Atari didn't release the first home video
system, which may come as a surprise to some of you reading this (1972
Odyssey) - but what Atari did achieve is mass-market appeal for the very
first generation of home-video game systems.
With many companies experimenting with
video-electronics in the early seventies, (Trivia: U.S. Army engineers
accidentally realised that the blip on the radar screen could actually be
manipulated and moved on their monochrome screens, spawning Pong perhaps?)
it was inevitable with the success of Pong and other Arcade machines, that
the electronics would be scaled down into a smaller more reliable system,
perfect for the home consumer market.
In 1974, Atari had released it's
first home systems, these were the many popular pong variations, Stunt Cycle
etc. The VCS (Video Computer System) was dreamed up at Atari's Grass
Valley think tank facility, where engineers could work away from the bustle
of Silicon Valley - With the introduction of microprocessors hitting the
market at more affordable prices, it was engineers like Joe Decure, Harold
Lee and Steve Meyer that were at the cutting edge of the Atari VCS design.
Atari wanted to produce the
system and get "back in" to the home video market. Pong-a-likes
had saturated the U.S. market, and Atari was being left behind.
Atari had one small problem before they could perfect and market the new VCS
- lack of money. The VCS would require millions of dollars to produce,
so Atari began looking for a serious investor. Many large corporations
talked to Atari, including Disney and Universal Studios, but there was
another company which hadn't even been realised as a potential investor, and
that was Warner Brothers.
were also looking for a new "hot-product", and cash-rich Warner negotiated for 4
months and Nolan Bushnell made $28 Million, of which he personally pocketed $15 Million.
invested over $100 million into Atari, a huge sum even by today's standards. And by
1977 Atari's VCS had gone into full production with over 400,000 units. Although
Atari under Warner had little success from the launch of the VCS initially (which upset a
number of board members at the time), Taitio of Japan came to the rescue with Space
Invaders. Before the Space Invaders craze, consumers weren't buying the Atari VCS in
the numbers originally predicted - but that soon changed, when Atari bought the rights to
produce the game for it's console. By Christmas 1978, Atari were
"rationing" the VCS to stores all over the United States - everybody wanted to
play Space Invaders at home. Soon, more and more Arcade "conversions" were
programmed for the VCS, and Atari were on a roll.
The Atari 2600 was manufactured until 1991.