Profits (and perils) abroad
by ROBERT DeWITT
Atari products to and service are available in many, but not all, parts of the world. The job of organizing and administering Atari's international efforts belongs to Atari Products International, a Sunnyvale, Calif., -based division of Atari, Inc.
The president of Atari Products International, Anton "Tony" Bruehl, has been with Atari since 1979. He was formerly a vice president of one of the Burlington Industries' international divisions. American born, he was schooled in Switzerland and speaks both French and English.
Other Atari Interational executives include Steve Henick, VP of Sales for Asia and the Pacific area; Jack Beuttell, VP of Sales for Africa, the Americas, the Middle East and Europe; Chris Derring, VP for Marketing and Product Management; and Dumas Simeus, VP for International Business Development. Steve Race, Director of International Marketing, provided much of the information in this article.
SALES & MANUFACTURING
These executives oversee all sales that are made through independant distributers abroad. In addition, Atari operates whooly-owned subsidiaries in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, the Benelux countries, the Carribbean, Hong Kong and Japan. Sales outside the U.S. account for about 20% of Atari's total business.
All manufacturing of Atari computers currently takes place in Hong KOng, where the joint-venture firm of Atari-Wong produces the 600XL and 800XL models. The government of Hong Kong has specified the Atari as the approved computer for use in public schools. Unfortunately, similar governmental guidelines in many other countries require schools to use locally produced computers, thus excluding Ataricomputers from a number of educational markets.
Atari cartridges are made in Puerto Rico, and Atari Coin-OP units are assembled in Ireland.
Atari computers and software currently are available through distributors in Argintina, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Canada, Chile, Columbia, Denmark, Greece, Guam, Indonesia, Israel, Jordon, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, New Zealand, Panama, the Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates.
Surprisingly, Atari game machines are sold in eight countries where Atari computers are not as yet available: Brazil, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Qatar. Several of these nations, as well as some countries not mentioned in this article, are expected to open their markets to Atari computers this year. ANTIC estimates that there are currently about 150,000 Atari computers in use outside the United States.
Different television standards in different parts of the world are the main obstacle to the international distribution of Atari products. The U.S., Canada and a few other countries use the National Television Systems Committee (NTSC) scheme, which is geared to the use of 6OHz of electricity and 525 horizontal scan lines. In Europe, two Systems have emerged. One, called SECAM (Sequential with Memory), is the standard in France, while PAL (Phase Alternate by Line) is standard in Germany, England and many other countries. Both SECAM and PAL use 50 Hz of electricity and 625 scan lines. Complicating matters, all three standards use different systems for coding the red, green and blue color components of a TV picture.
This means that Atari computers and game machines must be specially built to meet the television standards in a given market. Software, too, must occasionally accommodate these technical differences.
Atari International maintains software development centers in London, Paris and Hamburg, where Atari products are modified, as needed, to meet local requirements, and new products for special markets are acquired. For instance, Atari France recently acquired the video game rights to Obelix and Asterix, two cartoon characters who are very popular in France. And a game program called Lone Raider is distributed only in England.
In some markets, the Atari Operating System has been modified to address the user in the local language -- Swedish, for example. A French version of Atari Logo has been prepared for French speaking countries. Hardcopy documentation is frequently translated into the language or languages of a given geographical market.
THE INTERNATIONAL MARKET
How does the international market differ from the domestic one? Buyers are more serious and practical, according to Steve Race. "Atari computers are more expensive overseas, and people generally have less discretionary income. They legitimize their computer purchases by seeking effective usefulness," he explains.
In the U.S., Atari usually considers itself to be in competition with the TI-99 (now defunct), the Commodore machiness and Coleco's Adam. In England it does battle with computers such as Spectrum (Sinclair), Oric, BBC, and Dragon. In France it faces the Thompson and the Matra. Competitive computers in the Asian sphere include Sony, Toshiba and National (all MSX-standard machines) and Sharp.
So far, at any rate, there are no reports of counterfeit Ataris? but the pirating of Atari software is a serious (and common) problem outside the U.S.
Atarisoft products (At titles that are designed to run on non-Atari computers) are doing well overseas; Pole Position is the hottest international software item.
Some countries have erected trade and policy barriers that make it difficult to do business with them. For example, Taiwan prohibits the importation of video games, and in the Philippines you can't advertise them. In France, all TV commercial time must be ordered nine months in advance and commercials are aired whenever the station decides to run them. Israel imposes tariffs of up ro 100% of the value of the unit. Each country is a knot of laws, custums, technology, and attitudes that must be untangled if Atari is to make a profit.
Still, Atari International is profitable, and intends to stay that way. The result of Atari's resolve should be more goods and services for Atarians abroad, and a growing community of shared interests for all of us.