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Atari's Kassar: Calling Programmers 'High-Strung Prima Donnas' Was A Mistake

Boom-era Atari exec Ray Kassar, who famously referred to the company's programmers as "high-strung prima donnas, admits in a feature-length interview on Gamasutra
Boom-era Atari exec Ray Kassar, who famously pejoratively referred to the company's programmers, admits in a feature-length interview on Gamasutra that the comment was "probably a mistake." In 1979 Atari president Kassar told the San Jose Mercury News that the successful company's programmers were "high-strung prima donnas." This comment would later haunt Kassar, as for this and other reasons, many of the company's most talented staff left the company to found competitors such as Activision and Imagic. Kassar told interviewer Tristan Donovan, who conducted the interview as research for his book Replay, "In retrospect, it was probably a mistake to call our designers 'high-strung prima donnas.' Actually, when I said that, it was an off-the-record comment that unfortunately got on the record." In fact, said Kassar, "I had great respect for the designers. There's no mistake about that. So that is a totally blown-up image of me by engineers who really hated the fact that I wasn't an engineer and that I came from New York." The full interview goes into depth in his clashes with Atari founder Nolan Bushnell who left the company as Kassar took it in a more business-focused direction, and ironically also takes in his later clashes with then-Atari owner Warner Communications' (now Time Warner) management over the ill-fated E.T. game for the 2600.

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