What was Atari Program Exchange?

Atari Program Exchange (APX) was -- and remains -- a rare software distribution model, in which Atari would encourage end users to create software for their 8-bit computers, then would sell the software through a catalog, and pay royalties to the programmers. APX was operational as part of Atari from 1982 through 1984. For several years thereafter, Antic Magazine sold APX titles under the APX Classics label.

APX programs were of high-quality, useful, and imaginative. The APX catalog included many memorable games, including GetAway!, Galahad and the Holy Grail, and Eastern Front: 1941. (Some titles, like Eastern Front, were so good that they were released at official Atari titles.) APX wasn't just about games, though. The catalog featured a wide variety of applications, utilities, programmers' tools, and software for kids. Some were definitely niche market programs -- like Fingerspelling (which taught simple sign language,) Personal Fitness Program (exercise along with your Atari,) and Circuit Lab (build and test DC electrical circuits.)

APX inspired average users get their applications out to their fellow Atari users. You didn't have to be a professional programmer, and your program didn't need to be mainstream enough to sell a million copies. Anyone who could write a useful program that met APX's quality standards could be a published -- and paid -- programmer.

Of course, back in those days, the line between computer user and programmer was a lot thinner. Most Atari users cut their teeth on BASIC the way people learn HTML today. But APX helped build the sense of community that made owning an Atari so special. And APX's quarterly prizes for the best programs -- usually $1000 to $3000, and twice $25,000 -- which were awarded in addition to royalties, certainly didn't hurt the spirit of community software development that APX hoped to foster.

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