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History of Tele-Games Interview Possible?


Mockduck
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I recently started doing a weekly livestream about Atari, and am interested in putting together a show about the Sears Tele-Games. If someone out there would be willing to chat with me about their memories working on the Tele-Games, working retail at Sears at the time, or who otherwise has valuable information about the history of Atari's OEM relationship with Sears, I'd love to hear from you. My show is nonprofit (I raise a small amount of money for charity through the show), but depending on who you are, I'd be willing to provide a minor stipend for your time and knowledge.

 

In particular, I want to delve into:

 

1. How Atari and Sears formed an OEM relationship, how physical manufacturing and distribution worked, and why they were interested in doing it.

2. Why Sears opted for an exclusive branded name for the console, rather than using the Atari name, and what benefits and challenges were caused by it.

3. What the differences were between the Atari and Tele-Games machines (cosmetic only, right?)

4. Tele-Games cartridges: the exclusives, the confusion of having the same game with multiple names, how they fit into the collector's scene today.

5. The various version of the VCS released under the Tele-Games label.

 

Here's a link to the series, if you want to check it out first: https://www.twitch.tv/collections/nQdQEE9_EBUdHw

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1. How Atari and Sears formed an OEM relationship, how physical manufacturing and distribution worked, and why they were interested in doing it.

2. Why Sears opted for an exclusive branded name for the console, rather than using the Atari name, and what benefits and challenges were caused by it.

3. What the differences were between the Atari and Tele-Games machines (cosmetic only, right?)

4. Tele-Games cartridges: the exclusives, the confusion of having the same game with multiple names, how they fit into the collector's scene today.

5. The various version of the VCS released under the Tele-Games label.

 

1. If you have a product you're trying to get to retail, your best bet is going through the big guys. And Sears was the Walmart of the '70s. Naturally, Atari wants that kind of exposure and distribution.

 

2. As I understand it, Sears often dictated that much of the merchandise they carried would be under their own branding--because they could. The benefit for Sears is that they get this hot new product with a veneer of exclusivity. The benefit for Atari is that the biggest retailer in the U.S. is carrying their product. That effectively ended for the most part in the '80s (there were never Sears-branded Coleco or Atari 5200 or Nintendo systems, for instance). The biggest reason for that probably has to do with a shift in market leverage. In the Pong days, most video game companies were relatively small and didn't have the clout to dictate as many terms of their contracts, such as branding; by the early '80s, companies like Atari and Mattel Electronics were monsters.

 

3. Purely cosmetic.

 

4. I think there was some confusion at first (I've read stories of people buying Tank Plus with hard-earned lawnmowing money only to find out it was Combat), but I've also read that it wasn't that much of an issue, and that people who were hip to video games generally knew what the Sears titles really were. I'm not sure how Steeplechase, Submarine Commander, and Stellar Track came to be Sears exclusives (they were all developed by Atari), though. There must have been some negotiation where Sears wanted some modicum of exclusivity with Atari product, but Atari had the clout by now to push back, and "gave" Sears a few titles they figured they wouldn't miss much from their own lineup. (That's conjecture on my part, though.)

 

On a related note, IIRC Super Breakout was actually a Sears exclusive for a brief time in 1981. Or at least, it was released before the Atari version came out in 1982.

 

From a collector's standpoint, many people enjoy collecting the Sears versions of the games and consoles, myself included. :) Sears stuff is often less expensive simply because it doesn't say "Atari" on it. Some people simply appreciate the aesthetic and think Sears stuff looks really good (and it does!). For others still, it could be fueled by a particular kind of Sears-tinted nostalgia. Conversely, even BITD, the Sears systems and games often had an undeserved reputation of being knockoffs, which informs collecting habits to the present day (but also correspondingly lower prices...so I guess the joke is on the haters :P ). "Players" who don't collect label variations probably won't go out of their way to get them, either.

 

5. Every iteration of the Video Computer System had a corresponding Sears Video Arcade unit until the Atari 2600 proper (that is, the Vader ;)). Heavy Sixer, Light Sixer, and 4-switch. Sears of course also had the Video Arcade II, which was no doubt another Atari concession to Sears exclusivity.

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