The Feeding Frenzy Begins
After they release Tank under the Kee label in 1974, Atari produces another game the next year, again under a pseudonymous company name, called Shark Jaws. The first game featuring animated characters, its electronic guts is converted Tank hardware. It is also manufacturer Horror Games’ first and last outing, a company created by Atari to avoid any possible legal hassles over the game from the producers of its obvious inspiration: Universal Studio’s 1975 smash-hit movie Jaws. Even flyers sent out to prospective buyers prod them to “cash in on the popularity, interest and profits associated with sharks”. What’s a few maimed swimmers between profit margins, right? The ability to eliminate any affiliation between the two isn’t helped by the fact that the cabinet artwork features the word shark in tiny letters with JAWS looming large next to it. In the game, the player controls a SCUBA diver trying to spear a small fish swimming around the screen. On his tail is a bigger fish to fry, a shark intent on finishing him off. Bushnell and Atari swim through the bloodied waters of copyright infringement unscathed: Universal doesn’t bite.
Shark Jaws is one of a few arcade games riding the wake of Spielberg’s fishy fiend, including Shark by U.S. Billiards, Maneater by PSE, Blue Shark by Midway, and Shark Attack by Pacific Novelty. Games by Apollo, a producer of video games for Atari’s later home game machine the VCS, comes under the steely gaze of Universal Pictures’ lawyers in 1982. The cartridge maker is persuaded to change the name of one of their products, Lochjaw. Company president Pat Roper isn’t happy about the forced change, insisting that the original title does not infringe on Universal’s Jaws properties, but feels it is just easier to avoid litigation and rename the game to Shark Attack. Pacific Novelty fails to protest the new name, apparently not attracted by such chum.
Sources (Click to view; inert links are kept for historical purposes)
The Arcade Flyer Archive
Gamearchive – www.gamearchive.com
Electronic Games, “Electronic Games Hotline: New Name for Fishy Game”, pg. 9, Nov 1982. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection.
The Bronze Age Arcade Game Archive – List by Year – surfin.spies.com/arcade/bronzeage/ListByYear
I.C. When – 1975 – www.icwhen.com/the70s/1975.html