Atari applying legal strong arm to developers

Update: Atari and Thom Kozik respond


Both Atari and Thom Kozik have issued statements regarding the story.

Kozik has in fact moved on from Atari, contacting with the following message.

"With regard to your article regarding Atari's current actions around it's IP, please be aware that I formally left Atari in April of 2011, and my comments from the 2010 article accurately reflected the company's strategy at that time."

Atari made the following clarification.

"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."

Original story

Atari has reportedly been applying legal pressure to developers which it believes are infringing on its intellectual property rights, despite the developers affected claiming that attempts had been made on their part to reach an agreement.

Black Powder Media, which created iPhone title Vector Tanks, has had the game removed from the App Store by Apple after complaints by Atari, claiming that the veteran publisher's 'special relationship' with the platform holder meant that it received preferential treatment.

"Anything that has even a passing resemblance to an Atari classic has been issued a copyright infringement claim," claimed Black Powder Media in a public statement.

"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."

Vector Tanks is a wireframe 3D title which bears some resemblance to classic Atari IP Battlezone, both it and Vector Tanks Extreme have now been removed from the App Store.

Black Powder employee and Vector Tanks programmer Peter Hirschberg says that he had attempted to get in touch with the publisher on previous occasions, but to no avail.

"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," Hirschberg told VentureBeat. "Now this. It's very depressing."

The move seems to be in direct contradiction to the plan laid out by Thom Kozick, the head of Atari's new social enterprise, Atari GO, back in 2010.

"This initiative is not about going out after the market with a big stick, that's a different situation," Kozik said in an interview with at the time.

"First and foremost we're going to be saying, 'let's bring the friends and folks who love us, and the folks who love these brands, into the fold, and we'll worry about the folks who don't want to play along, no pun intended, we'll worry about them later in a different context'.

"It's a horrible position for me to be in. I've got a ton of very talented developers who are very interested in my intellectual property. Now what I've got is the GO initiative so I can turn around to them and say: I've got this incredibly deep catalogue of IP which you can get involved with, and I'll help you develop the next iteration of a classic game.

"I'll help you to create a socialised, monetised version of a classic piece of IP from any of the studios which were part of Atari during its long lifespan. That's what we're finding is a tremendous opportunity, a lot of developers are getting very excited about that."

Whether or not Atari is planning its own new take on Battlezone for iOS remains to be seen, but given the far-reaching influence of the company's titles on today's games, an aggressive IP protection purge could prove highly damaging for many studios.

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Latest comments (17)

John Bye Lead Designer, Freejam8 years ago
No offence to the guys that made Vector Tank, but it bears more than a "passing resemblance" to Battle Zone -

[link url=
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Jamie Leece SVP Business Development, Behaviour8 years ago
Its always a nice story to try to represent the little guy and I am a big believer in independent studios. The first thing you should be taught in any game development education is "IP OWNERSHIP" and what that means. There were games on the APstore called "Pong". It's the wild west on the APStore and its very challenging to protect IP with the way Apple has setup the approval process. Say what you want about what Thom Kozik said in the past but the reality is you can not open up a coffee store with cups that look like starbucks, with signage that looks like starbucks, coffee that tastes like starbucks, sizes that resemble starbucks, and a store laid out like a starbucks. Just because you call it Java Galaxy doesn't make it okay. I like this site but really, you are about reporting "business" so put your big boy business pants on. The story should of be written the other way around. I.E. Finally apple takes a small step towards protecting IP ownership.
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Martin Goldberg Programmer, Writer 8 years ago
Too bad it's not true. He was previously contacted by them regarding his iOS clone of Adventure as well, so it's not like this is the first they've contacted him out of the blue and he's had zero communication with them. Likewise they have an entire program set up specifically for working with smaller developers -
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Show all comments (17)
Adam Hay Design Engineer, Imagination Technologies8 years ago
The other side to this is that of later Ataris lawyers have been making some spectacular blunders. They have been confusing software written for home computers bearing the Atari trademark (Atari 400/800/ST/Falcon) as their own intellectual property and throwing around cease and desists accordingly. A month or so back having the phrase 'A game I have designed and written from the ground-up for the Atari ST' and a download available was enough to get you a nasty letter from Ataris legal department demanding you remove everything, despite the fact that prior use of trademarks in such a way during the 80s and 90s was commonplace and any reasonable person would understand that it is software created by a 3rd party that is compatible with a Atari-branded machine, but the software itself isn't approved by or created by Atari. It's Google law at its worst.

I'm not sure what the exact issues are with Vector Tank, but modern-day Ataris lawyers aren't known to be the most reasonable people to deal with from the perspective of old Atari fans.
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Richard Bisso Lead Software Engineer/Lead Designer, Sony DADC8 years ago
I hope this goes to court. I'd love to see what it means for Zynga.
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 8 years ago
They should do a deal with the guy - buy his game and rename it BattleZone.

Instead, they do what a lot of these old legacy companies do: they are now controlled by corporate bureaucrats and lawyers: people with no creativity, entrepreneurial acumen or business sense. Bean counters. Stupid people who can't recognize an opportunity when they see one.

All they know how to do is attack others.
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Andrew Jakobs Lead Programmer 8 years ago
"despite the developers affected claiming that attempts had been made on their part to reach an agreement. "

Uhmm.. Unless you have an agreement you can publish something like that, if not then you're a moron if you go ahead and still publish. And if you tried to reach an agreement, you know you're doing something too close for to the original.

Let's not forget companies like atari, capcom etc still reap the benifits of releasing their own classics (there is an actual atari pack which contains battlezone)..

Don't be stupid and spitefull if you use some companies IP without permission, you know that could happen BEFORE you started your project.. Try to be creative instead of ripping someone else's work..
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Jeremy Glazman Programmer 8 years ago
It's hard to feel bad for a company with a business model of "clone other popular games", in spite of his supposed attempt to license the original IP. Surely they saw this coming?
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Stephen Parkes co-founder, Distorted Poetry8 years ago
Vector Tanks is a beautiful and very well made game but that doesn't stop it being a remake of Battlezone being sold for cold hard cash :(

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Nathan Runge Managing Director, Genius Interaction Pty Ltd8 years ago
Trying to license the intellectual property was a mistake on Black Powder Media's part, if it was intent on publishing regardless. As far as intellectual property law is concerned, trying to license the intellectual property is the same as saying "We copied Battlezone". As soon as they published the title, they were at Atari's mercy. Furthermore, Atari had two choices. They could offer the studio a license, or they could shut it down. If they ignored it, they compromised their own intellectual rights by not enforcing them. It is possible that they ruled that the game was of insufficient quality, or that it had already earned too much of its potential profit to cover the expense and bother of forming an agreement.
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Tony Johns8 years ago
In all honesty, this copyright IP protection BS is just destroying the creative part of the industry.

Lets say if I want to make a game where I could have the ability to save my progress by going to the toilet. But because of that function already happened in the game NO MORE HEROES, I have been told my a friend who is so copyright IP Protection paranoid that I could not even do that. I would instead have to go into contact with Grasshopper studios and ask for permission for such a save function feature to happen in a simple game I would be having sometime in the future.

So yeah, it seems that if any game looks or even plays like another game that has come before it, the likely chances of lawsuits would scare most creative people off from trying to develop a game, and that is a bad thing for the gaming industry that really needs some confidence in their tallent to produce something good.
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Curt Sampson Sofware Developer 8 years ago
Tony: indeed. Atari clearly felt that ten or fifteen years of profit was enough to make creating Battlezone worthwhile, since that's all they took out of it. Refusing to let the public enjoy it again by both not making it available themselves and not letting others make it available is just a disservice to society.

I think a fifteen year copyright on video games would be plenty. Nobody really expects to make money from a video game for much longer than that, so offering a 125 year copyright as incentive to create games is just a waste, and generally ends up with both society and the industry (which has problems re-using good things from previous games) the poorer.
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Richard Hill-Whittall Director, Icon Games8 years ago
Personally I see Vector Tanks as a re-imagining of Battlezone. It is clearly influenced by, but it isn't actually using Atari IP. Nothing is the same as Battlezone, everything is different and reworked.

Using the same criteria for removal pretty much every Breakout type game could be removed, most Marble rolling games, and so on...

This is not a positive step, it isn't protecting Atari's IP - it is just a spot of Legal strong arming that could have profoundly negative effects for a lot of App developers.
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Brian Smith Artist 8 years ago
Yes copyright should be protected and no one should be able to open up copycat Starbucks but it should be narrow-banded enough that it doesn't mean Starbucks is the only coffee house around. Vague copyright pursuits should be spat back in the face of the holder, at their cost. Only real breaches of rights should be given credence.

Vector tanks appears to be a direct cloning of Battlezone so I guess they should have seen it coming. It can't be said to have a passing resemblance to Battlezone, it is Battlezone. In cases like this it's unfortunately obvious what the end result would be. I'm sure it's a lot more vague with many of their cease and desist orders though. It's these less solid claims that should make the news, not Vector tanks where it clearly is infringing Atari's IP.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 8 years ago
To be fair, you can play some of those classic games on Atari's website, so there is direct competition.

But if you look at Atari as a whole, then frivolous lawsuits based on trademarks from a glorious past is all they have left. As a developer of new games Atari is creatively bankrupt.
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James Berg Games User Researcher 8 years ago
Folks, look at the videos John Bye posted - it's a very clear rip-off. I'm not a big fan of Atari, but they're pretty clearly the injured party here. I'm all for 'spiritual successors', but it's not cool just redoing someone else's game on modern systems.
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Jeremy Glazman Programmer 8 years ago
@Tony "In all honesty, this copyright IP protection BS is just destroying the creative part of the industry. " -- what is creative about cloning a classic arcade game?

@Curt "Refusing to let the public enjoy it again by both not making it available themselves and not letting others make it available is just a disservice to society. " -- Battlezone has been available on iPhone for a long time on Atari's Greatest Hits app.
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