Atari founded on June 27th, 1972 by Nolan Bushnell.
The Atari Video Computer System (VCS) was introduced to the American public in 1977 and was a phenomenal success for Atari and it's parent company Warner Communications. What this innovative product did was to spawn a new hobby for young and old alike. This cartridge-based video game system could be hooked up to any standard television (either color or monochrome) and was easy enough for kids to play and use. Atari even produced the system for Sears as the 'Telegame Video Arcade.' In 1982, the income generated by the VCS and related products generated two-thirds of Warner's profits! The popularity of this game system shouldn't be under-estimated. The VCS was so wildly embraced by families everywhere that many referred to it as the 'third television network' by many of that time beating out last-place NBC of the three major television networks (CBS, ABC, and NBC) with the number of eyes glued to the television. It remained the game system to own for many years and is still sought out by gamers and collectors alike. While this system was released to a market that knew Atari's previous successful products, the VCS introduced this new hobby called video gaming to a huge new segment of that had never experienced it before! The VCS (developed by Atari's founder Nolan Bushnell-the father of video game industry) laid the foundation for video gaming that Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft enjoy now.
While Atari wasn't the only game in town, it was the Microsoft of the video game industry! And all those VCS 2600 consoles and video game cartridges people were buying dramatically changed the entertainment and leisure purchasing. Instead of the standard staple of toys, kids wanted (and parents bought) the 'Atari' and all those neat VCS game cartridges. Atari and video games became synonymous. People would refer to playing video games as "playing Atari." Toy and board-game makers were feeling the pressure of this new hobby brought on by the Atari Video Computer System. They also saw the hugh profits that the VCS was generating and began tapping into the market by either producing for the Atari VCS or trying to compete with it.
Even in the face of more advanced systems such as the 16-bit Mattel Intellivision, the VCS remained popular with the consumer. The Atari VCS became known as the 2600 as Atari introduced a more advanced system called the 5200 Super System to compete with the Intellivision and later with ColecoVision. Even Atari recognized the popularity of its 2600 VCS and produced a device to allow users to play the 2600 VCS games on their newly released 5200 Super System. Coleco produced a 2600 clone (called the Gemini) and a adapter (Expansion Module #1) for their ColecoVision video game system /Adam computer system. Even Mattel produced an 2600 adapter for their IntelliVision system called the 'System Changer.' With the wildly successful market, it spawned a software industry dedicated to the 2600 VCS. Even Atari's competitors produced game cartridges for the Atari 2600 VCS! With the video arcade titles translations to the 2600, the hot market got even hotter. Atari brought the arcade hits home with titles such as Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Asteroids, Missile Command and many others. Pac-Man generated so much interest in Atari systems (including the 5200 and Atari computers) that systems literally flew off retailers shelves. (Anybody trying to buy a Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation3, or Microsoft XBox 360 last Christmas can relate to the situation with people trying to buy Atari systems during Christmas season of '80, '81, and '82.) Coleco, Intellivision, Parker Bros. etc. brought even more arcade hits to the 2600 with such titles as Donkey Kong, BurgerTime, Q*bert, Frogger, etc. Third party games such as Activison's Pitfall, proved that original titles could be run-away successes, too. There were even tie-ins to movies such as Star Wars, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, and others. Some these titles were tremendous failures - E. T. was one. And as the the game market was red hot, software developers were pumping out titles faster than the market could absorb them. Atari and others were guilty of over-production -- in some cases there were more cartridges produced than there were machines to play them! Atari was the undisputed leader of the video game market largely due to the success of the Atari 2600 VCS. Nobody could beat Atari - not Intellivision, not ColecoVision. With the crash of the video game market in 1984, the Atari 2600 Video Computer System had more game titles to its credit than all other systems combined.
The crash of the video game market had red ink was gushing from all the video game system hardware manufacturers and software developers. Mattel bailed out of the video game market completely with the sale of its Mattel Electronics Division to employees. Coleco was headed for bankruptcy after a disastrous flirtation with home computers with a system called the ADAM. Most of the third party suppliers and software developers eventually went out of business. Even Atari was not immune to the crash and was totally unprepared to take measures . Faced with out-of-control expenses, Warner Communications sold its Atari Computer/Video Game Division to Jack Tramiel (who had just left Commodore Business Machines - fresh from launching the wildly successful Commodore 64 home computer). His main concern was making Atari profitable by focusing on computers where he had knowledge of the market - coming straight from the success of the Commodore 64. Even with a warehouse full of the new advanced Atari 7800 Pro System (completely compatible with the 2600VCS, by the way) and Atari 2600 Jr. (a small new VCS based on 5200 styling), Mr. Tramiel ignored the video game market. By the fall of '86, there were no Atari systems to be found at most retailers. This void in the market opened up an opportunity for Nintendo to dominate the video game market for a very long, long time. The Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Master System were battling for dominance in the marketplace by the time Atari finally released the 7800. While the 7800 was a product that capable of competing with the market leaders, there were virtually no new titles in its corner to bring new consumers to the 7800 Pro System. Most gamers saw Atari 7800's software for what it was - just a rehash of yesterday's titles. And in '87-'88, the Atari 2600 Jr. was seen as technologically inferior compared with the existing systems of the day. Both systems languished in the marketplace, especially with Atari's lukewarm support of their video game systems. With the final 2600 unit from Atari assembly lines, they were estimates that they were nearly 30 million Atari 2600 VCS over its lifespan.
So what is the lasting legacy of the Atari 2600 VCS? I think that it turned the American public on to a new hobby called 'video games' and indirectly to home computers. Atari changed the way people thought of their TV sets - television could be interactive, not just a passive entertainment device. The 2600 VCS provided a multiple-gaming platform that the gamer could just go out and purchase a new cartridge when they grew tied of the existing game -- unlike most system that predate the VCS that were dedicated to a specific game and could not be changed. The 2600 provided a standardized platform where third party hardware and software could develop products. The VCS controllers are still an industry standard. And yes, the 2600 games were fun to play then and they're still fun now - even after all these years!
On June 7, 2001, Infogrames (a French video game publisher) began using the 'ATARI' name for their products and operations in the USA and Canada after becoming the major stockholder of Atari, Inc. This comes as the result of the purchase of Hasbro Interactive, the digital publisher arm of Hasbro, who purchased ATARI from JTS. It was on March 13, 1998 that JTS Corporation sold Atari (and all of Atari's intellectual property) to Hasbro Interactive, Inc. for a sum of five million dollars. Atari had merged with JTS (a leading disc drive manufacturer) in July of 1996 and sold off most of Atari's remaining inventory (consisting of the Jaguar 64-Bit game system). Hasbro re-release of many Atari titles for current computer and game systems such as the classic super-hits of Asteroids, Centipede, and Battlezone. While under Hasbro's ownership, the ATARI Jaguar software encryption codes were released as 'open source' making the Jaguar development accessible to the ATARI enthusiast community. In 2008, Infogrames changed the name of their operations from 'Infogrames' to 'ATARI' with the acquisition of the remaining stock of Atari Inc., making it a private company wholly owned by Infogrames.
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