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BallyAlley_r2_c1.gif BallyAlley_r2_c2.gif Astrocade Sales Meeting
March 20-21, 1981

     On March 20-21, 1981, Astrovision Inc. held a meeting for 35 distributor organization personnel. Bob Fabris, George Moses, Mike Peace, and Fred Cornett were invited to represent Bally users, as noted in the April 1981 issue of "Arcadian" (see pages 61 and 63 of newsletter here). A number of speakers discussed both sales strategy and the future plans for the system. The meeting agenda lists events all day Friday, as well as Saturday morning (see agenda here). Bob recorded many, though apparently not all, of these talks.

Astrovision Inc. Sales Meeting (Part 1 of 6)
     (Download FLAC Audio here)

Participants: Jeff Frederiksen, Ray George, George Moses.
Date: March 20, 1981.
Sound Quality: Mostly fair, a few parts of the question and answer session at the end are very difficult to understand, particularly George Moses.
Tape Label: 'Sales' Pitch for New BASIC "Bally" ARCADE +
Time: 38:54 / Size - 49.8MB.


     Jeff Frederiksen speaks. He thinks there's a big demand for fantasy games, and there are no good computer fantasy games on the market. So, they're about to release Wizard of Wor. He says Astrocade is better than Bally at marketing. A next generation system, with new custom chips, is already being designed. He compares Astrocade technology to Atari. The next generation system will be able to display 16 colors out of a palette of over two million. He expects it to be way ahead of the competition. He says Bally BASIC was made to show that the system was a real computer. One reason BASIC wasn't more successful is that it required too much investment--a system, cart, and interface. So now, they've got a new BASIC with a faster, built-in interface. And the cart is going to be packed in with the system.

     [14:45] Ray George interjects that it will now be called the Bally Arcade Plus. Jeff demonstrates loading a BASIC program. He says Bally BASIC has the advantage of simple graphics programming.

     [23:15] A question and answer session follows. Ray discusses the release schedule for the new BASIC while people near the tape recorder briefly talk amongst themselves about what features have been added or removed. Jeff discusses the speed advantages of the new version.

     [28:30] Jeff asks George Moses to make a few comments on BASIC. Jeff doesn't think voice synthesis is worth pursuing this generation. The recording ends when they take a coffee break.

Astrovision Inc. Sales Meeting (Part 2 of 6)
     (Download FLAC Audio here)

Participants: Jeff Frederiksen, Tom DeFanti, Jane Veeder.
Date: March 20, 1981.
Sound Quality: Mostly fair, but sometimes difficult to understand during the Q&A and demonstrations.
Tape Label: Unlabeled [Reverse side of "Astrovision Inc. Sales Meeting (Part 1 of 6)."
Time: 46:36 / Size - 62.5MB.


     The meeting continues with Jeff talking about the add-under. It will include a modem, parallel port, and floppy drive. He discusses the memory in the add-under. Bally is investing money in the add-under, even though it will be released by Astrovision. He talks about the size of the games industry.

     [6:30] Next, Tom DeFanti shows a high-resolution ZGRASS demo by Jane Veeder. Tom says it's important that the add-under will put out a video signal that can be recorded and televised.

     [11:15] Jane herself begins speaking. Tom and others talk over her a lot, so she's probably just on video. She shows the Montana demo.

     [19:00] Tom starts speaking again. He wants to make the machine accessible such that, for example, an accountant could write an accountant program. Parents could even write programs instead of bed-time stories.

     [22:00] Someone asks how he can convince someone that the machine with the add-under will bring money into their organization. Tom responds that by including a high level language, third parties will be able to create software much more easily. Jeff adds that graphic creation is very easy. Tom says that ultimately, it will be sold by showing it rather than talking about it. Initially, he expects the add-under to sell to people who want to move up from Bally BASIC. Then, as people see other people using it, and as more software becomes available, it will become more popular.

     [32:00] Jeff and Tom prepare another demonstration. Jeff explains that Tom has been working for months to improve ZGRASS, so it will be even better than what they're demonstrating. Tom and Jeff discuss some of the advantages of ZGRASS over BASIC.

     [43:00] Showing the color capabilities leads to a brief discussion from the audience about Color BASIC. The recording ends while they're demonstrating ZGRASS commands.

Astrovision Inc. Sales Meeting (Part 3 of 6)
     (Download FLAC Audio here)

Participants: Bill Moulds, Ray George, Bill Steinberg.
Date: March 20, 1981.
Sound Quality: Varied--fair quality when Bill Moulds and Ray George are speaking, poor quality for Bill Steinberg and some of the audience discussion.
Tape Label: Astro Mtg 3-81
Time: 26:08 / Size - 29.2MB.


     The recording begins in the middle of a speech by Bill Moulds talking about ads in trade magazines. He goes into detail about connecting buyers with distributors with the help of responses to these ads. They plan to change the packaging, with promotions for other games packed in and an actual photo of gameplay. Ray George says they have hundreds of leads they're sorting through and sending to the distributors.

     [12:00] Ray George introduces Bill Steinberg, a TV media expert. Ray admits that they can't do nationwide advertising like Mattel, but says they're going to advertise in areas where they have units.

     [13:30] Bill Steinberg says that the single most viable way of selling products today is to get on TV. He discusses some of the work his company has done on advertising for major corporations.

     [22:00] Ray says that Bill Steinberg will let them know what he needs for each market, and that he and Bill just got together three weeks ago to decide what they were going to do. In response to questions, Ray says that someone selling Astrocade products could run Astrocade's commercial with a five-second tag for themselves, and that TV advertising will qualify for their co-op program. They haven't started the commercial yet, but Tom DeFanti, who Ray George calls a great commercial producer, will be working with Bill Moulds to produce it. Someone asks if TV advertising is the best value as compared to print or radio for this type of product. Someone else interjects that there hasn't been much research on this, but Ray wants to make TV part of what's available to them. The questioner points out that Bill Steinberg has worked with Magnavox, and presumably done TV advertising for the Odyssey [2]. Bill starts to answer when this portion of the recording ends in the middle of the tape.

Astrovision Inc. Sales Meeting (Part 4 of 6)
     (Download FLAC Audio here)

Participants: Dick Ainsworth.
Date: March 20, 1981.
Sound Quality: Fair.
Tape Label: "Astro Mtg 3-81" [right after "Astrovision Inc. Sales Meeting (Part 3 of 6)" on tape].
Time:19:04 - / Size - 21.2MB.


     Dick Ainsworth discusses the various ways computers have been viewed. At first, they were just machines for business. With CP/M compatibility, ZGRASS will be able to fulfill this role. The computer is also a tool, letting the user learn math or play games, for example. Finally, the computer can be an instrument for creating, as BASIC has allowed with game programming, and ZGRASS will expand with better capabilities for creating graphics and music. Dick passes out documents for making music on the arcade/ZGRASS. He discusses plans for a plug-in piano-style keyboard for making music on ZGRASS. Dick says that he learned how to program writing the Bally BASIC manual; he'd been working at an ad agency when he got involved with Bally. The manual wasn't intended to make people into programmers, but it opens the door on what they can do with BASIC. If people get really interested, then they'll want the extra power that ZGRASS offers. Dick believes the system's power and programmability make it unique, and will create third party developers from user groups and such. Dick discusses how easy it is for him to try out an idea in ZGRASS.

     [14:30] Dick asks the audience for questions. One of the audience members points out that everyone likes to think of themselves as creative, and the machine can help people express their creativity. Dick asks for comments on the new version of the instructions and solicits program submissions to include in it. The recording cuts off suddenly near the end of the tape.

Astrovision Inc. Sales Meeting (Part 5 of 6)
     (Download FLAC Audio here)

Participants: Jeff Frederiksen, Bob [Ogden?], Ray George, Dan Dawson, Jack Nieman, Tom DeFanti.
Date: March 20, 1981.
Sound Quality: Mostly fair, but sometimes questions and comments from the audience are difficult to understand.
Tape Label: Unlabeled.
Time: 46:38 / Size - 61.8MB.


     Jeff Frederiksen talks about how long it takes to do scientific calculations on a TI-59 [a programmable calculator released in 1977]. He says he asked Tom DeFanti to add something to ZGRASS, and now he can get 13 digits a thousand times faster. Someone mentions a price of $898 including a game. Someone named Bob [Ogden?] cautions against touting BASIC as a business package, because it doesn't have enough memory. Jeff compares light pens to graphics tablets. Jeff says that Astrovision wants to encourage third party BASIC software, and doesn't plan on holding back any technical information.

     [8:00] Ray George says they'll get 2500 early ZGRASS units out to Cursor and Arcadian members and then get feedback. This will also allow an early start on third party software development.

     [11:15] Dan Dawson summarizes the ZGRASS release schedule. He says today is March 20, and by about May 15, they want to do a prototype run of 25 units and send them to heavy users. They'll have a hotline for feedback on these. They'll wait at least 60 days for the pilot run of 2500 units. Full production will begin in October or November. He says it will be the first personal computer under $1000.

     [14:15] A salesman questions how he can sell a computer. Ray talks about how much the market has grown, especially with kids being interested in computers. He says they'll give him the tools to sell it--both information and thousands of leads they've gotten after a few ads and articles. But he says first, they're going to take the time to get it right. He says he once released a product too early to get it out by Christmas, and it was the dumbest move of his life.

     [22:45] Someone expresses concern that someone going to a computer store will view ZGRASS as a videogame system rather than a computer. Ray George says they have considered this. He gives the example of Montgomery Wards, where the Arcade is still sold in the sporting goods section, but they plan to start referring people to their new computer section.

     [29:45] Ray talks about the tremendous response in 1978 to the planned keyboard release at Montgomery Wards and from Joe Sugarman's ad.

     [33:30] Ray introduces Jack Nieman, a distributor who's worked with the system for some time. Jack talks about how it's the games that will initially sell the system. People will get it to play Galaxian and Space Invaders, but when they have a large user base, many will upgrade to a computer. He also says that it could be five or even ten years before they tap the full potential of the Astrocade. Jack wants to build a classroom with thirty lesson modules. When people buy ZGRASS, they'll get a coupon for a free hour and a half lesson at his facility. They can also buy further lessons. He says this is the sort of things you need distributors for, because you won't get it from retail. Jack says that they're in a unique place in history, at the start of the computer revolution.

     [44:30] Tom DeFanti introduces himself. He says today's computers are very bad at teaching people. If you make a mistake, you're just stuck. And books don't help, because they can't tell what someone's skill level is. He plans to change this with ZGRASS. The recording ends suddenly at the end of the tape.

Astrovision Inc. Sales Meeting (Part 6 of 6)
     (Download FLAC Audio here)

Participants: Tom DeFanti, Ray George, Stan, unnamed distributor from Cleveland market, unnamed salesman.
Date: March 20, 1981.
Sound Quality: Mostly fair, but sometimes questions and comments from the audience are difficult to understand, and Stan's a little hard to make out.
Tape Label: Unlabeled [Reverse of "Astrovision Inc. Sales Meeting (Part 5 of 6)"]
Time: 46:39 / Size - 60.5MB.


     Continuing from the reverse of the tape, Tom DeFanti says that you also can't use BASIC to teach. ZGRASS will tell you when you make a mistake, so it's just like having a human there. He envisions educational programs for schools distributed on cartridge, tape, and disk. He also foresees promotions through cable TV.

     [4:00] Ray George introduces Stan, a distributor who's been working with the system since before Astrovision took over from Bally. Stan emphasizes the importance of having a keyboard. He also says software is key--he's had consumers call him asking when new games will be coming out.

     [7:30] Another distributor, working the Cleveland market, starts speaking. He says that there have been many problems with the system, but people have never asked for their money back; they always want a new one. He tells a story about how when microwave ovens were first sold, purchasers wouldn't get any sort of instructions about all the things they could do with them, so they would just use them to cook hot dogs and such. He sees the same problem with computers, and so he praises Jack Nieman's idea to offer an hour and a half of free training to anyone who buys ZGRASS. The software can take over teaching from there. He says that Bally got burned by Mattel [maker of the Intellivision] while they weren't supporting the system enough, but now Astrovision's going to bury Mattel.

     [11:30] Tom DeFanti speaks again, and discusses the uncertainly surrounding software copyrights. He points out that they're in a good position with cartridges because they cost more for an individual to reproduce than they cost to buy. He says they will have a CP/M system by which developers can send Astrovision ZGRASS software, and Astrovision can put it on ROMs to distribute. This moves into a general discussion of the necessity of copyright for the creation of new works. Someone else interjects that an advantage to CP/M compatibility for the ZGRASS system is that people will know that they can use software that already exists in other languages, not just the new ZGRASS language. Tom says Astrovision plans to do quality control on the external software. Tom discusses the advantages of the cartridge format.

     [18:15] Someone asks how they plan to promote the system. Tom says they'll start out advertising in publications like Cursor and The Arcadian, not The Wall Street Journal. The questioner suggests industrial publications. Another questioner wonders how they will give a cut to everyone involved in the software and still sell it for a reasonable price. The questioner suggests he might have to sell 24,000 carts to break even. Tom points out that some software for other systems has sold multi-millions, but the questioner says this is pie in the sky.

     [22:30] Tom says the name ZGRASS started out as Graphics Symbiosis System (as he felt he had almost a symbiotic relationship after staring at the cathode ray tube for 12-16 hours a day), with the 'Z' added after he moved to the Z80 processor.

     [24:00] Ray George praises Tom DeFanti and the other developers.

     [25:30] Someone who describes himself as a salesman starts speaking. He admits that while he and most other salesmen know how to sell software, they don't typically understand computers. He says the ZGRASS is the first computer he's been able to program, and it will really bring the power of computers to non-technical people. He says there are three key points--the Arcade is still the best videogame system, it has the ability to expand into a personal computer, and it comes with ZGRASS, a language that's very easy to learn. This will allow average people to tell the computer what they want it to do, and will also enable a large selection of software (essential to selling any computer), since the software is so easy to create. He jokes that 'Z' stands for the Z80 and GRASS stands for getting high on computers. He says to emphasize that the system now includes BASIC when trying to sell it. He also mentions features like the high quality hand controls and the built-in calculator. He says a little about how software development will proceed. Because of ZGRASS, the artists will be able to program the art directly, instead of drawing it and then relying on computer programmers. He mentions the upgraded packaging, which is supposed to ship in ten weeks. He thinks the system box already looks good to display, but they plan to improve it by replacing the picture of people with one of the system itself. They're also redoing the BASIC manual.

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