In 1982, Atari released the game Haunted House for the Atari 2600. It is one of the earliest examples of survival horror in video games, and remains a stellar example of what the earliest gaming brought to the table. You play as a weird set of shifty eyes that can pick up keys and avoid ghosts. It’s great. What isn’t great is that Atari has since died, as a company, and in recent years has stopped making games entirely. Now, the zombie shell of a company is doing something pretty goddamned awful, and the internet is not going to like this. You ready?
A new video game from an independent developer is coming out called Haunted House Tycoon, which is, of course, not the first game with a similar title, but suddenly the new owners of Atari want to use their history of title publication to sue the new game’s creator — by claiming Atari owns the rights to put the words “Haunted” and “House” together.
Atari and defendant Andrew Greenberg of Hazy Dreams present oral arguments next Thursday. In 2011, Atari filed a “notice of opposition” against the game hoping to stop development on the title back then. Atari claims ownership based on their 1982 game — even though they did not file for a trademark until 2010. Pretty obvious move, right?
The President of Hazy Dreams, maker of the new game, had this to say:
“So Atari is going to bully a current game maker over a generic term it once used on a game it made over three decades ago, but didn’t trademark until 2010. It’s hard to think of an example that better shows how trademark law is abused today, deviating from its intended purpose and spirit. There’s no customer confusion here to worry about. Nobody is going to mistake Atari’s block graphics for the modern Haunted House Tycoon title. This is simply a bullying tactic, likely to generate licensing revenue. That’s what Atari is now, after all.”
So now the ghost of the once great Atari haunts the IP law graveyard, pulling trademark trolling tricks of the highest order and ruining the memory of one of the greatest names in gaming history. Hopefully no one in a position of power takes a shitstorm like this seriously.
You can play the original game legally in your browser right now. Or watch a longplay of the game here:
Haunted House is, of course, also the first appearance of Meatwad of Aqua Teen Hunger Force fame. We assume.
Here’s an excerpt from the original Haunted House instruction manual, to compare their idea of a haunted adventure against what modern gaming involves.
Many years ago in the small town of Spirit Bay, there lived a mean old man named Zachary Graves. Old man Graves was not a very well liked person. He rarely left the old mansion and spent most of his life brooding about the decaying, four story house. When he died, the house was condemned and locked up. The townspeople claim that old man Graves knew the whereabouts of a magic urn that was a family heirloom of the first family of Spirit Bay. It seems that the mansion was the family’s first home and that the magic urn, which broke into several pieces during the earthquake of 1890, is still in the old house. To this day, no one has had the courage to go into the mansion to search for the pieces of the urn. It is common knowledge that the ghost of old man Graves still haunts the mansion. Some of the neighbors claim to have seen lights flickering in the windows. Some say that they have heard eerie sounds, doors slamming, and heavy footsteps. Some even claim to have seen shadows running through the mansion.
So yeah. A full four story house! And shadows? Boy howdy, let’s hold onto our hats… for adventure! This is the kind of control and origination of an idea that makes me think Atari should take on Disney next.
The case can be made that Atari is absolutely the last company who should have access to these rights, since in 2014 they churned out the absolute shite Haunted House: Cryptic Graves which dropped unceremoniously onto Steam. Enjoy Jim Sterling’s review of it here.