The most feared executive in the video game industry: this is the story of Jack Tramiel and his Commodore 64

"He did not hesitate to ruin some of his suppliers in order to save himself from paying his debts."

Commodore It was in the eighties one of the large corporations in the computer market. It was precisely the company responsible for starting the personal computer revolution, thanks to which computers were no longer a luxury available to a few. However, despite a career full of milestones, as most of us remember Commodore is for its performance in the video game industry, since since 1982 It marketed the Commodore 64, one of the best and most remembered systems of that time, with great success. A company whose trajectory came from far away, since as early as the fifties as its founder was an entrepreneur always in search of a good business. An entrepreneur who would make his motto very his own, business is war, and who grew up in the most terrifying place on planet earth: the Auschwitz concentration camp.


Commodore became the greatest pioneer of personal computing Born in late 1928 in Lodz, the third most populous city in Poland, Jack Tramiel He was sent along with his entire family to the terrible Nazi extermination camp, where he would spend his entire adolescence working in inhumane conditions. An experience that would undoubtedly mark his entire future business career, as Tramiel showed no compassion whatsoever when doing business. After his liberation he emigrated to the United States and enlisted in the army, where he would learn, among other things, to repair typewriters, an experience that would serve him in 1955 to found his own business: Commodore Business Machines, specialized in the manufacture and repair of these gadgets. The origin of the name certainly has no greater secret; Tramiel borrowed it from a car, which was probably one of the most luxurious of the time, the Hudson Commodore.


Tramiel quickly became a successful businessman, whose company was always at the forefront of technological progress. In the 1970s, for example, Commodore was one of the leading manufacturers of scientific calculators, thanks to the acquisition of MOS Technology, one of the leading microchip design companies at the time. A providential purchase, since Chuck Peddle worked at MOS Technology, whose dream was to design an inexpensive chip available to everyone, so that consumer computing could become popular. Tramiel made Peddle's wish his own, so in 1977, under the motto "Computers for the masses, not the classes”, Commodore launched the Commodore PET, the first mass-produced personal computer in history, which could be purchased for about $ 795.


Thus Commodore becomes the greatest pioneer of personal computing, ahead even of giants like IBM or Manzana. Precisely the first Apple computers used this same low-cost chip developed by Chuck Peddle, the same one that was hidden under the Commodore PET body, as well as in other historical systems such as Atari 2600, BBC Micro or even the NES. PET will be followed by VIC-20, in which a very young Satoru Iwata, future president of Nintendo, would certainly be trained. And this will be followed in 1982 by the legendary Commodore 64, considered the best-selling computer of all time and fondly remembered by thousands of players.A computer that will revolutionize the video game development scene thanks to the quality of its sound chip or its never-before-seen graphic capabilities. The system was so successful that it continued manufacturing uninterruptedly until 1994.


The memory left by Commodore 64 made him supporter of a mini device released recently.

Unfortunately, Tramiel's trajectory also had its chiaroscuro. Under his eternal mantra, he did not hesitate for a second to tear apart competing companies. Or to ruin one of your providers in order to save yourself from paying your debts. This is exactly what happened to Epyx, the famous game development studio like California Games. Its engineers had developed the prototype of the Atari Lynx laptop, which they sold to Tramiel, which at that time was head of the Atari Corporation, one of Atari's spin-offs after the crisis of 83. Through a series of very bad faith provisions in its contract, Tramiel stopped paying many bills to the once successful studio, which would close its doors in 1993.


Commodore 64 was so successful that it continued to be manufactured until 1994 The entrepreneur was effectively the leader from the mid-eighties of the computer manufacturer as Atari ST, the main competitors in the market for the Commodore Amiga, his former company that he had abandoned in 1984 after a dispute with Irving gould, its main investor. At the controls of Atari Corporation, together with his three sons, he would make the Atari ST range one of the market benchmarks, in addition to marketing the Atari 7800 and Atari Lynx consoles. His last project before disappearing from the industry was the creation of Atari Jaguar which, unfortunately, will be a resounding commercial failure.


Already retired, or not exactly, since he would never completely abandon the business world that he adored so much, Tramiel collaborated in the founding of the Holocaust museum in the United States, among other initiatives designed to remember the horrors of war. He died in 2012, leaving behind some of the most memorable systems in the history of video games and personal computing, but also the story of a true business shark whom, at the time, everyone feared.


A reading:

  • Memories of Commodore by Javier Couñago (Dolmen Editorial)
  • A book that is a delicious ode of love to the Commodore systems, in which the trajectory of the Tramiel is naturally influenced


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