Atari Clearing House in the App Store

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Iconic game developer Atari has laid a heavy hand on the App Store and cleared it of apps it believes infringe on its intellectual property. This is a new tactic for the company and one that flies in the face of a 2010 proclamation that it would work with game developers.

Gamesindustry.biz reported that Black Powder Media had it’s game Vector Tanks removed from the App Store at Atari’s request. Vector Tanks bears a resemblance to the Atari title Battlezone. 

Vector Tanks 3 Nixed

Vector Tanks 3 Nixed

In a statement, Black Powder said “So - thanks to their special relationship with Apple - Atari has successfully scrubbed the app store of their perceived competition. It looks as though Apple complied without so much as a rebuttal or independent evaluation.”

Black Powder had made attempts to contact and work with Atari in the past, reportedly with no response. Black Powder programmer Peter Hirschberg, who worked on Vector Tanks, complained “The cruel irony here is that I tried for years to get hold of Atari to license their IP but they seemed to have fallen off the planet.”

A little over a year ago, Atari’s GO initiative and its new head, Thom Kozik, went on record as wanting to work with developers that it believed might be infringing on its intellectual property, rather than prosecute them.

It tried to win over developers into working with Atari rather than building knock-off games. This new tactic has the potential to be quite damaging to those very same developers.

In response to the attention the removal of Vector Tanks has received, the company released a statement to Joystiq saying:

“For companies like Atari, our intellectual property portfolio is our most valued asset. While we have great respect for the indie developer community and greatly appreciate the enthusiasm that they have for our renowned properties, we need to vigorously protect our intellectual property and ensure that it is represented in highly innovative games.

We have been actively engaging with numerous established and up and coming developers to help us re-imagine our iconic franchises, and outside app developers have already helped us produce two top 10 mobile game successes in Asteroids: Gunner and Breakout: Boost. We look forward to further developing strong relationships with the indie app development community through additional games that we will be releasing in the future.”

Thanks to The Loop for the heads up.

Comments

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

And of course this is a great example of how customers are well served by Apple being the sole source for apps and simultaneously actively curating. It’s also a nice example of what will happen 1000 fold should SOPA pass and ISPs be forced to curate their Internets.

DrShakagee

So this guy tried unsuccessfully for years to get a license to use Atari’s intellectual property, then went ahead and used it anyway? Sounds like he’s 100% in the wrong here. Game ideas are everywhere, why steal one then complain about getting caught?

RonMacGuy

So this guy tried unsuccessfully for years to get a license to use Atari?s intellectual property

Right. Easy to say that he tried for years to contact Atari, and even easier to say that he never received the Atari canned response of, “Um, no, we have no desire to license our IP to anyone. Thanks for contacting us.”

Fact remains that he is completely in the wrong, and although some feel it is OK to steal IP, it is not. This guy should be happy that he made a few thousand bucks (or maybe a lot more) by stealing IP, shut up about it and stop complaining, and hope he doesn’t get sued by Atari. Then, he should sit down for a few days, come up with an actual idea of his own for a game, and code away.

If I were Atari, I would sue him for what he made on the app just because he went public whining about it. But that’s just me!!

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Ron, I think you’re a little too eager to call this “theft of IP”. What IP, specifically? Not trademark. Atari’s title was called “Battlezone”. Not graphic elements or even specific game story. “Vector Tanks” was loosely inspired by the “Battelzone” game. Certainly not source code.

Apple, of course, can have whatever policies it wants for favoring well-known brands over small developers in its stores. Where this fails Apple’s customers is in cases like this, where a brand has been favored, a developer basically slandered as an “IP thief”, and the developer with no legitimate way to market his perfectly legal product to customers. By comparison, French game developer Gameloft, for the longest time, distributed its games for Android outside the Android Market because that’s how it wanted to distribute its games. Rovio’s entry to Android space with Angry Birds was initially direct download outside Android Market as well. While this may sound like a semantic argument and distinction, what the Android arrangement actually does in practice is remove a lot of incentive for Google to misbehave. Looking at Apple as a benchmark, I think we are all better for that on the Android side.

RonMacGuy

Brad, I can’t speak to how legal or illegal this game is. I suspect neither can you. Not sure if it will ever get to court. If it is, in fact, a legal game, then Black Powder has a lot to gain financially by going after Apple and Atari on this one. I would think that this would have to have been a pretty blatant and obvious IP infringement for Apple to have yanked it like they did, but perhaps not. I really can’t speak to it as I have never seen Vector Tanks in action nor do I remember Battlezone that well. Of course, there is the comment from Peter Hirschberg acknowledging that he suspected there was an IP issue on this - which is why he supposedly spent years trying to get a hold of Atari (sounds VERY suspicious to me). So, the big question is, without actually getting a hold of Atari, did they feel that they adequately changed the game to avoid the IP infringement (your position?), or did they proceed with the IP infringement with the hopes of not being caught (my position)? Unless I hear that Black Powder and Peter are suing Apple and Atari on this, then I will believe it was an obvious IP infringement and they obviously proceeded with the hopes of not being caught. Your comments about Gameloft and Rovio are immaterial since your comment “perfectly legal product” is suspect.

It sounds to me that you feel you are better for it on the android side because you can get games that may infringe on someone else’s IP. Frankly, I think I am better for it with Apple in that at least someone is trying to police IP infringement and I would hate to play a game that was developed in violation of IP law, where a company (or person) is profiting off of another company’s (or person’s) work. You know, sort of like Samsung!!

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Ron, did you bother to read the Kickstarter page linked to from the article?

One other thing to note… If the developer is using the phrase “cruel irony” correctly, a clear implication is that his seeking to license IP and developing this particular game are independent events. I.e. he has tried to contact them for years—and that makes sense because he had an arcade and a real interest in this nostalgic stuff—but when he develops a knock-off game (which in and of itself is no violation of intellectual property), they suddenly come to the surface. But you’d probably have to have been or dated an English major to get that.

If you read this guy’s story, you’ll note that he’s kinda broke after a divorce. I doubt he’s going to hire lawyers to sue Apple and Atari for colluding to keep him out of the market and disparaging his good name.

The larger points of Android vs. iOS and freedom vs. being a house slave and all that. Yes, there is choice, and most of the phone market is making the right one now. But those of you who remain in the tech version of North Korea. The dictator is dead. Do yourselves a favor and take the opportunity to ask for more freedom. You’ll be doing the rest of the world a favor too!

RonMacGuy

Brad, no I did not read the Kickstarter link. I had clicked the first link but it required signing up/in which I did not feel like doing, and the second link I clicked went to Black Powder Media’s website. Didn’t think to try the third link. Let’s try to avoid the personal attacks, by the way. The English major comment is uncalled for.

Do I feel sorry for the guy, given the divorce and all? Sure. But I still don’t think you can 100% for sure say that it is not a violation of IP. His knock-off game must be close enough to the original that Apple deemed it necessary to remove it for IP violation. We obviously differ on our opinions of what constitutes IP violation.

The larger points of Android vs. iOS and freedom vs. being a house slave and all that. Yes, there is choice, and most of the phone market is making the right one now. But those of you who remain in the tech version of North Korea. The dictator is dead. Do yourselves a favor and take the opportunity to ask for more freedom. You?ll be doing the rest of the world a favor too!

Frankly, this is a bit silly. North Korea? Slavery? Really? These are smart phones that most people use primarily to play games on. Give me a break. I know you love your soap box and all, and you may believe your “choice” is the only right one, but it is not. I am perfectly fine with the amount of freedom that I have with Apple, and more than 1 in 4 people feel the same way. There may be drawbacks, but there are drawbacks with android as well, and Apple has benefits that android does not. Your precious market share is more a factor of different sizes/colors/shapes/prices/offers/preferred OEM/hatred of Apple/other characteristics than it is of perceived freedom. This is why Apple is maintaining share and not dropping to your 1-year-ago predicted Apple vs. Microsoft levels. A batch of people may buy an android device because they need a bigger screen. So, Apple is limited to people who are OK with a 3.5” screen. iPhone on only AT&T was a huge limiting factor. When they were available on Verizon they became the top selling phone there too. They probably will on Sprint too, if they haven’t already (been pretty busy - so not keeping up on latest news). I am happy that android is right for you, but don’t pretend to know that it is right for everyone else, because it is not.

Happy new year, by the way. I hope you had a happy holiday season.

RonMacGuy

Brad, I don’t know if you have kids or not. I have three daughters - 13, 10, and 7. They all have brand new iPod Touches that they got for Christmas. My older two daughters had Gen 2 iPod Touches and my youngest had none, so she would use my iPad whenever she could. So, getting them all the latest iPod Touches now gives them Facetime, still and video cameras, etc., and gives me back my Gen 1 iPad. My point is, I enjoy the fact that they can only buy apps with their iTunes gift cards in one place. They can’t sidebar. They don’t know how to root (although my oldest probably could if she set her mind to it). There is no need. For the most part, I don’t have to worry about them downloading stuff that they shouldn’t. I get an email anytime they buy something so I can monitor how much they are spending. For me, this is an optimal situation. Others may not care about this, but I do. For the cost of 1 Nintendo DS game, they can try a dozen other games and play what they want to (all under Mom’s strict time controls, of course). Why would I want anything different? Nice and easy - which is awesome for a busy guy like me. They hardly play their DS games anymore, so I am probably going to sell them soon, along with their Gen 2 Touches.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Wow Ron. I have no idea how anyone could take offense at the English major comment. No offense was meant. In fact, if you read it carefully, it’s a friggin compliment to English majors who know the difference between “irony” and “coincidence”. I happen to know both the difference and the importance of the difference because I dated an English major or awhile in college. True dat.

If your daughters came to you and asked what games were like when you were a kid, you don’t get to send them an app. Why? Because Apple took it down due to some unspecified “IP complaint”. Consider… even if Atari had a patent on something in Battlezone (perhaps a design patent), it has expired, and since it has expired, it is perfectly legal and legit to copy claims contained in that patent. The only other forms of IP remaining are trademark and copyright. I don’t see either of those claims holding up in a legal forum. They are more dubious when a private entity like Apple is in the middle deciding if they apply and, in effect, denying the developer any access to customers. Worse, what basically amounts to a cultural tribute is lost. Here’s a hint: they would not be trying to raise $20K on Kickstarter if this app was paying anyone’s bills.

RonMacGuy

LOL, if my daughters asked what games were like when I was a kid, I would fire up my old Atari 800 and show them!!

Good point on the expiration comment. Maybe it was a pretty crappy thing for Apple and Atari to do. Until there is more information on the topic, I acknowledge that you have some good points, and I shouldn’t blindly trust Apple (or Atari) here.

Lee Dronick

if my daughters asked what games were like when I was a kid

Board games such as Monopoly. smile

RonMacGuy

Board games such as Monopoly.

LOL, if I could post a picture here I would have posted the monopoly board on the floor of my living room where my older daughters are currently in the middle of a game. They love monopoly!!

Regarding the Atari, between my father and me we own probably 4 or 5 working Atari 800XL’s plus several disk drives (5 1/4 of course) and tons of games, both cartridge as well as on floppy.  Occasional I pull one out and hook it up for a while.  My kids have experienced how I learned computers - Atari BASIC and all!!

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