Atari Program Exchange
Atari Program Exchange (APX) was a division of Atari, Inc. that distributed software for the Atari 8-bit family of home computers through a quarterly mail-order catalog. APX, the brain-child of Dale Yocum, started in February 1981 and later managed by Fred Thorlin. APX published quarterly catalogs until 1984, when Atari CEO James J. Morgan closed down the mail-order division.
When Atari first launched the Atari 8-bit family in late 1979, the company kept most of the hardware details secret. It intended to be the primary supplier of software for the platform, as had been the case with the Atari 2600 console. By the end of the first year on the market increasingly sophisticated applications from outside Atari were nonetheless becoming available. There were, however, a limited number of distribution channels at the time.
Dale Yocum approached Atari with the idea of setting up their own third-party publishing arm. With Atari's distribution capabilities the products would be seen by many more prospective customers, and at the same time, Atari would make money with every sale, money that would otherwise be lost. Chris Crawford later stated:
The guy who cooked up the idea, Dale Yocum, was trying to explain to the management that there are a lot people out there that like to write programs and if we can publish these programs for them, it's a win-win. He put together a business plan for it and said 'Look, we only need a little bit of money and this thing can be self sufficient and it might make some money.' They grudgingly agreed to let him do it because the Atari platform desperately needed a larger software base, a void not being filled by the other publishers of the day. And so he did it and very quickly made it into a monster success. It was a major profit center for Atari. They rewarded Dale for his initiative by bringing in another guy to be Dale's boss... so Dale, in disgust, transferred to the new Atari Research Division under Alan Kay about a year after APX launched.
APX was a mail-order catalog of user-written software. The first issue, summer 1981, stated that while "Atari offers a wide variety of useful and entertaining software ... we've come across other interesting software deserving public recognition ... [APX] will make such software available quickly and inexpensively ... We'll keep costs down [by using] simple packaging and we'll rely on user-written documentation ... What we'll offer, then, is a lot of interesting software quickly and inexpensively".
The quarterly publication included descriptions and screenshots of each program, and advertisements for various computer magazines. Other products sold included De Re Atari and various peripherals. APX allowed all programmers, not just professionals, to submit their programs for commercial distribution. If selected, that program was added to the catalog along with the credit to that programmer. Many APX programs were games, but it distributed a wide variety of applications, utilities, programmers' tools, and educational software.
As of June 1983[update] Crawford's Eastern Front (1941) was APX's best seller. Other hits included Caverns of Mars and Dandy. Both Eastern Front and Caverns of Mars were later released on cartridge as official Atari products, while Dandy became Dark Chambers as well as serving as the inspiration for the hit arcade game, Gauntlet.
Atari Star Awards
In 1981 APX announced a award program, the Atari Star with quarterly and yearly cash awards. All programs submitted for publishing were considered for the awards. The annual grand prize for the best program was a trophy and $25,000. The first winner was My First Alphabet by Fernando Herrera. He used the money to start First Star Software, which developed the Boulder Dash and Spy vs. Spy franchises.
According to Atari CEO Morgan, APX was losing money in its mail-order business so that part was shut down:
Moreover, Atari had to come to grips with the fact that Atari is not in the mail-order business. However, APX will continue to review products sent to Atari by outside programmers," he says. "If the programs are topnotch, they will be added to the main Atari catalogue. Otherwise, they will not be sold by Atari in any fashion."
After the demise of APX, Antic magazine published some APX titles as APX Classics from Antic and continued soliciting new software as Antic Software. The Antic Software catalog was bound into issues of Antic.
- Steve Fulton, "Atari: The Golden Years -- A History, 1978-1981", Gamasutra, 21 August 2008
- "Introducing the Atari Program Exchange". Atari Program Exchange Software Catalog. Summer 1981. pp. 1–2. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
- "The quarterly APX contest / APX: Programs by our users...for our users / Publications / Hardware". APX Product Catalog. Fall Edition 1983. pp. 34,72. Retrieved 29 July 2014.
- DeWitt, Robert (June 1983). "APX / On top of the heap". Antic. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
- "Introducing the premier award of the software industry.". Creative Computing (advertisement). 1982-01. pp. 24–25. Retrieved 14 August 2014.
- Fred D'Ignazio and Selby Bateman, "Atari's New Lease On Life", Compute!, Issue 50 (July 1984), pg. 44