Back in the day when gaming was young – the Atari rose to its place in old school pop culture as one of the forerunners of our modern gaming equipment and gave rise to the pre-NES gaming culture that evolved into what we have today.
For those getting into gaming in the early 80’s – they will recognize the woodgrained Atari 2600. Released in 1977 by Atari, Inc – this console popularized the use of micro-processor based hardware and ROM cartridges that held the game code, a break away from previous machines that that had dedicated hardware allowing only games physically built into the systems to be played.
Originally priced at $199 upon released ($777 adjusted for inflation) – the initial console, the Atari VCS, was shipped with two joysticks and the Combat cartridge. In its release year of 1977, 250,00 Atari VCS units were sold. After the first year of production in Sunnyvale, California the company chose to move production overseas to Hong Kong – where they started being produced with lighter, thinner molding on the exterior of the systems. In their second year of production, 800,000 units were made, however, only 550,00 of them were sold. The financial strain of this overproduction caused the standing partners in Atari to split and the company being handed over to Warren Robinette – who went on to create the first graphical adventure game titled Adventure.
Adventure changed the fundamental elements of gaming in a big way. Once a game of this nature gained popularity – and it was realized there was more to gaming than Pong – the VCS unit launched into popularity. By 1979, the VCS was the highest selling Christmas gift due to exclusive content with one million units sold that year.
Then came Space Invaders. Licensed from Taito and released in 1980, it doubled the sales of Atari units to over 2 million systems. Sales them doubled again in the next two years – by 1982 Atari was moving 10 million units and the best selling game of Pac-Man was riding high at 7 million copies. By 1982 the Atari 2600 cost $40 to produces and sold for around $125 in retail markets.
The 80’s quickly brought about many changes for Atari. In 1980 some exterior revisions were made to the console itself to move some switches to the rear of the console, leaving 4 on the front for easy access. In 1982 an all black version nicknamed “Darth Vader” was released without the iconic woodgrain pattern. Those consoles were the first to be officially called the Atari 2600 model, as the Atari 5200 was released the same year. In 1983 a Japanses exclusive model, the Atari 2800, was released but suffered due to the recent release of the Nintendo Famicom.
Then it all fell apart in the Videogame Crash, more aptly called the Atari Shock in Japan, which occurred from 1983 to 1985. A massive recession in the video game industry caused by a flooded market, competition from home computers, inflation, and loss of publishing control. By mid 1984, about the same time I showed up, most software development for the Atari by its home companies Atari and Activision had stopped with third party designers entering the fray.
In 1986 the Atari was remodeled into the Atari 2600 Jr, which after getting my start on an old woodgrained Atari, is the console I remember most before getting my NES system. This system was redesigned to feature a smaller cost reduced form with a modernized Atari 7800 like appearance. It was advertised as a budget gaming system under a $50 price point with the ability to run a large portion of the classic games. This system was produced in North America and Europe until 1991, with Asia running it several more years until the early 1990’s – with its final Atari-licensed release being KLAX in 1990.
Do you remember getting into gaming with an Atari? Tell us about it below!