Atari Console Trivia
By James Grahame
Atari Week continues with a random assortment of factoids about the company that sparked the video game revolution:
1. The original name chosen for Bushnell & Dabney's fledgling enterprise was Syzygy (an astronomical term meaning 'unity' or 'alignment'). Fortunately, it was already taken and Atari Inc. was incorporated in California on June 27th, 1972. It's based on the Japanese 'ataru,' which roughly means "prepare to get your butt kicked."
2. Atari's first product was the coin-op version of Pong. It was completed in late 1972, featuring a B&W TV for the display and a laundromat coin-op mechanism. Almost 40,000 were produced, but it wasn't Bushnell's first arcade game. He had previously developed Nutting Associates' sleekly fiberglass-encased Computer Space.
3. Magnavox sued Atari for patent infringement, arguing that they had stolen the game play from "light tennis" on Ralph Baer's Magnavox Odyssey. The case was settled out of court and cost Atari a bundle.
4. Atari produced countless home versions of Pong. Unfortunately, so did everyone else. By 1976 the marketplace was overrun with cheap ball-and-paddle video games.
5. Founder Nolan Bushnell sold Atari Inc. to Warner Communications for $28 million the year before the famed 2600 Video Computer System -- their most successful product -- was released. He must have given one heck of a sales presentation.
6. The Atari 2600 cost a stunning $100 million to develop, and the key to its success was the extremely low chip count - there were only four main chips on the original circuit board. It retailed for the breakthrough price of $199. Nevertheless, the console sold a mere 250,000 units during its first year and required additional investment from Warner to stay afloat.
7. The Atari 2600 Video Computer System wasn't the first microprocessor-based cartridge console. That honor goes to Fairchild Semiconductor's clunky but cool Channel F (1976).
8. Things really took off for the console industry (and Atari) when they ported Taito's arcade hit Space Invaders to the 2600 in early 1980. The cartridge grossed over $100 million, but programmer Rick Mauer is rumored to have received a mere $11,000. I hope he bought Microsoft stock.
9. Atari's last ill-fated console was the Jaguar, introduced in 1993. Sadly, the only Atari console to generate a profit from the late 1980s onward was the Atari 2600jr, a sub-$50 bargain version of the original 2600 console.
10. The most recent console to carry the Atari logo was the Atari Flashback 2.0. Released in late 2005, this tiny 2600 replica retailed for under $30. It even included a version Pong. Rumor has it that more than 800,000 Flashback 2.0s were sold, and designer Curt Vendel is reportedly working on a handheld model.
Thanks to Atari Age for the photos.