with it’s DRM fiasco, this scenario isn’t too hard fathom.

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About Brandon Mietzner