Success! | The Search For Atari’s E.T. | Update

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Success! | The Search For Atari’s E.T. | Update

It looks like they made it! E.T. Cartridges found!

In June 2013 John wrote this article on the old version of

In the late 70’s and through to the early 80’s, the video game business was booming and Atari was one of the leaders with it’s 2600 home video game console. But it was all about to change very soon.

In fact it was only a few years later in 1983 when the North American video game crash took place. The market was saturated with home computers and consoles and the public had lost interest. The market revenues dropped from $3 billion down to just $100 million over the next two years.

The main reason behind this was due to low quality games and in particular two games released by Atari, Pac-Man and E.T.

Hoping to cash in on the arcade success of Pac-Man, Atari produced a home console version and produced more cartridges than it had consoles. They hoped that the game would entice people to rush out and buy their console as well as a copy of the game.

Unfortunately the game was nowhere as good as the original arcade version and Atari was left with around five million unsold cartridges.

Additionally Atari also paid Steven Spielberg and Warner Communications a staggering $20 million for the rights for an E.T. video game. This was unheard of at the time when all games were original or based on existing arcade titles.

The game was written in only six weeks and is widely regarded as the worst video game of all time and despite sales of 1.5 million, Atari were left with over 3.5 million unsold copies.

The waste laws were more relaxed back in the ’80’s and the story is that Atari dumped all their unsold cartridges and games systems in a landfill site at Alamogordo, New Mexico. The reports of the time tell of anything from nine to twenty dump trucks visiting the landfill site to dispose of Atari’s mistakes. Rumours even tell of one truck being hijacked and driven down to Mexico!

This event has become one of gamings biggest urban legends and now someone wants to see if there’s any truth to the story.

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Despite my quick Google research suggesting that all stock was crushed beforehand and that a layer of cement was later poured over the landfill site, the city commission has granted approval for Fuel Industries to dig up the site. They have a six month window in which to start digging.

Fuel Industries, a Canadian media company, have been trying since 2011 to obtain permission. They will record and document this archaeological dig in the hopes of creating a documentary film. They have not stated when they will start, but I’m still interested on what they’ll find.

Today a triumphant Ernest Cline (Author of the incredible book Ready Player One) tweeted the following picture:


So it looks like the truth behind the burial area is true and we’ll get to witness the discovery in a documentary covering the excavation. Cline explains in a blog post why he was there to witness this momentous occasion.

Through some strange miracle of fate, I have been invited to be one of the “archaeologists” present during the upcoming excavation of the legendary Atari Graveyard! XBox Entertainment Studios is producing a documentary on the dig, and the director Zak Penn (who co-wrote The Avengers and a lot of other amazing flicks) has invited me to come down and provide commentary on what they find – or don’t find – during the excavation. And you’re invited to be there, too, to witness video game history in the making!

I can’t believe this is really finally happening, and that I’m going to be present for it! Atari fans and collectors have been debating the validity of this legend for decades. (Check out this thread on the Atari Age forums that has been running since 2005.) And now, over thirty years later, we’re going to find out whether the most famous urban legend in video game history is true or not – or at least, how much of it is based on fact.

Check out Ernest Cline’s blog for more on the story.


Will Harrison

About the author | Will Harrison

Founder of The Unheard Nerd. A husband and father of two girls, Will is a fan of Nerdcore Hip-Hop, a comics fiend, a podcast host and champion of independent nerd culture. | Follow will on twitter: @TheUnheardNerd

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