Is it True?
This is one of the most long-standing urban myths within the video game medium and had been debated amongst gamers for years. It was first reported in September of 1983 when, for some strange reason, between 10 and 20 semi-trailer trucks were seen driving out from Atari Inc. towards the New Mexico desert.
People have been arguing and speculating over what could have happened ever since – most claiming that the incredibly poor sales of their latest game, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, combined with the video game crash of 1983 forced Atari Inc. to cut their losses after a disastrous fiscal year.
Incredibly we now know that this story is in fact true – at least partially. In late 2013/early 2014 a team of diggers, funded by Fuel Industries & Microsoft, dug in a number of areas of the desert surrounding Alamogordo, New Mexico. What they found was effectively a landfill of crushed and bagged Atari video games, including thousands of copies of E.T.
So Why Did it Happen?
Ok, so this is where the story gets it bit hazy. These are the facts. In the early part of the 1980’s Atari released a video game tie-in to Steven Spielberg’s hit movie E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. The game was universally panned by critics and users as borderline unplayable. Even now it still regularly tops polls of the worst video games of all time alongside Superman 64 and Custer’s Revenge. Atari were struggling to sell their initial supply of E.T. games due to this – they had planned for massive interest as video game tie-ins were really starting to take off. Unfortunately, as well as an incredibly poor game, there were more wide-reaching circumstances unfolding.
Interest in Atari video games was starting to wane. Some of this was down to incredibly poor planning from the company. So get this – by 1981 Atari had sold 10 million 2600 consoles. They predicted sales of their new Pac-Man game would be strong so they commissioned the production of 12 million game cartridges…..yeah, those maths totally make sense! Atari’s success had always been in porting coin-op arcade games onto their console. It was a tried and tested method of incorporating successful games into the home video game market. What Atari had never really attempted before was building a video game from the ground up. As such they had no real concept of the time it would take to achieve such a feat. The company gave E.T. creator, Howard Scott Warshaw, 6 weeks to get the game ready for production. He actually did a pretty good job considering the time he was given! This game was doomed from the start.
There were other games not performing as expected – many sequels were being released that were almost carbon-copies of the original. People just weren’t buying anymore and it was believed that the fate of the video game as a whole was sealed. All of this fueled the theory that Atari had cut their losses with all unsold games (including a massive 3.5 million unsold E.T. games) and done the most environmentally-friendly thing possible – dug a big hole and chucked them all in. Out of sight, out of mind right?
The Actual Burial
So as I said before, in 2014 diggers discovered a stash of old Atari games. Its truly incredible to think that something this far-fetched could actually be true, but there you go.
Now, due to the time given to the diggers by the government, they weren’t able to discover all of Atari’s treasures but they did unearth thousands of old games and consoles in the New Mexico Desert. They found thousands of E.T cartridges amongst it all. Some of the hardware found was given to museums for curation and the rest were auctioned off to raise money in order to build a museum on the site to commemorate the find. Personally I would love to visit that. One copy of the E.T. game sold for $1500 at auction.
If you are interested in learning more about this incredible true story there is a brilliant documentary movie below called Atari: Game Over, that chronicles the excavation and goes into more detail on the background surrounding it. Click right here to watch it now.
So there you have it, a brief run-down of the most incredible video game myth, turning out to be true! It’s unbelievable to think that back in the 1980’s people were so unsure about the future of the video game now that it has become such a media power-house today.
Thanks for reading!