Darryl Still - Atari UK Jul 16, 2015 10:34:37 GMT
Post by The Laird on Jul 16, 2015 10:34:37 GMT
Can you explain your exact involvement with the Jaguar as the Marketing Manager of Atari UK?
I joined Atari as Product Manager for the ST. There was quite a large and thriving marketing department at that time and the ST was initially a huge success. By the time Jaguar came around, the ST’s decline and lack of mass market success with the Lynx meant I was running a very small department, with a frankly miniscule budget for the required task. The majority of the push centred around a PR effort, which was very successful in attracting a huge demand for the machine. Running 16 page editorials and the like in Edge Magazine and making it the must have machine for that first Christmas. Unfortunately most people ended up not being able to get what they must have….
When were you first told about the Jaguar and what were your initial thoughts about the console?
I was hugely excited. Even though it was, essentially, a different company to the Warner’s owned Atari that launched the 2600 and 7800, the sales we were still achieving for those products through catalogue sales to the less prosperous, but more mass, markets showed that consoles had the potential to massively outsell the keyboard and monitor based products like ST, Amiga & PC because they crossed over from the Computer market into the toy market and became a home appliance. This optimism was subsequently proved right by Nintendo, Playstation and X-Box. I just think that the people running Atari at the time did not have the console mentality to make it happen for them. The hardware itself was excellent.
Given that a British company, Flare Design, developed the Jaguar did that make it more exciting for you and did you get to see the machine early on or was all the development done at Sunnyvale?
No, it was all out of California. I think Bob Gleadow may have been more involved at that level, but we had no input with the product until it was fully developed and packaged.
Were you directly involved in helping court 3rd party developers to support the machine, how hard was that at the time in a world dominated by Sega and Nintendo?
To be honest, we only became involved when it became obvious that the development team in Sunnyvale were struggling. I found this bizarre because it was true even then that the hungriest and more risk orientated studios were based in Europe, but they (Developer Relations) actually had good contacts throughout our continent so had started with the like of Attention to Detail and Rebellion and we rarely needed to step into that type of relationship. It was when the volume needed increased that we were asked to get more involved and bring some of our historical ST development contacts into place. We also desperately needed some European based sports titles, after they failed to get EA signed up. So we had to go to 2nd and 3rd best options for stuff like Fever Pitch. To my mind, Sega and Nintendo’s influence was not problematic at all. We were looking at ST and Amiga studios, rather than the more Japanese orientated developers.
How do you feel the Jaguar stacked up against its competition at the time, firstly the 3DO, CD32 and CD-i and then later the Saturn and PlayStation?
I think the first three were a slightly different pitch. They were very orientated towards the dedicated gamer and were more focussed on technology than price. We had a more mass market approach, trying to bring back the less committed gamer to the market as the company had done with the VCS range. Saturn was more problematic, because Sega had their mass market shit together pretty well at this time, then Playstation raised the bar a few notches higher with massive budgets.
You were quoted in the press saying that Atari UK could have sold 20 times the initial allocation of machines they were sent by the US part of the company. Do you feel the Jaguar should have been launched in Europe first where the Atari name was stronger?
Hell yeah, but then I am somewhat biased. Atari had a strong name in America, but remember the ST was not seen as a games machine out there. It was dubbed The Jackintosh and was pitched at the Mac. So there was a longer disconnect between the gamer and the Atari brand stateside than we had in most of Europe (Germany excluded) as we had successfully sold the ST as a gaming platform first and foremost. At first it seemed we were getting shafted in stock badly in favour of the US customer, but it was not too long before it became clear that actually there were shortages all round. So my comment would have been from the early days.
Apart from the handheld Lynx, Atari missed out on most of the 16-bit console generation. Do you think that Atari should have gone ahead with the cancelled Panther console and then released the Jaguar later?
I never knew the full business reasons behind Panther’s cancellation, and it’s hindsight to claim it was a vital reason for the Jaguar’s ultimate failure, but if all things had been equal, we’d had Panther, decent stock, and a good run up then I suspect some things (like developer and publisher involvement) would have been smoother. It may, of course, have just meant we made the mistakes earlier and would have never been able to get to Jaguar at all.
Can you tell me any interesting stories about your involvement with the machine?
The launch in New York was fun. We took Jeff Minter into “The Slaughtered Lamb” in Washington Square – the pub that was mocked up to mimic the one in “An American Werewolf in London”…and Jeff, with his love of sheep just sat there clutching himself and moaning. I guess the moment that sticks in my mind most was when he first trialled the 3D surround sound unit in the small AV room and filled the whole area (walls, ceiling & floor) with game. I walked out from that just spellbound by what we could achieve. The other end of the scale was when the parent who we had not been able to supply for their much loved Son’s Christmas present emptied the contents of their dustbin in our reception area.
Do you have a favourite game for the Jaguar and why that particular game?
Some of those I worked on hold good memories. Attack of the Mutant Penguins, Zero 5 for example, but the memory is probably better than the reality. I was absolutely addicted to Klax for about a year and we bought a Klax arcade machine for the office. But the best Jaguar game in my mind has to be Tempest 2000. A simply stunning technical achievement from Jeff and the team and one that hit every button as a game as well. From the soundtrack to the playability, it was an amazing game.
In your opinion why do you think the Jaguar was a commercial failure?
In many ways it was ahead of its time. But lack of marketing budget, lack of large publisher support and finally lack of launch supply and on-going shortages caused by chip manufacture problems combined to ruin its chances.
What do you think Atari could have done differently to make it a success?
The Atari I joined in 1988 would have done a great job with it, I am sure. By 1994 there were money shortages, staff shortages and other issues throughout the company. As a whole the company was just not set up to make the most of the great technology they had in their hands.
Why do you think the Jaguar should be remembered?
When it comes down to it, some of the games, such as Alien vs. Predator, were ground-breaking and revolutionary. That alone gives it a valid place in gaming history. On the other hand, it could just be used as a history lesson on how great technology alone does not make a success. There were so many facets that contributed to the eventual failure and the downfall of a once great company, that alone should be a part of every business curriculum.
Why do you think the Jaguar gets such a bad press these days and do you think it is justified?
I wasn’t really aware that it does. I think that when people talk to me about it, they are aware of my involvement, so are careful to focus on the good things, which, hopefully are most of the parts I was involved with!
And finally if you could do it all again, with regards to the Jaguar, is there anything you personally would have done differently?
Like everything in life. I wish I could do it with the extra years experience and knowledge that I now possess. But I think unless I was at the top of the decision making chain, there is very little I could have changed to reverse its fortunes.
This interview was conducted by Kieren Hawken and is not to be shared elsewhere without strict permission.