GAME ARTICLE: Atari’s “Hot” commercial on the eve of its downfall

Tony Wilkins spies an old Atari 5200 commercial released on the eve of the 1983 video games crash.


“Nobody’s hotter than Atari this summer.”

Image

Two ridiculously beautiful girls and three obscenely masculine men stomp across a beach in what appears to be an early MTV video to a soundtrack proclaiming that nobody was hotter than Atari that golden summer of 1983. The footage culminates in the five of them playing an Atari 5200 on the beach with the images projected in the sky and I will be honest here for a minute; that looks like a pretty awesome idea. But behind the cheese of this macho 1980s scene the truth was that the home video games industry was on the verge of its equivalent to the St. Valentine’s Day massacre.

You can understand why Atari thought it was the hottest thing. Between 1977 and 1982 the home game console market exploded and there were more consoles around than ever with Atari’s iconic 2600 leading the charge. Supporting these consoles were numerous third party developers bringing out game after game with some console libraries being truly immense. Then in 1983 everything went wrong. The market collapsed in spectacular fashion to the point where had it not been for Japan’s growing games console development it would have been very likely that games consoles would be remembered in the same way we remember laser disc players now.

So what happened?

Image

There were numerous reasons the market went bust in 1983. One big reason was that personal computers could play games as well as handle your taxes and compose letters and offered new threats to the console market. This was a bigger thing in Europe rather than the US where marketing campaigns told parents that game consoles rotted their children’s minds while PCs could open their minds. Another factor was US inflation which was damaging the economy as a whole.

The truth is though the market itself was to blame. As I said there were more consoles than ever and more games than ever to the point where the market was truly flooded and many stores actually found themselves lacking the space to store the latest titles. This meant that in the age before online buying many game developers failed to make a profit on their games because not enough people were buying them. The real problem was that console manufacturers such as Atari lost control of the games developed for their console. Anyone who had the means to produce a game and publish it on a cartridge could make a game for an Atari 2600 and often the games made were very clear rip offs of more successful games. To add insult to injury many of the high profile games that came out flopped quite publicly the most notorious of which was the now legendary ET – The Extra Terrestrial game.

The collapse lasted between 1983 and 1985 but it in that time the casualty list read like a World War I battle;

  • Atari 2600………………………………………………………………………….Wounded In Action
  • Atari 5200……………………………………………………………………………….Killed In Action
  • Bally Astrocade………………………………………………………………………..Killed In Action
  • CollecoVision…………………………………………………………………………..Killed In Action
  • Commodore 64…………………………………………………………………..Wounded In Action
  • Emerson Arcadia 2001………………………………………………………………Killed In Action
  • Fairchild Channel F…………………………………………………………………..Killed In Action
  • Magnavox Odyssey²………………………………………………………………….Killed In Action
  • Mattel Intellivision……………………………………………………………………Killed In Action
  • Vectrex…………………………………………………………………………………….Killed In Action

…to name but a few. Incredibly there were a host of games consoles that were simply rebranded as something else like the CollecoVision Gemini which is in fact an Atari 2600. Both the Atari 2600 and the Commodore 64 did survive the crash but their glory days were effectively over especially with the arrival of the all-conquering NES.

Nintendo did effectively save the home console market with its NES but even that felt the damage caused by the crash. Even being called a home games console was a hindrance with many toy retailers fearful of a repeat of the 1983 crash refusing to sell it at first with those that did doing everything they could to call it something else. NES proved one of the most successful consoles ever. With much of the competition dead and buried and its performance being noticeably better than the pre-crash machines it went on to outsell everything with Sega’s Master System struggling to catch up.

Atari would never fully recover however. It continued making Atari 2600s and its clones until the early 1990s but every new console it came out with never really challenged Nintendo (and the increasingly hostile Sega). The Atari Jaguar was a sad end to Atari’s line.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “GAME ARTICLE: Atari’s “Hot” commercial on the eve of its downfall”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s