Atari launches Pong Indie Developer Challenge

It's been 40 years since Atari ignited the video game industry with Pong, and now the legendary studio is giving independent developers an opportunity to put their own spin on the classic table tennis game for a (potentially) big pay day.

On now, Atari's Pong Indie Developer Challenge is calling on game makers to submit their unique iOS versions of Pong for a chance to be included in an upcoming release and score prize money for their efforts. Specifically, 10 semi-finalists will be lumped together in Atari's upcoming PONG Pak, while the top three entrants will go on to win actual cash and a publishing agreement with Atari that includes promotional and developmental support. For the grand prize winner, that means $50,000 in cash upfront, with the ability to make up to $50,000 more in gross revenues from the finished product.

Judging the contest are none other than the Atari founder himself, Nolan Bushnell; as well as Dave Castelnuovo, creator of Pocket God; TUAW's Mike Schramm, and various Atari execs.

At first glance, Atari's 40th Anniversary competition is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work the studio that (arguably) started it all and get face time with the Nolan Bushnell. On closer inspection of the contest's rules, however, the opportunity comes with a few important caveats. As pointed out by Eurogamer, all Pong Indie Developer Challenge entrants immediately lose any and all rights to their ideas, meaning Atari can conceivably cherrypick the best ideas, develop a similar version, and reap the rewards with no legal recourse from the original designer.

“All Entries become the sole and exclusive property of Sponsor and will not be acknowledged or returned,” reads section 6 of the fine print, preceded by, “Sponsor (whether itself or through its affiliates, contractors, vendors, agents or licensees) shall be free to create, develop, produce and publish any interactive game, even if such game is competitive with or substantially similar to any of Eligible Entrant’s actual or proposed Entry, anything to the contrary herein notwithstanding.”

In addition, while the contest does offer “up to $100,000” for the top winner, $50,000 of that is dependent on how well the game performs and how much gross revenue Atari pockets from its sale. The upfront $50,000 is still a nice little payout, but one also has to factor in all the time and money it will take to develop the demo, video, and documents required to make it through to the final level.

Like everything else in life, Atari's Pong Indie Developer Challenge comes with fine print. The rewards are undeniably sweet, but potential competitors would do well know exactly what they're getting into. Submissions are being accepted up until March 31, with the first round of semi-finalists to be announced on April 6.

UPDATE: Atari has since released a statement on that fine print, clarifying a few points. Here's what the company had to say:

"Pong Indie Developer Challenge was conceived as a way for the gaming community to celebrate Atari's and Pong's upcoming 40th anniversary. It is a great opportunity for indie developers to have a successful launch on a very competitive App Store by leveraging an iconic and well-known brand and tapping into a huge, passionate community. Our hope is that developers will not only see the value of cash prizes but also the chance to actually publish their own Pong under the Atari brand and with our full launch support. A successful launch is the ultimate chance for developers to show off their talent and creativity to the larger Atari and iOS community.

Pong Indie Developer Challenge is a contest with real cash prizes plus the ability to participate in revenue sharing from the first dollar. Winners will receive cash up front: $50k for 1st place, $37.5k for 2nd, $25k for third and up to seven runner-ups will grab $5k each. That prize money is not recouped against future royalties. Thus winners receive prize money up front, access to revenue sharing from first dollar and an opportunity to release a game alongside our other successful iOS titles.

We look forward to seeing creative submissions and supporting the winners on the App Store."

Matt Bradford wrote news and features here at GamesRadar+ until 2016. Since then he's gone on to work with the Guinness World Records, acting as writer and researcher for the annual Gamer's Edition series of books, and has worked as an editor, technical writer, and voice actor. Matt is now a freelance journalist and editor, generating copy across a multitude of industries.