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What happens when you find ET?

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Atari ET

Ah, the 80s. Games were in their infancy, hair was about to get big and plenty of countries were still striving for freedom and independence. Atari’s 2600 video game console was the wood-paneled precursor to the Nintendo Entertainment System, and also sort of the cause of the 1983 collapse of the North American video game industry. They tried to bury those skeletons, but they’ve just been dug up.

New Mexico is normally the site of “real” archeology; there are native American treasures to be found. However, the really interesting thing for us is that it was the site of a legend: the story goes that in 1983, faced with financial ruin, Atari decided to dump hundreds of thousands of unsold cartridges for their movie tie-in game, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. People weren’t quite sure if this was a metaphor, or an actual event, leading one of the first original films for Xbox to be called “Atari: Game Over”. Filmmakers and excavators descended on the Alamogordo landfill in New Mexico, discovering that there was truth behind the legend.

Apparently, there is more than just ET down there:

How many more, we don’t know just yet — but at this point, we can safely report that those long-buried cartridges are actually, 100 percent there. Crazy, isn’t it!? And it sounds like some other games are down there, too: Centipede, Space Invaders, Asteroids, and possibly more. “Lots of boxes” is what we’re hearing.

It’s amazing to think that 30 years ago the best option to get rid of a game that wasn’t selling was simply to bury it in a landfill. Now, the game would simply be pulled from the Steam store. Truly, the over manufacturing of ET is pointed at as a cause of the gaming industry’s collapse as Atari simply wasn’t able to bounce back from that failure.

Many of us like to think that the early gaming days were a simpler, better time. However, it had its own set of problems. Games were released that were beyond atrocious, and entire companies would go under as a result. Now, EA might take a hit on their share price because Battlefield 4 was buggy at release, but they certainly won’t go bankrupt from it. Also, while games might rush to market, they certainly aren’t as rushed as ET – developers were given just 5 weeks to make the game in time for release during the holiday season. No wonder it was so horribly bad. Our games may be rushed, but at least they are several years in the making.

Finally, I just had to share this tweet. For those who don’t know, Joe Hill is the fantastic author of Locke and Key, Horns and NOS4A2 who also happens to be Stephen King’s son:

They’re here!

Last Updated: April 29, 2014

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