Happy Birthday: Atari turns 40 today

By on June 28, 2012, 2:30 PM

If you grew up in the 1970s or 1980s, today might very well have a special significance to you. On June 27, 1972, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney filed incorporation papers for Atari, a move that many say single-handedly helped to pave the way for the video game industry as we know it today.

Just five months later, the company released Pong in 12 arcades around California followed by a home version three years later. But despite the early success, Bushnell ended up selling Atari to Warner Communications (the same company that merged with Time to create Time Warner) in order to continue development of the Atari 2600, originally sold as the Atari Video Computer System, or VCS.

Bushnell stayed on with Atari as Chairman of the Board for two more years, ultimately being run out of the company in November of 1978. In an interview with Time, Bushnell said Warner made a lot of blunders which weren’t good for Atari.

In one example, he said Atari was planning to develop a multiplayer video game that would use telephone lines to communicate but Warner executives couldn’t understand why someone would want to play a game with people they couldn’t see.

“If we had gone ahead and done it, it could have essentially been the Internet, in private hands. It’s kind of fun to think about owning the Internet,” he said.

Atari was a powerhouse during their glory days, a true role model for other Silicon Valley startups. Their success showed others that it was possible to launch a highly lucrative business with a young cast of characters. One such individual was Steve Jobs, who worked at Atari on and off from 1974 until he helped co-found Apple in 1976.

The company went on to release several other hit games including Asteroids, Battlezone, Centipede and Pole Position but most point to the ill-fated E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial as the turning point for Atari. What followed has been described as the North American video game crash of 1983 where revenues dropped by 97 percent thanks to an over-saturation of crappy games on the market.

Atari was sold again in 1984 and ultimately found success as a game publisher. Bushnell rejoined Atari in 2009 as an advisor and in 2011, the company released Atari Greatest Hits in the App Store. It has been downloaded more than 10 million times and as a bonus, all of the pay-to-unlock games in the app are free to unlock for a limited time.

User Comments: 12

Got something to say? Post a comment
psycros psycros said:

I had no idea that ol' Nolan came back to the fold recently. Heck I wasn't certain he was still alive! He's off-base with that whole "private Internet" comment, though: what he would've been creating was another Compuserve or GENIE..and we all know how well they fared. Only AOL and handful of dial-up BBS's remain from that epic period. And you can still log onto quite a few boards via Telnet

Guest said:

Happy Birthday Atari! If only I was around in your glory days.

Julio Franco Julio Franco, TechSpot Editor, said:

Atari 800XL + floppy drive unit, my first "game console"

Renrew Renrew said:

Misspent a good part of my youth playing the 2600.

Ranger1st Ranger1st said:

?? I was doing the online game thing in 74' using a Control Data terminal and dial up to the mtl. mainframe

TomSEA TomSEA, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Boy, that brings back some memories. I even remember the Atari TV ads. But I was a rebel even back then and bought the Intellivision over the Atari. Man I had some fun with that unit...

ikesmasher said:

Warner didnt know why people would want to play with people they couldnt see...

I dont know, either. Especially now that most of these people are ******.

Great job atari.

Guest said:

So this is interesting to hear for all the Jobs haters out there. We find out that Steve has also made an impact in the game industry. So we got computers and games and cartoon movies. We find out that Steve Jobs is like the Michelangelo of the 20th century. I don't get why so many hate him. Actually I do. All the jealousy. He done so much and most humans today just stagnate accomplishing nothing but over due bills. Sorta spinning their wheels if you will going nowhere anytime soon just bitching about the conditions and drowning in negativity. Everything just sucks for most. This whole planet need a conscious shift.

kpo6969 kpo6969 said:

I bought the Atari 5200 when it first came out. Defender was the game I liked the most. I even had the Trackball unit also that was almost as big as the 5200 itself.

Arris Arris said:

Atari 800XL + floppy drive unit, my first "game console"

Atari 800 was my first one too, no floppy drive unit though. Still have it packed up in a container with original cartridges.

TJGeezer said:

My son was born in 1972 and was just old enough to agitate for an Atari when it came out. He got one for his birthday and any other presents from well-meaning relatives went right out of his awareness. For weeks after, it was 'bye 'bye kid, hope to see you soon.

I don't know about it being another CompuServe or TheSource, good general-use consumer nets as they were, though. (GEnie was always a hassle to use... IIRC, it was mostly a business service.) A low-cost gaming console that tapped into a purpose-built phone net might have created a very large niche market for itself, given how big a hit the 2600s were. As a net, maybe no competition to the public sector version of the military-developed DARPAnet. How could it be? But as a ready-for-the-Internet, fully developed online gaming center, it could have had an enormous influence a few years later, seems to me.

SNGX1275 SNGX1275, TS Forces Special, said:

I know in the 80s, before I had a Nintendo, I had a Commodore 64 with a floppy drive, some of the games for it were C64 on one side of the floppy, Atari on the other.

Load all comments...

Add New Comment

TechSpot Members
Login or sign up for free,
it takes about 30 seconds.
You may also...
Get complete access to the TechSpot community. Join thousands of technology enthusiasts that contribute and share knowledge in our forum. Get a private inbox, upload your own photo gallery and more.