Atari's Lawrence Siegel reveals the story behind an audacious plan to rival Nintendo by launching a hockey game using the moniker "Super Mario," a nickname shared by hockey legend Mario Lemieux.

The Bold Plot to Thwart Nintendo with "Super Mario Hockey"

The world of video games is filled with fascinating tales of rivalry and innovation, and one such story comes from the heydays of Atari, a pioneer in the gaming industry. This tale features Lawrence Siegel, a veteran of the video game industry, who served as a key player during a tumultuous time for Atari as they faced off against gaming giant, Nintendo.

Lawrence Siegel's journey with Atari was marked by the release of the Atari Lynx, a handheld device that brought a new level of power to portable gaming. Despite its capabilities, the Lynx faced stiff competition from Nintendo’s Game Boy. The Game Boy’s dominance in the market was a significant challenge for anyone in the industry. As Atari struggled against Nintendo’s grip on the gaming world, Siegel sought a breakthrough that could tip the scales in Atari's favor.

In what can only be described as a brazen chess move, Sieigel hatched a plan that revolved around ice hockey legend Mario Lemieux. Known as "Super Mario" on the ice, the Canadian hockey player was at the top of his game in the National Hockey League. Drawing a connection between Lemieux's nickname and Nintendo's beloved character Mario from the Super Mario series, Siegel saw an opportunity for a clever marketing play. His aim was to launch a game titled "Super Mario Hockey," leveraging Lemieux's fame and his catchy moniker.

Siegel's objective was clear: he wanted to strike a blow to Nintendo by using its own iconic brand association against it. The idea was to exploit the overlap in the nickname to confuse or draw consumers' attention. It was an audacious idea and one that carried a significant amount of legal and financial risk. Nevertheless, Siegel was undeterred and approached Lemieux’s representatives to discuss acquiring the rights to use his nickname for an Atari game.

Siegel's enthusiasm, however, hit a brick wall when attorneys informed him that while he could produce a game featuring Mario Lemieux, he could not legally call it “Super Mario." The legalities involved in trademark laws made it clear that Nintendo's rights to the "Super Mario" name were unassailable. Disappointed, Siegel dropped the plan as the crucial element of his strategy hinged on using the specific "Super Mario" title to create buzz and potentially siphon off Nintendo's fan base.

While Atari may have abandoned the idea, Sega, another key player in the industry at the time, saw value in Lemieux’s draw. In 1991, Sega sealed a deal with the hockey star to create "Mario Lemieux Hockey" for their Genesis/Mega Drive console.

The anecdote shared by Siegel serves as a testament to the dynamic and at times, the cutthroat nature of the video game industry’s past. It stands as a classic example of how companies tried to outmaneuver one another for a slice of the lucrative gaming market. Companies operated in a space where bold ideas were the norm, and the fight for survival often led to creative, albeit risky, strategies.

The story of "Super Mario Hockey" and Atari’s attempt to turn the tide against Nintendo is a small yet notable thread in the broader tapestry of video game history. It showcases how trademarks, branding, and the power of a name can shape industry strategies and consumer experiences.

The passion and audacious moves of the past still resonate today, inspiring modern gamers and developers in an industry that continues to grow and evolve at an incredible pace. Stories such as these offer a fascinating glimpse into the challenges and dreams of video game pioneers who laid the groundwork for the billions of gamers around the world today.

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Adam Devine

Hey, it's Adam Devine here! When I'm not out and about, you can bet I'm either casting a line, hoping for the biggest catch, or lounging at home, delivering some epic fatalities in Mortal Kombat. Life's all about the thrill of the catch and the perfect combo move. Whether I'm battling fish or virtual foes, it's all in a day's fun for me. Let's get reel and play on!

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