Atari proves you can’t live on Pong alone

atari logoThe classic video game manufacturer Atari filed for bankruptcy last Monday, the 21th of January. Why should we care, you might wonder? We should care because of what Atari did for arcades and video games in the 70s and early 80s.

To pay homage to gaming history in general and Atari, in particular, we bring you some interesting, funny, and whacky facts from the history of the company.

Pong – the beginning

atari pong

Image appears courtesy of jurrble.

The video game Pong is arguably what Atari is best known for. What’s probably less well known is that Atari was planning to produce 50,000-80,000 units of Pong the first year after it was released in the 1970s. That same year, 200,000 units of Pong were ordered by Sears Sporting Goods.

Atari 2600 – the big success

atari 2600

Image appears courtesy of Ryan Somma.

The original Atari 2600, originally called VCS (Video Computer System), released in 1977, had a 1.19 MHz processor, 128 bytes of RAM, and a 160×192 pixel display capable of displaying 128 colors. Yes, that’s megahertz and bytes! It was sold for $200 which would equal about $750 today, more than twice as expensive as a Microsoft Xbox. Still, Atari sold more than 30 million units of the 2600 worldwide until 2004.

Atari, Jobs, and Wozniak

atari breakout

Image appears courtesy of Sascha Grant.

Both Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, two of the co-founders of Apple, used to work at Atari. Steve Jobs was assigned to design the game “Breakout” and secretly brought in his friend Wozniak. Image, it could have been Atari instead of Apple that was the most valuable company in the world (until recently).

At the top of the gaming world

pac man atari

Image appears courtesy of Ryan Somma.

In today’s video game market, there’s Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony, and many others. Back in 1982, Atari’s market share for video games was an astonishing 80%. That same year, Atari produced 12 million cartridges of the Pac Man video game even though only 10 million people owned an Atari console.

Falling down

truck atari

Image via Shutterstock.

Atari dumped no less than 14 truckloads of unsold cartridges in the New Mexico desert in 1983. Supposedly this was mostly copies of the video game E.T., which was a colossal failure when it came to sales. Atari had guaranteed Steven Spielberg a royalty of $25 million, but the game hardly sold at all. This failure, and a general drop in the video game market, led Atari to make a loss of $301.5 million in the second quarter of 1983. Total sales for all video games in North America that year was $2.3 billion.


atari lynx

Image appears courtesy of moparx.

When Atari released their handheld, portable video game system Lynx in 1989, it cost $199 and was 82% more expensive than the main competitor Nintendo’s GameBoy, which cost $109. The GameBoy family went on to sell about 118 million units, the Lynx sold fewer than 500,000 units in total.

Worst ever

atari jaguar

Image appears courtesy of macpengin.

Atari Jaguar ranks as number three on’s list of “The 10 worst-selling consoles of all times.” One of the comments given about the Jaguar is: “Worst game controller ever invented by man.”

Atari, Cuck E. Cheese and mpeg

chuck e.chees atari

Image via Shutterstock.

Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari, and Al Alcorn, the engineer behind Pong, went on to do completely different things after Atari. Bushnell founded Chuck E. Cheese, and Alcorn worked at Apple, in the team developing the MPEG and QuickTime formats.

Game over for Atari?

Atari never really recovered after the success of the 2600. It enjoyed some luck with the Atari 520ST and Atari 1040ST computers in the mid-80s, but were not able to convert that into long term success.

Maybe it is a little bit too early to say that it’s totally game over for a company that has been bought and sold four times already, but it seems that even Atari is out of credits by now.


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