Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 2, NO. 3 / JUNE 1983

Inside Atari


On top of the heap

by Robert DeWitt

Once upon a time there was a wonderful machine that had almost nothing to do. It was the ATARI Home Computer. "We need more software!" cried all the new ATARI owners. "Okay, okay, we're working on it," Atari officials soothed them, and that's how APX was born.

APX stands for Atari Program Exchange, until recently a slightly known and casually regarded stepchild of the parent company. But in the last year APX has shown its muscle as a profit center and is at least as strong and hearty as any competing software company. It now offers over 170 titles for the ATARI computers, among them some of the best, and best values, available anywhere.

To top if off, all the APX products are the work of ATARI users, most of them amateurs. Anyone can submit their program, and if APX accepts it, the author receives a royalty while APX takes care of the dirty work_otherwise known as business details.

The royalty is 10% of the net amount received by APX for the product. If the program retails for $20, and the wholesaler pays $10, the author gets one dollar. If the program is sold directly to the user through mail order for $20, the author gets two dollars. Those interested in supporting fellow users, therefore, should order by mail. But it has been the growth of wholesale volume that has accelerated APX sales. Mail order once accounted for all APX business, but is now just a tenth of it, and has only grown slightly since 1981.

Fred Thorlin, Director of APX, still encourages submissions as vigorously as when he had only 31 titles to sell. The competition is tougher now, he admits, and many of the early programs wouldn't pass muster these days. He won't say what the percentage of rejects is, but it is much higher than when APX started.

APX offers a special incentive to software authors, the annual $25,000 Star Award for the best program of the year. The two winners so far have been Fernando Herrera for My First Alphabet, and David Buchler for Typo Attack. Besides that, APX products may be adopted by Atari and made into "mainline" Atari products. This happened to Caverns of Mars, by Greg Christensen, and APX authorship is still the main pdrtal for programmers to be hired by Atari.

Thorlin's advice to would-be authors is: write your program about something you know and care about (don't try to figure out what will sell); be original (shoot-em-ups are much too common anymore); improve your program by testing it on your friends; and make sure the program works before you send it in. APX. staff will evaluate your program, but won't improve it, even if it is accepted. Improvement is always the author's responsibility.

Products are offered in cassette or diskette form, both actually dubbed at the APX facility in Santa Clara, CA. Cassettes, especially, are given careful treatment, each directly recorded from an ATARI 800 rather than from an intermediate audio master. This has made APX tapes the most reliable in the Atari market. Cassette orders used to dominate at APX, but have recently been surpassed by diskettes. So far, APX produces no cartridge software.

The best-selling APX program is Eastern Front, by Chris Crawford, a mainline ATARI programmer. The hot APX newcomer is Mark Reid's Getaway!, for which a handsome poster-map has been produced. The current in-house favorite is Galahad, a graphics adventure by Doug Crockford, for which you have to make your own map.

Fred Thorlin, now Director of APX, has guided it since its inception in February 1981, when he was Manager of ASAP, the Atari Software Acquisition Program. His subordinate at the time, Dale Yocum, began the APX effort with a collection of utility routines intended to help pro- | "rammers create better programs. Soon APX was getting l material that could stand on its own, and now even APX can do that. As the most profitable unit of the Home Computer Division of ATARI, APX now functions as a company within the company, with Fred as the boss. I

An easygoing man, a statistician by training and a former software manager for Texas Instruments, Fred Thorlin seems to enjoy the spacious new quarters and friendly crew at APX. He delights in his products, and is quick to grab a joystick or boot up a game. He is proud that Atari has established this way of letting its customers participate in the glory and gelt of software publishing: "The only company that does," he asserts.

The APX titles are all described in the catalog that APX sends periodically to all ATARI owners who have submitted warranty cards. Catalogs are available from APX by calling 800-538-1862 (in California dial 800-672-1850).