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Thread: Why did Atari pay Tod Frye so much money for Pac-Man?

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    Pac-Man (Level 10) treismac's Avatar
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    Default Why did Atari pay Tod Frye so much money for Pac-Man?

    Okay. By all accounts Atari made Tod Frye a millionaire for programming the infamous 2600 Pac-Man. Atari paying Frye so much money seems strange in light of how post-Bushnell Atari has been vilified in video game history for not paying programmers much more than the guys who boxed up the games, resulting in the creation of Activision. Anyone have any idea of what the deal is with the disparity in pay here? I mean, if they were paying programmers $40,000 or whatever a year, why pay millions for a programmer to rush out one port when they could have paid him or another programmer a fraction of the amount? It just baffles me...

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    Strawberry (Level 2) retroguy's Avatar
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    Corporate stupidity?
    Social Justice Warrior and proud of it!

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    Peach (Level 3)
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    They cover a bit of this in "Once Upon Atari." He made his million based on the bonus program, which paid $0.10/cartridge (or thereabouts). He made so much because it sold so well. Other programmers also ended up making a lot of money, too. Instituting the bonus program to reward their talent was critical to keeping that talent at Atari. If they hadn't come through, they would have had a bigger mass exodus than they already suffered and it probably would have sank them. The Activision folks had already left at this point, and Atari needed to give an incentive to their experienced people to keep them around. Todd Frye made the most money simply because the game he wrote sold the best.

    Would it have been better to pay everyone $100k/year instead of giving out millions in bonuses to specific people whose games sold well? I suppose that's a valid question. Read Daniel Pink's "Drive." It goes into how to motivate and demotivate employees, and how assumptions about monetary rewards aren't always correct.

    Another point is that how many other programmers could have done it in the time frame they had? There weren't *that* many programmers who could do 2600 games, let alone experienced programmers. He certainly worked his ass off to get it out, and did a pretty good job. You can blame Atari management for refusing to do it on a bigger cart. If he had more memory he could have done a much better port.
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    This is pure speculation.....Looking at how a lot of the "best" programmers left Atari, Atari may have been gun shy of loosing any more good programmers and made a hasty decision.

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    Pac-Man (Level 10) treismac's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by BydoEmpire View Post
    They cover a bit of this in "Once Upon Atari." He made his million based on the bonus program, which paid $0.10/cartridge (or thereabouts). He made so much because it sold so well. Other programmers also ended up making a lot of money, too. Instituting the bonus program to reward their talent was critical to keeping that talent at Atari. If they hadn't come through, they would have had a bigger mass exodus than they already suffered and it probably would have sank them. The Activision folks had already left at this point, and Atari needed to give an incentive to their experienced people to keep them around. Todd Frye made the most money simply because the game he wrote sold the best.
    Thanks, Bydo! Actually, I just started watching "Once Upon Atari" after learning about it in my Google investigation into the matter. They address the incentive program at 11:02 where Bushnell discusses the market value of programmers right before the documentary transitions into a new chapter discussing Atari's response to prevent any more "gold egg laying gooses" from flying the coop.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kz_ySXvvz3Q

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    Peach (Level 3)
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    Quote Originally Posted by treismac View Post
    Thanks, Bydo! Actually, I just started watching "Once Upon Atari" after learning about it in my Google investigation into the matter. They address the incentive program at 11:02 where Bushnell discusses the market value of programmers right before the documentary transitions into a new chapter discussing Atari's response to prevent any more "gold egg laying gooses" from flying the coop.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kz_ySXvvz3Q
    Cool. I love "Once Upon Atari." I must have watched every episode 100 times. It never gets old (just like the games!).
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