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Atari applying legal strong arm to developers

Update: Atari and Thom Kozik respond

Update

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

Kozik has in fact moved on from Atari, contacting GamesIndustry.biz 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 GamesIndustry.biz 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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