The Atari Video Game Burial Excavation

The Atari Video Game Burial Excavation

Updated Apr 28, 2014 at 10:21PM EDT by Brad.

Added Apr 27, 2014 at 04:05PM EDT by RandomMan.

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The Atari Video Game Burial Excavation refers to the recovery of unsold video game cartridges and other overstocked products that were buried en masse at a landfill site in New Mexico by the video game development company Atari in 1983. Following its commencement in April 2014, the excavation project gained much attention after thousands of copies of the ill-fated video game adaptation of the blockbuster film E.T. were recovered from the site.


E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial[1] is a 1982 adventure video game based on the film of the same name and developed for the Atari 2600 video game console. The development of the game began in July 1982, shortly after acquiring the license from the film studio for a reported fee of $20 to $25 million, and was completed before the end of the year for release during the holiday season.

As one of the first video game adaptations of a popular Hollywood film, the public anticipation for Atari’s E.T. was high and the game was initially regarded as a commercial success and one of the best-selling Atari 2600 titles after selling 1.5 million units. Nevertheless, the game was universally panned by the fans and its sales figures failed to meet the company’s expectations by a large margin, resulting in an estimated overstock inventory of 3.5 million cartridges that were either unsold or returned by customers. Marred by both negative reception and disappointing sales, the game quickly became known as one of the worst video games in existence.

Atari Video Game Burial

The Atari video game burial[2] was a mass burial of unsold video game cartridges and other products in a New Mexico landfill site, undertaken by American video game and home computer company Atari[11] in 1983, following the company’s financial troubles and technical problems surrounding its recent releases, the most notorious example being E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The incident has since become known as a turning point in the industry that contributed to the North American video game crash of 1983[12] and long been regarded as an urban legend by a minority in the video game community.

Notable Developments

The Excavation

On May 28, 2013, Fuel Industries was granted six months of access to the landfill to film a documentary about the burial and to excavate the dump site. Though the excavation was momentarily stalled, they eventually managed to get started on April 26th, 2014. Fuel Industries, Microsoft, and others worked with the New Mexico government to excavate the site to validate the contents of the landfill as a public event.

The same day when the excavation started, the results revealed the existence of the discarded games and some hardware, affirming the original speculation on the landfill’s contents. Following the discovery of the cardridges, James Heller, the former Atari manager in charge of the original burial, revealed to the Associated Press that there were only 728,000 cartridges buried at the site.[3] Bystanders were also given the chance to play the game at the site. Many news sites and video games websites also quickly followed with articles about the discovery, such as The Guardian,[4] The Star,[5] Fox News,[6] Mashable,[7]IGN,[8] Polygon[9] and The Daily Mail.[10]

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