Justin McIntosh Williams Talks About the Rise and Fall of Atari

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Justin McIntosh Williams Justin McIntosh Williams

Atari was once known as the giant of the console gaming world and was one of the fastest growing companies in American history. However, after tremendous growth in the 1970s, several problems eventually led to their demise by the mid-1980s. Here, Justin McIntosh Williams talks about what happened during that time that led to its dissolution.

“It’s all pretty interesting,” Justin McIntosh Williams said. He explained the original Atari was founded by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney in 1972. The original Atari of the 1970s was a console-type gaming system that was able to play any of the 4 existing Atari games at that time. This system would later be renamed the Atari 2600. The introductory price of $199 included a console, two joysticks, a pair of paddles, and a game cartridge, and millions of these consoles were sold. According to Wikipedia*, “the electronic game, Pong, and the Atari 2600, “helped define the electronic entertainment industry from the 1970s to the mid-1980s.” Justin Williams reports then, the company started working on creating the successor to the 2600. However, the Atari 5600 was a disappointment in that the game cartridges were incompatible with the popular 2600, and the hardware had malfunctions and other related problems.

Probably the biggest contribution to its demise and what many consider the worst game they ever released, Justin McIntosh Williams said, was the game E.T. The Extraterrestrial*. Initially, E.T. was a commercial success. Released just before Christmas in 1982, it was among the top 15 video games sold in the U.S. in December 1982 and January 1983. It wasn’t much later that word spread that the game was monotonous, and it was difficult to maneuver. This along with the saturation of newer games and gaming consoles on the market made the E.T. game a financial flop. The result was excess inventory and many customer returns which resulted in a negative demand and supply scenario. This caused retailers to continue to drop the price to get rid of the extra games. “Atari had produced about 12 million of these games,” Justin Williams explained, “even though there were only about 10 million consoles in existence that could play them.” Many claim that Atari hid this failure by dumping over 700,000 leftover games in a landfill* in New Mexico.

As a result, in 1983, the digital gaming industry experienced a recession, and many companies closed. After that, the company changed hands a number of times, split up, and some portions of the company merged back together, ending up as Atari Games, Inc., Justin McIntosh Williams said.

Later, in 2014, Microsoft helped produce a documentary about Atari called Game Over* in which they revealed Atari obtained the rights to E.T. at the last minute, giving their developer just 5-1/2 weeks to complete the video game for the mass markets. However, because the developer’s contract specified that he was to get paid on quantity produced instead of quality, there was more incentive to get it out quickly rather than get it right. “It was pretty much all downhill at that point,” Justin McIntosh Williams said.

Wikipedia* – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atari
E.T. The Extraterrestrial* – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E.T._the_Extra-Terrestrial_(video_game)
dumping over 700,000 leftover games in a landfill* – https://hothardware.com/news/et-atari-landfill-documentary-is-now-available-for-free-on-xbox
Game Over* – https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3715406/