E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Was the Most Important Video Game Ever Made

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Was the Most Important Video Game Ever Made

Once upon a time, a game so awful was created that it simultaneously destroyed - and saved - the entirety of the video game industry.

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Anyone else ever actually play Atari 2600 games? There were maybe, maybe, a couple dozen decent titles, and mountains of full-priced shovelware.

Can anyone name a period video game magazine that had journalistic integrity, enough of it to call Atari out on their BS before the fall? I doubt it.

(Sorry minor derail).

I played Atari 2600 games, but never bought any, as I was in elementary school then, so whether something was worth the price wouldn't have mattered to me as I played whatever my parents bought.

Including E.T. but the absolute frustration of the game didn't kick in for me cause I played the "teddy bear" level (I wasn't old enough yet to appreciate challenge)

One interesting aspect is a LOT of the popular games for the 2600 were arcade ports. Some were dreadful (Pac-Man) some were great (Ms Pac Man). But there really isn't a huge nostalgia factor to play them because now the actual arcade versions are just as readily available without having to get your mom to drive you to the mall and give you quarters, so there's little reason to play 2600 Ms Pac when you can just play arcade Ms Pac on an emulator or any of the billion modern systems that it got a 100% arcade accurate port to.

Wiggum Esquilax:
Anyone else ever actually play Atari 2600 games? There were maybe, maybe, a couple dozen decent titles, and mountains of full-priced shovelware."

That's a bit unfair. Yes, crap like "Word Zapper" and "Chase the Chuckwagon" certainly did the 2600's library no favors. At the same time, it was truly amazing what good developers were able to pull out of very primitive hardware. The system was designed in 1976 with Pong and Tank in mind; the fact that it could do a decent version of Ms. Pac-Man or Stargate, or originals such as Pitfall II and Solaris is pretty astounding.

Activision, Imagic, Starpath, Parker Bros. and even Atari made many excellent games for the system. Sure, most don't hold up today, but not a whole lot of games from the late 70s/early 80s do. They seem archaic, because they are. But context is important here.

Wiggum Esquilax:
Can anyone name a period video game magazine that had journalistic integrity, enough of it to call Atari out on their BS before the fall? I doubt it.

"Games journalism" as we understand it simply didn't exist back then. All of the magazines I remember from the early 80s (and there weren't a lot) were essentially enthusiast press for a very small market.

It's easy to point fingers with 30 years of hindsight. The industry was very young, and information wasn't nearly as easy to come by as it is now. By the time it was obvious Warner had gotten way too bullish for what the market could withstand, it was too late to warn anyone.

Atari did not singlehandedly cause the market to collapse. They were certainly a factor, but you also had dozens of companies that had no business making games flooding the market with inferior product. More importantly, kids who cut their teeth on the 2600 were also the first to move to the burgeoning home computer scene and their superior games.

I know this argument is becoming a cliche at this point. Games did not collapse everywhere. The spectrum and C64 were hugely successful with games selling big and every large(ish) town having a computer games shop. Atari came back with the hugely successful ST. The ST was overshadowed by the much more powerful amiga but it is worth remembering that even the ST was vastly more powerful than anything made by apple or ibm untl the 386 cpu (the 1985 amiga was not really bettered as a home computer until the 486 and windows 3.1)

Wiggum Esquilax:
Anyone else ever actually play Atari 2600 games? There were maybe, maybe, a couple dozen decent titles, and mountains of full-priced shovelware.

Can anyone name a period video game magazine that had journalistic integrity, enough of it to call Atari out on their BS before the fall? I doubt it.

(Sorry minor derail).

As far as I know, video game magazines didn't exist at that time.

Wiggum Esquilax:
Anyone else ever actually play Atari 2600 games? There were maybe, maybe, a couple dozen decent titles, and mountains of full-priced shovelware.

Well, I think Lizzy's article speaks directly to this with the quote from Nintendo, because that's exactly what happened. People flooded the market with shovelware and E.T. was the biggest piece of shovelware in the history of video games. I think it's entirely plausible that it was the straw that broke the camels back, but even if not it's still the poster child for the entire collapse.

Wiggum Esquilax:
Anyone else ever actually play Atari 2600 games? There were maybe, maybe, a couple dozen decent titles, and mountains of full-priced shovelware.

Can anyone name a period video game magazine that had journalistic integrity, enough of it to call Atari out on their BS before the fall? I doubt it.

(Sorry minor derail).

I don't think I can agree with you. The 2600's library had plenty of fair to great titles, especially when compared to their competition at that time. I write this acknowledging the limitations of the machine though. What we'd look at now and consider to be complete crap was novel and fun back then. I still sit down on occasion and fire up Air-Sea Battle, Combat, Yar's Revenge, Defender, Stargate (Defender 2), Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom, and the very best party game of the era, Warlords.

I own a pretty extensive (although by no means exhaustive) collection of 2600 games and only a few of them I would consider shovelware for that time. That's not to say there wasn't shovelware on the system, E.T. and that god-awful port of Pac-Man are proof of that, but the 2600 was leagues ahead of their competitors in this department.

As for the games journalism, it just didn't really exist. Video games were considered nothing but toys and were reported on as such. As I recall, there was a trade magazine called Play Meter but that was dedicated to coin-op machines of all kinds and I don't recall if it dealt with home machines at all. There was a weekly column in some other magazines like Shonen Jump. There might have been a few in Japan that covered home consoles like the Famicon. EGM wasn't founded till like, 1989 or 1990 and the only similar publication I can remember was Computer Gaming World. There was also a syndicated article in papers called The Vid Kid. I can't recall if any of these outlets were lamenting shovelware though; they mostly just talked about what was out or coming down the pipe. It's been like, 30 years so excuse me if I'm factually screwing anything up here.

LutjaSuki:
I know this argument is becoming a cliche at this point. Games did not collapse everywhere. The spectrum and C64 were hugely successful with games selling big and every large(ish) town having a computer games shop. Atari came back with the hugely successful ST. The ST was overshadowed by the much more powerful amiga but it is worth remembering that even the ST was vastly more powerful than anything made by apple or ibm untl the 386 cpu (the 1985 amiga was not really bettered as a home computer until the 486 and windows 3.1)

I had an Amiga 600, it was about equivalent to my friend's school-provided 386 20mhz laptop, outshining it on some, but not all, games.

It should be noted that the Amiga 500/600 had 7mhz CPUs, they did however have integrated graphics and sound cards. Graphics cards were essentially unheard of on the PC at the time.

Lizzy Finnegan:
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Was the Most Important Video Game Ever Made

Once upon a time, a game so awful was created that it simultaneously destroyed - and saved - the entirety of the video game industry.

Read Full Article

Lizzy, honestly I don't understand what kind of research you did with this article. It's like you took every already disproven myth in passing and dumped it into this. Fist, unlike what the URL states, it was a New Mexico landfill not Arizona (and I'm aware the article itself states New Mexico, but you might want to get that fixed). Second it wasn't an "ET burial." ET just happened to be part of the mix of games buried there, and even then it wasn't even a disposal of bad games. Alamogordo was a burial of games returned as part of Atari's stock exchange credit program with retailers. There were 750,000 games in this lot comprised of over 60 titles across two platforms (2600 and 5200). ET was just a very small portion of the 750,000. Here's my public interview with the man that buried the product there for Atari, done several months ago:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6A-aE5bAKkw

Likewise, ET had zip to do with the crash or problems at Atari, it was just a symptom not the problem (hint: even the Game Over documentary discusses this with the people directly interviewed saying the same thing). The problems at Atari had already been in play before ET was even started. Likewise, Atari's projected increase in sales were not in any way based on ET, it was based on the false projection for all their titles that year. They forced retailers to order for most of the year at once because of the shortages the previous year, and then reported the sell in numbers instead of sell through (the former is the number sold to retailers, the latter the number actually sold to consumers) to pump up sales figures. ET was barely out a week when the Dec. 7th, 1982 earnings report was released, it had zero impact on it and wasn't even part of any of the quarters being reported on. That earnings report then resulted in a tech stock crash across the rest of December '82, which is the actual start of the crash, as all the rest of the big consumer video game companies were also hit disastrously, resulting in layoffs in the beginning of 1983. Most of those competitor companies were gone from the industry within the year (such as Mattel Electronics). Compounded with an explosion of new smaller companies that started in summer '82, by '83 you had an even more crowded market, made even worse by the mishmash of quality of a lot of it. That's what made the industry and market problems continue to worsen in '83. Key word being continue.

Here's a summary on the "crash" (it was a North American industry crash which then culminated in a market crash at the end. Industry and market are two different things):

Regarding a little more of the background of what was going on at Atari during the time, Atari's actual internal implosion began during spring of '82. They were hit one after the other on two main fronts, Coin and Consumer. Most people don't realize there wasn't one main crash at the time but separate industries that had crashes in them (just as there was no actual "video game" industry then, but rather separate industries (coin, consumer, computer) that had video games in them). Coin itself had been going though it's own industry shakeout starting in early '82 as the explosion of new operators at non-traditional locations started tailing off and then shrinking dramatically. The actual customers in the coin industry are the people that buy the machines, the distributors and operators (operators being the people who put the machine on location and rent out time to the players, who are in turn their customers). Starting in '79 (thanks to Space Invaders and the succeeding golden age titles of that period), there had been an explosion in demand for video coin-ops by non-traditional operators such as gas stations, doctor offices, department stores, etc. (Traditional being bars, bowling alleys and arcades). Many of these first time buyers and renters (from distributors) discovered what more traditional operators already knew: while there was a lot of money to be made initially, these coins had a limited shelf life and they were stuck either trying to sell the one they had to get the next big game or if rented from a distributor stuck with continually having to lease a new game. So by early '82 they started leaving the market in droves, which started to hit the Coin industry hard. The shakeout lasted through '83 and a lot of companies in that industry either folded or merged with others. By the end of the year the Coin industry was stable but smaller.

Consumer was another matter. Since 1980, Atari's Consumer Division was the golden child of the company as far as Warner was concerned, and Warner did everything in it's power to bolster that division and in turn bolster it's own earnings and stock. Unfortunately it lead to some bad practices like a dual management (where Warner management would often supersede Atari's own management and their decisions) and a lack of any good logistics practices. In fact Warner's other divisions (such as Warner's Music group) had been warning that Warner needed to have Atari adopt the same manufacturing and tracking practices as the music industry. It fell on deaf ears because Warner Communications couldn't see their cash cow declining, and their position on the matter was only solidified even more in 1981 when a shortage of 2600 cartridges for retailers occurred. In fact they were so in demand that retailers were stealing extra boxes from Atari's distribution warehouses when picking up stock, and even organized crime was hijacking shipments. You see, the Consumer industry had also gone through a tremendous amount of growth since the late 70s similar to Coin, expanding beyond the traditional toy stores and toy departments of major retailers into anyone that carried consumer electronics of any type. So towards the end of '81 Atari (under continued pressure from Warner to meet their exceptional growth standards) used the issues from 1981 to pressure retailers to place their orders for the entire year of '82 at once. And to compound the issue, Atari used their sell in numbers to report their quarterly earnings and overall projected earnings for the year. ("Sell In: is the numbers of units shipped to retail. "Sell through" is the total number of units sold to a consumer.)
Alarm bells continued to be rung at Warner's other divisions and even their financial partners that things were not sustainable to this magnitude. But it continued to fall on deaf ears until it was too late and they already had a major problem to deal with. By the end the beginning of the summer of' 82 Atari management became aware that their distribution warehouses around the country were packed to the brim with stock that wasn't moving. It was further compounded with retailers canceling orders or starting look to do returns for credit (a common practice in the retail industry were product is either taken back for credit or subsidized for markdown). Warner management became aware of it not long after, and the response from both companies was to try and keep it hidden and play games by changing report dates and extending their 4th quarter. The matter was made even worse as more competing companies entered the market that year to further dilute the market and of course there was the recession. Gordon Crawford from Capitol Group (major investors in both Warner and Atari and responsible for helping bring the two together) mentioned at the time "At the January (1982) Consumer Electronics Show, there were three or four new video hardware systems and about 50 new software systems - all the warning lights went on for me. Then, at the June CES show, it was worse! There were about 200 new software systems. This was a business that the year before it had essentially been a monopoly, and now there were hundreds of new entrants. By this time, Warner was almost a game stock."
Then Warner and Atari couldn't hide what was a happening any longer, and on December 7th (kind of ironic) announced their earnings had been lower than projected. Atari was 80% of the Consumer industry at that time, and when something that large announces earnings problems (especially when analysts had been predicting this was all a bubble ready to burst) you're going to hurt everyone, and shockwaves immediately went through the rest of the Consumer industry. The entire month of December was a downward moving roller coast for those that were publicly traded. By January '83 the layoffs began and throughout the rest of the year companies that had just opened the year before started shuttering. By the end of the year, even larger companies like Mattel announced they were exiting video games.In late '83 through early '84 Warner fended off a hostile takeover from Murdoch, and started looking to divest itself of companies that were making it weak. Atari was at the top of the list. Nobody would take the company, so they began looking to junk it and sell off parts. Warner head Steve Ross cold called Jack Trramiel about taking Atari's Consumer Division assets, and the two struck a deal in early July '84. Jack took the assets and folded them into his TTL company, which he in turn renamed to Atari Corporation. The remaining portion of Atari Inc. (the Coin Division, Ataritel, and several other divisions) was immediately renamed Atari Game Corp. and paired down over the rest of the year to just the profitable part, Coin (since as mentioned that had stabilized and was in an upturn) which had majority ownership sold to NAMCO.

Anyways, this Consumer issue is of course what people usually refer to when they talk about "the crash," though keep in mind it was really a North American phenomenon. Japan had it's own industry (largely driven by Nintendo and Sega at that time) and Europe was mostly a computer driven market (Sinclair Spectrum series, BBC, Commodore...). Additionally, myths continue to remain about the state of the market during '84 and '85.

Cerebrawl:

LutjaSuki:
I know this argument is becoming a cliche at this point. Games did not collapse everywhere. The spectrum and C64 were hugely successful with games selling big and every large(ish) town having a computer games shop. Atari came back with the hugely successful ST. The ST was overshadowed by the much more powerful amiga but it is worth remembering that even the ST was vastly more powerful than anything made by apple or ibm untl the 386 cpu (the 1985 amiga was not really bettered as a home computer until the 486 and windows 3.1)

I had an Amiga 600, it was about equivalent to my friend's school-provided 386 20mhz laptop, outshining it on some, but not all, games.

It should be noted that the Amiga 500/600 had 7mhz CPUs, they did however have integrated graphics and sound cards. Graphics cards were essentially unheard of on the PC at the time.

No, graphic cards exist for as long as there exist IBM compatible PCs. Mainboards didn't include onboard graphics in the early days. Early you had the progression from CGA and hercules, to EGA, then VGA, etc and the old PC games always included the type of gfx card in the system requirements.

The one area where the old OCS amiga really shone was sound.

A typical game requiring a 286 with 256 color MCGA graphics would look better than a typical low rez, 32 color amiga game, though a platformer or schmup on the amiga might have more parallax scrolling and stuff like copper banding happening on screen, but what really helped the amiga was 4 channel digital audio, instead of wonky OPL3 or midi music and some very low quality digitized soundfx from a soundblaster card.

MartyGoldberg:
Snip

Thanks for posting this, it was a far more interesting read than the clickbait, zero research article that the Finnegan posted.

OT: I don't think ET was really that bad of a game. It wasn't good by any means, but it was mostly functional and entertaining enough for the half an hour it takes to beat it for the first time. I'd certainly rather play it than the nonsensical Raiders of the Lost Ark game that was touted in the article. At least ET tells you when you are standing on the correct pixel to do an obscure action, and it even gives you a hint at what will happen. Also, ET was as good as, if not better, than many games that feature the so called "Nintendo seal of quality."

 

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