Posted on Tuesday, July 29th, 2014 by Russ Fischer
In 1983 Atari dumped a ton of unsold E.T. video game cartridges in a New Mexico landfill. That’s s documented fact, but one that is strange enough that it took on the allure of urban legend. Last year a company excavated that landfill as part of a documentary on the fall of Atari and the early ’80s video game industry. The results have been seen in photos, but now you can see video, thanks to the Atari: Game Over trailer. Watch below.
Atari was a pioneering video game company, and the first truly dominant company in the home gaming market thanks to the Atari 2600 console. But by the end of 1982 Atari was fractured into uncooperative divisions, and had failed to follow up the hardware success of its first major console even as clones and competitors arrived on shelves. Third-party games, many of which were sub-par titles, flooded the market.
Making things worse was Atari’s own ability to churn out undercooked games, such as the officially licensed Pac-Man home conversion, and most notoriously the licensed E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial game. E.T. was given a scant five weeks of development. Shallowly conceived and over-produced, the title could never hope to sell through its inventory. The game didn’t single-handedly kill Atari or the industry, but it was the focal point for many problems, and the poster child for the video game industry crash of 1983.
Atari buried thousands of unsold copies of E.T. in a New Mexico landfill, and a few months ago a group dug up that site as part of a documentary on the company’s history. This is the trailer.
Some of this trailer is hopelessly mired in hyperbole. Try to process statements like “The dreams of a generation buried underneath the garbage… you can hear it screaming or something” and “it’s like opening the Ark of the Covenant.”
But there’s a good story here, about the rise of Atari, and the hubris of the first stage of the video game industry. Hopefully there will be some understanding about how the company’s disorganization and seeming dominance contributed to its fall.
Atari: Game Over premieres on Xbox Live this fall. Trailer via Xbox.