Unlicensed To Thrill
While many of us were enjoying playing the latest arcade conversions and big-name movie licences on our home computers a whole different software scene was emerging on the Atari 8-bit in Eastern Europe, a far less official one that offers up a fascinating
When we talk about 8-bit computers in the United Kingdom we tend to only focus on the so-called ‘Big 3’ – the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC. It’s not hard to see why with their huge range of big name movie licences, official arcade conversions and bona fide classics. So it’s easy to forget sometimes that there were other
8-bit micros that had terrific success outside of the UK. The MSX dominated in Japan, Spain and the Netherlands. In North America the Apple II and Tandy Coco proved to be extremely popular. And then in Germany and Eastern Europe we have the Atari 8-bit, which very much ruled the roost across the former Soviet states. In fact, it was so popular in that part of the world that the region even got its own model of the computer – the Atari 800XE, which was in production right up until 1992, just a year before Atari unleashed the 64-bit Jaguar console on the world. As you would no doubt expect, this popularity led to a lot of region-exclusive software being released for the Atari 8-bit computers in Eastern Europe. The majority of this came from Poland, which was of course the home country of Atari Corporation owner Jack Tramiel, and it’s at this point where we’ll focus on further to begin to unravel this intriguing story.
Jack Tramiel was not just a savvy business man, he also knew the home computer market better than anyone, having previously founded Commodore and cemented the Commodore 64 as the world’s best-selling home micro. He knew the value of exploiting key markets and, shortly after his acquisition of Atari’s consumer division,
he identified his former home as being ripe for business. At this point the vast majority of home computers in Eastern Europe were shoddily built clones of other people’s machines that had been sneaked over the border, in particular the cheap and easy-to-replicate ZX Spectrum. Jack knew that people wanted more, but he needed to find a way into this territory. Doing this wasn’t as easy as many might think as this region was still very much under Soviet control and importing goods from the west wasn’t just frowned upon, it was outlawed. Consumers could only purchase electronic items from government-approved retailers which had a tight grip on the market. Thankfully for Jack, he