Tengen (company)

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IndustryComputer and video games
Interactive entertainment
FateShut down by Time Warner Interactive
SuccessorTime Warner Interactive
HeadquartersMilpitas, California, US
ProductsVideo games
ParentAtari Games (1984–2003)

Tengen was an American video game publisher and developer that was created by the arcade game manufacturer Atari Games and focused on computer and console games.


By 1984, Atari had been split into two distinct companies. Atari Corporation was responsible for computer and console games and hardware and owned the rights to the Atari brand for these domains. Atari Games was formed from Atari's arcade division, and were able to use the Atari name on arcade releases but not on console or computer games. When Atari Games wanted to enter the console-game market, it needed to create a new label that did not use the Atari name. The new subsidiary was dubbed Tengen, which in the Japanese nomenclature of the oriental game Go refers to the central point of the board (the word "Atari" comes from the same game). Tengen then made an agreement with Namco to bring some of their Family Computer games to the NES over to America before Namco opened its own American branch (Namco Hometek) in 1990. Tengen also released games by Sunsoft.

Tengen unsuccessfully tried to negotiate with Nintendo for a less restrictive license (Nintendo restricted their licensees to releasing only five games per year, and required their games to be NES-exclusive for two years).[1] Nintendo refused, so in December 1987 Tengen agreed to the standard licensing terms. In 1988, Tengen released its first and only three cartridges licensed through Nintendo—R.B.I. Baseball, Pac-Man and Gauntlet.[contradictory] Meanwhile, Tengen secretly worked to bypass Nintendo's lock-out chip called 10NES that gave it control over which games were published for the NES. While numerous manufacturers managed to override this chip by zapping it with a voltage spike, Tengen engineers feared this could potentially damage NES consoles and expose them to unnecessary liability.[2] The other problem was that Nintendo made frequent modifications to the NES to prevent this technique from working. Instead the company chose to reverse engineer the chip and decipher the code required to unlock it. However, the engineers were unable to do so, and the launch date for its first batch of games was rapidly approaching.

With time running short, Tengen turned to the United States Copyright Office.[contradictory] Its lawyers contacted the government office to request a copy of the Nintendo lock-out program, claiming that the company needed it for potential litigation against Nintendo. Once obtained, it used the program to create its own chip that would unlock the NES.[3] When Tengen launched the unlicensed versions of its games, Nintendo immediately sued Tengen for copyright and patent infringement. This began a series of lawsuits between the companies which would not be settled until 1994.[4]

Tengen faced another court challenge with Nintendo in 1989 in copyright controversy over Tetris. Tengen lost this suit as well and was forced to recall what was estimated to be hundreds of thousands of unsold cartridges (having sold only about 50,000).[5]

Tengen went on to produce games for the Sega Genesis, Sega Master System, Sega Game Gear, Sega CD, Atari Lynx, and NEC TurboGrafx-16. The company also licensed games for home computers such as the Amiga and the Atari ST, most of which were published by British company Domark. It was best known for its ports of popular Atari arcade games, including Klax, Hard Drivin', STUN Runner, and Paperboy, although they published many other titles as well. In 1994, after Time Warner bought a controlling stake in Atari Games, Tengen, Atari Games, and Time Warner Interactive Group were all consolidated as Time Warner Interactive.[6]

NES games[edit]

Tengen manufactured both licensed and unlicensed versions of three of their NES games (Gauntlet, Pac-Man, and R.B.I. Baseball). Their cartridges for unlicensed games do not come in the universally recognizable gray, semi-square shape that licensed Nintendo games come in; instead, they are rounded and matte-black, and resemble the original Atari cartridges.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ https://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/07/25/happy_30th_anniversary_tengen_you_fought_the_video_game_law_and_the_law_won/
  2. ^ http://articles.pubarticles.com/how-to-the-history-from-the-nintendo-nes-seal-of-quality-1427256345,1514584.html
  3. ^ https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/9amg87/how-third-party-game-devs-reverse-engineered-their-way-onto-your-consoles-nintendo-sega-atari
  4. ^ "Atari's Full-Court Press". GamePro (59). IDG. June 1994. p. 184.
  5. ^ "COMPANY NEWS; Atari Is Blocked From Selling Game". nytimes.com. June 22, 1989.
  6. ^ "Time Warner's Family Reunion". GamePro (60). IDG. July 1994. p. 170.

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