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INTERVIEW
Donald A. Thomas, Jr.

Atari's "Official" Spokesperson and employee for almost a decade,
& current curator of the popular historical videogame website I.C. When.

MT> How did you first become involved within the technology industry?
DT> I first became interested in video games when I moved to Dallas and realized I had some time on my hands. I initially purchased an Odyssey 2, but then I got caught up in the Atari 2600 frenzy. I worked at the Dallas Times Herald at the time, so it occurred to me that a game based on newspaper deliveries might be a marketable concept. My story about how that happened can be found at: http://www.icwhen.com/articles/dth.html.

MT> What was Atari like when you first joined them in 1989?
DT> I actually worked for Atari prior to that. They acquired a 67-location chain of electronics stores called Federated. I worked as Federated's Advertising Director from the time of their acquisition through Federated's demise.

MT> Many of our readers are unfamiliar with the Atari Portfolio handheld computer. Could you describe the device?
DT> The Portfolio is proclaimed as the world's first palmtop DOS computer (not MS-DOS). It showed early signs of great success, but quickly fell victim to palmtop computers offered by other companies with standardized features such as PCMCIA memory cards.


MT> What were your responsibilities as the Tramiel's Portfolio Marketing Manager?
DT> I started off managing a staff of 8 or 10 people who took phone orders for the Portfolio and Portfolio accessories. This staff also provided customer service and technical support. Atari then had an offer to try the Portfolio for 30 days free. We soon found an unacceptable proportion of units being returned... often because the users just wanted to "borrow" it for a business trip and often because many users were not very DOS savvy. They wanted the computer power with a pocket organizer's reliability.

MT> You helped launch many Atari projects. What were the differences, joys of success or disappointment, between the public introduction and reception of the Portfolio, Lynx, Falcon, ST Book, and the Jaguar?

DT> For me, they were all pretty aggravating. Every one of those were killer products for their time, but Jack Tramiel always believed in putting the resources into R&D and cost reduction. He strongly believed that great products sold themselves because that philosophy made him rich in the first place. In reality, the computing and gaming industries evolved a lot and the press was no longer easily impressed. The truth of the matter is that the Lynx still is the best color handheld game system, but Nintendo spent a lot of money to convince the market that they really wanted Game Boy. The Jaguar didn't have a chance against the marketing muscles of Sony, Sega and Nintendo.

MT> As Atari's Customer Service Marketing Director, what were your duties?
DT> Mail, Tech support, phone calls, 900 hint line, direct sales... just about anything that dealt with the public.

MT> Your known as 'Atari's "official" spokesperson' and 'Crazy Don.' What are the stories behind these names?
DT> I supported the company on Genie, CompuServe and Prodigy by participating in the discussion forums. My goal was to show that someone at the company cared and was listening as well as help perpetuate an interest in our products. I was never designated by Atari as an official spokesperson, but I was one of the few that spent so much personal free time to support the company online, so many people assumed I was Atari's spokeperson.

The Crazy Don phenomenon was during Atari's last few months as a separate entity. I convinced Garry Tramiel to let me host limited-time sales on the Internet by offering special prices on items I found in the warehouse. As I recall, I generated upward to $100,000 through those sales. $100K was a fantastic sum for products we couldn't push through retail, but it doesn't keep the lights for a sizable company on for very long.


MT> What do you feel was your greatest accomplishment while at Atari?
DT> Truthfully. My greatest accomplishment was survival. Not many people outlived the numerous layoffs I experienced while I was there.

MT> You currently operate I.C. When, a website committed to accurately preserving the history of the Integrated Circuit, and the resulting computers and entertainment consoles. Does I.C. When have other missions?
DT> Hehe. Missions? No not really. Aspirations? Well, I'd love to invent a lot more time and use the site to attract even more people to the passion of classic gaming.

MT> The I.C. Website went live at the end of April of 1998. However, it is evident that the underlying research preceded the site. How long has the historical timeline been originating?
DT> I had hopes at one point to publish a book, but not many publishers took a timeline of videogames as an idea that would have broad enough appeal. They're probably right as far as something people would pay for. I think I started collecting data in 1995.

MT> Obviously, your own history within the industry was/is a great resource. What other resources have you used to quantify I.C. When's projects?
DT> The best way to answer that is give you a link:
http://www.icwhen.com/sources.html

MT> You are also the Director of Peripherals, Licensing, and Promotion for VM Labs. Are you involved in the NUON project?
DT> Yes, I work with companies interested in licensing peripherals for the NUON platform.


Good Deal Games would like to Donald Thomas, Jr. for helping
to accurately archive the history of our favorite hobby so completely.


Visit Donald's I.C. When website
E-Mail: Donald A. Thomas, Jr.

 

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