The following information comes from the Museum
of Home Video Gaming.
Legendary Atari 2600 was designed by Jay Minor, Steve Mayer, Ron Milner
and Joe Decuir. The woodgrain case was designed by Douglas Hardy and Fredrick
Thompson. The Atari 2600 was Atari's first entry in the newly emerging
programmable console market, and led to the direct demise of the Game
Adopting features from it's previous single game consoles such as a power
switch and reset switch, it also added unique features such as a black&white
/ color switch, seperate skill level switches for each player, and two
controller ports that allowed connection of a multitude of invented and
yet to be invented controllers (the unit came prepackaged with two joystick
and two paddle controllers). The key idea was to create a console that
would have a long shelf life by making it as adaptable as possible.
Unlike the game brain, this was truly a programmable console. The game
code was stored in rom chips in the cartridge, which would then be loaded
by the 2600 unit and executed by the custom 6507 cpu. Add to this the
selection feature on the console, which would select through many preprogrammed
versions of the game in a single cartridge, and you had the ability to
be entertained for hours at a sitting - no longer having to buy a whole
new console to get different game play, or a different game.
Towards the end of the project, it was decided that Atari did not have
enough money to finish design and production, so Atari founder Nolan Bushnell
sold the company to Time/Warner for $28 million in 1976. Time/Warner then
proceeded to pump over a $100 million to finish things up and get the
consoles out to the market.
Initially launched with a price of $200, the unit was not as successful
as hoped, even with the simultanious release of it's Sears counterpart
Telegame units (Atari was still honoring it's partnership with Sears from
the pong days). Some blame the fact that it was around this time the many
cheap handhelds and tabletop games flooded the market.
In 1978, Bushnell began to clash with Time/Warner management, who by
then began replacing Atari's loose, unstructured (and fun) "hacker"
culture by introducing dress codes and time cards. Time/Warner also decided
to start up a computer division to enter in to the emerging personal computer
market (which in turn would be important for Atari's next game console
the 5200. It was at that time that the legendary founder of Atari decided
to leave, only after being forced to sign a 5 year non-competition agreement,
and buying back his Pizza Time Theater resteraunt (later to be called
Chuck E. Cheese).
The Atari 2600 did not become the household phenomena it was until 1980,
when it became the first cartridge based console to port over a coinop
arcade game - Space Invaders. Many people bought the 2600 just to play
Space Invaders at home. It was that same year that many of the 2600's
original programmers left Atari, upset with not being given credit for
their work. They founded the legendary Activision. Although they produced
some of the best games available for the 2600, it forshadowed the beginning
of the end of Atari's software dominance for it's console, and the forecoming
Videogame crash. With no ability to control what software appeared for
it's console, in the years to come the market would be flooded with low
quality games for the unit.
1982, the 2600 again enjoyed a large success, due to it's port of Pacman.
Considered a very poor port or low quality, it was still a huge success
with gamers. However, later that year Atari paid $21 million for the rights
to release a game based on the hit movie E.T. However, the game was a
disaster and lead to a huge loss of income. That, combined with the forecoming
crash never allowed Atari to fully recover, and Time/Warner wound up selling
it's console and computer division to the Trameil's in 1984. Support for
the unit was dropped until it was re-released as the 2600jr 2 years later.
However, by that time Nintendo and Sega already had dominance with their
own 8bit and later 16 bit consoles.
This unit was redesigned several times over it's life span, lasting until
1991 when it was finally cancelled. It has the distinction of being the
longest running console in home gaming history. However, it has also been
linked to the great video game crash of 1984, because of the flood of
cheap, low quality cartridges produced for it by "me too" companies
that wanted to cash in on the video game market. This is said to have
lead to less purchasing of both games and gaming consoles by the public,
which in turn lead to panic by industry executives, companies closing,
funds and projects being pulled, etc.
The 2600, has more than earned it's place in history. Selling over 25
million units, producing large numbers of enduring classics, helping establish
the console market, and increasing the overall popularity of videogames.