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  • Writer's picturevolkankutlubay

The Atari E.T. Game Story



The Atari ET game, often referred to as "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," holds a unique place in the history of video games. Released in 1982 for the Atari 2600, it became notorious as one of the biggest commercial failures and contributed to the North American video game industry crash of 1983. Here's an overview of the history of the Atari ET game:


Development and Expectations: The Atari ET game was based on the popular science fiction film "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" directed by Steven Spielberg. Atari secured the rights to develop a game based on the movie, but due to time constraints, the development timeline was incredibly short.


Atari assigned Howard Scott Warshaw, a talented game designer who had previously worked on the successful Atari 2600 game "Yar's Revenge," to develop the ET game. The company had high expectations for the game and anticipated it would be a major hit during the lucrative holiday season.


Rushed Development and Quality Issues: Given the tight development schedule, Warshaw had just five weeks to design and program the ET game. The short timeframe and ambitious goals resulted in a game that did not meet the expected quality standards.




The game featured a complex gameplay concept where players controlled E.T., guiding him through various screens to find and assemble a phone to call his spaceship. However, the gameplay mechanics were confusing and lacked clear objectives. The graphics and audio were also criticized for their subpar quality.

Commercial Failure and Aftermath: Despite significant marketing efforts and high expectations, the Atari ET game was met with overwhelmingly negative reviews upon its release in December 1982. The game failed to resonate with players, and many found it frustrating and difficult to understand.


Due to the game's poor reception, Atari was left with a massive surplus of unsold ET game cartridges. It is rumored that millions of unsold copies were buried in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico, leading to the urban legend of the "Atari video game burial."


The failure of the Atari ET game, combined with other market factors such as oversaturation and a decline in game quality, contributed to the industry-wide crash in 1983. This event led to a significant downturn in the video game market, causing financial losses and the closure of several game development companies.

Legacy and Historical Significance: The Atari ET game's commercial failure has cemented its place in gaming history as a cautionary tale. It is often cited as an example of the dangers of rushed development, poor quality control, and the negative impact of licensed games.


The game's legacy has extended beyond its initial release. The urban legend surrounding the buried cartridges in Alamogordo gained attention in the gaming community, leading to excavation efforts in 2014. It was confirmed that a landfill contained a large number of unsold Atari cartridges, including copies of the ET game.


In recent years, the Atari ET game has become a symbol of video game nostalgia and has gained a cult following among collectors and enthusiasts. Despite its critical failure and negative impact on Atari, the game remains a significant part of gaming history, reminding developers of the importance of quality and thoughtful game design.

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