Were you an Activision Master Gamer?
In the early ’80s, the Atari 2600 was king. Nearly every kid had one, and if they didn’t, they had a friend with one that they would spend every waking moment with. The Atari 2600 was the center of most kids’ universes. At least, it was to me and my friends.
I received my Atari 2600 one weekend when I was in about third grade. I was sick that weekend and my dad just up and decided to get us the Atari 2600 and a VCR. He is, to this day, my hero. Since the Atari 2600 wasn’t a powerhouse graphics machine, the games had to rely on being creative, thereby making game play addicting. There were many awesome, awesome games for the 2600 console and, like today, there were many different companies besides Atari making games for the console. One of the best, if not THE best, third party developer was Activision Games.
Activision was founded in 1979 by a former record executive and staffed by a bunch of former Atari programmers who broke off and started their own company. These developers were upset that Atari’s policy at the time included not giving credit to game developers in the game manuals. Activision changed all that. An entire page in Activision’s game manuals was devoted to the people who developed the games.
Being former Atari developers, the Activision team knew the best way to develop for the console’s hardware. How best to get that extra “umph” from the graphics and the best way to make games fun and addictive. They also knew how to cater to their fanbase. Activision started a newsletter for their users that previewed upcoming games, reviewed current releases and shared achievements and high scores from readers who would write in their personal bests. The newsletter was called the Activision Fun Club News (later renamed Activisions). Below is the Summer 1984 issue of the newsletter.
With all of these reader score submissions coming in, Activision realized that they could use this enthusiasm and build a demand for their games. So, Activision created the Master Gamer program. The program would include a list of Activision games and what achievement you had to perform in order to earn the title of Master Gamer within that particular game. The program started off small, with only a few of the Activision catalog games participating. Here’s an info sheet from within the Activision newletter explaining the concept of the Master Gamer and how to achieve and then apply for the status.
Activision even had patches (or, “badges”) made that they would send to gamers who proved that they achieved the status. In this info sheet you can see the badges for the games Laser Blast, Freeway, Skiing, Stampede, Kaboom! and Dragster.
This program became very popular. Gamers from all over the world would send in photos and achievements hoping to earn a Master Gamer badge. Also, the newsletter began printing photos and achievements in the club news section of the newsletter. This made the program even more popular. Here’s the club news section of the 1982 Activision newsletter with photos of readers who achieved Master Gamer status.
Soon, Activision added more games to the program and this also increased the demand for all of Activision’s gaming catalog. The program created a snowball effect that shot Activision’s sales through the roof. Pretty soon the majority of the Activision catalog had a Master Gamer badge associated with it. The program even split up into different countries with a UK program and a North American program. Here’s the scoreboard and info sheet from the UK Master Gaming program.
The achievements and badges were the same, but the newsletters were different and encouraged competition between the countries.
So, how about the badges themselves? The rest of this week I’ll take a look at the majority of the badges and what it took to win them.
Here are the first five badges. The game box scans came from Atari Age, a wonderful online resource for Atari stuff.
Save the Chicken Foundation Master Badge – For the game Freeway. Freeway was very similar to Frogger in that you navigated lanes of traffic avoiding cars only, instead of a frog, you were a chicken. You received a point for each successful crossing. If you earned 20pts total (20 successful trips) then you earn this badge.
Activision Flying Aces Master Badge – For the game Barnstorming. A very popular game for the 2600 that involved flying a bi-plane horizontally across a landscape littered with barns and windmills which you navigated through and above. If you earned a time of 33.3 seconds on Game 1, 51 seconds on Game 2 and 54 seconds on Game 3, you earned the status of Master Gamer and received this badge.
Trail Drive Master Badge – For the game Stampede. In this game you are a rancher and must rope calves as they run horizontally passed you down the screen. There are three different types of calves and they all run at different speeds. In order to reach Master Gamer status and receive the Trail Drive badge you must score at least 3,000 points.
All-Star Hockey Team Master Badge – For the game Ice Hockey. This game turned out to be the only hockey game created for the 2600. If you were able to beat the computer on Game 1, you achieved this badge.
World Class Dragster Club Badge – For the game Dragster. One of the shortest video games ever created. You and the computer race to be the first one to cross the finish line. You used your joystick during the race to shift, clutch and rev your engine to increase your performance. However, if you revved too high, your engine would explode. If your run was better than 6 seconds, you could receive this badge.
That’s the first five badges I’ll look at from the Master Gamer program. I’ll take a look at five more badges tomorrow.
UPDATE – See Part II of this article here