- For the concept in the game of go, see Atari (go term).
Atari Inc. is now the name of a French-owned (ex. Infogrames) game software company. The original company Atari was a pioneer in arcade games, home video game consoles, and personal computers, and its dominance in those areas made it the major force in the computer entertainment industry in the early to mid 1980s. The brand has also been used at various times by Atari Games, a separate company split off in 1984.
The name Atari (当たり) comes from the ancient board game Go, where "atari" is a Japanese term that applies to moves which threaten to capture opponent's stones. It may be used during polite games as a courtesy to make one's opponent aware of the potential threat. It is similar to "check" in chess. See Atari.
Since the early days of coin operated machines, Atari has been responsible for home consoles such as the Atari 2600 (VCS); produced a series of eight-bit computers (Atari 400 & 800); taken part in the 16 bit computer revolution with the Atari ST; made the revolutionary (for its time) 64-bit Atari Jaguar; and released a hand held video game console, the Atari Lynx.
Founded in the United States in 1972 by Nolan Bushnell, Atari could be credited with starting the video arcade industry with the seminal Pong. The home version of Pong, which connected to a television set, was one of the first video game consoles.
Bushnell sold Atari to Warner Communications in 1976 for an estimated $28 million to $32 million and used part of the money to buy the Folgers Mansion. Bushnell departed from the division in 1978. While part of Warner, Atari achieved its greatest success, selling millions of Atari 2600 consoles, and at its peak, it accounted for one third of Warner's annual income and became the fastest-growing company in the history in the United States (at the time). Although it had garnered the lion's share of the home video game market, the 2600 experienced its first stiff competition in 1980 from Mattel's Intellivision, which featured ads touting its superior graphics capabilities relative to the 2600. Still, the 2600 remained the industry standard-bearer, due to its market superiority, and due to Atari featuring (by far) the greatest variety of game titles available.
However, Atari ran into problems in the early 1980s. Its home computer, video game console, and arcade divisions operated independently of one another and rarely cooperated. Faced with fierce competition and price wars in the game console and home computer markets, Atari was never able to follow on the success of the 2600. In 1982, Atari released disappointing versions of two highly publicized games, Pac-Man and E.T., causing a pileup of unsold inventory and depressing prices. Also in 1982, Atari settled a court case with Activision, officially opening the 2600 to third-party development. The market quickly became saturated, depressing prices further. In addition, in December 1982, Atari executives Ray Kassar and Dennis Groth were investigated for insider trading (later found to be false). Larry Emmons, employee No.3, retired in 1982. He was head of research and development of the small group of talented engineers in Grass Valley, California. The Atari 5200 game console, released as a next-generation follow up to the 2600, was based on the Atari 800 computer (but was incompatible with Atari 800 game cartridges), and its sales never met the company's expectations. It is rumored that in 1983, in response to a massive number of returned orders from distributors, Atari buried millions of unsold game cartridges (the bulk of them consisting of two titles--Pac-Man and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) in a New Mexico desert landfill. Howard Scott Warshaw, the programmer of E.T. and several other Atari 2600 games, questions the accuracy of this urban legend.
Still, Atari held a formidable position in the world video game market. They were the number one console maker in every market except Japan. That market belonged to Nintendo, who had released their first game console, the Famicom (known to the rest of the world as the NES) in 1983. The system took Japan by storm, and Nintendo began to look to other markets. They approached Atari and offered a licensing deal - Atari would build and sell the system, paying Nintendo a royalty. The deal was in the works, and the two companies tentatively decided to sign the agreement at the 1983 Summer CES. Unfortunately, at that same show Coleco was showing their new Adam computer, and the display unit was running Donkey Kong. But Atari owned the rights to publish Donkey Kong for computers. Atari CEO Ray Kassar had a fit, accusing Nintendo of double dealing with the Donkey Kong license. Nintendo in turn tore into Coleco. In the coming month, Ray Kassar was forced to leave Atari, and executives involved in the Famicom deal were forced to start over again from scratch.
These problems were followed by the infamous video game crash of 1983, which caused losses that totaled more than $500 million. Warner's stock price slid from $60 to $20 and the company began searching for a buyer for its troubled division. As for Nintendo, Atari could no longer afford the Famicom deal, and eventually Nintendo would be forced to go it alone.
In July 1984, Warner sold the home computing and game console divisions of Atari to Jack Tramiel, the recently ousted founder of Atari competitor Commodore International, under the name Atari Corp. for $240 million. Warner retained the arcade division, continuing it under the name Atari Games.
Under Tramiel's ownership, Atari Corp. abandoned the game console market to concentrate on aggressively priced home computers, releasing the 8-bit Atari XE series and the 16-bit Atari ST line in 1985. Then, in 1986, Atari re-released the Atari 2600 and released its previously canceled Atari 7800 console. Atari rebounded, producing a $25 million profit that year. The Atari ST line proved moderately successful, ultimately selling more than 4 million units. It was especially popular among musicians, as it had built in MIDI ports. Still, its closest competitor in the marketplace, the Amiga, outsold it 1.5 to 1. Atari eventually released a line of inexpensive IBM PC compatibles as well.
Atari also released Atari Lynx, a handhold console with color graphics, in 1989 to critical acclaim. However, a shortage of parts kept the system from being released nationwide for the 1989 Christmas season and as a result, the Lynx lost market share to Nintendo's Game Boy, which had only a black and white display but was widely available. Also in 1989, Atari Corp. sued Nintendo for $250 million, alleging it had an illegal monopoly. Atari lost.
As the fortunes of Atari's ST and PC compatible computers faded, consoles and software again became the company's main focus. In 1993, Atari released its last console, the Jaguar. After a period of initial success, it, too, failed to meet expectations. It was not nearly as powerful as Sony Computer Entertainment's PlayStation or Sega's Saturn and lacked the extensive third party support its Japanese competitors had easily secured for their consoles.
By 1996, a series of successful lawsuits followed by profitable investments had left Atari with millions of dollars in the bank, but the failure of the Lynx and Jaguar left Atari without any products to sell. In addition, Tramiel and his family wanted out. The result was a rapid succession of changes in ownership. In July 1996, Atari merged with JTS Corporation, a short-lived maker of hard disk drives, and the Atari name largely disappeared from the market.
Although the original Atari ceased to exist, a large amount of underground development remains for Atari's game systems and computers of the 1970s and 1980s, and much of the Classic Gaming Expo 's attention, which has existed since 1997, focuses on Atari.
In March 1998, JTS sold the Atari name and assets to Hasbro Interactive for $5 million, less than a fifth of what Warner Communications had paid 22 years earlier. This transaction primarily involved the brand and intellectual property; the development headquarters and design teams during this time were bought by Midway. The brand name changed hands again in December 2000 when French software publisher Infogrames took over Hasbro Interactive.
In October 2001, Infogrames announced that it was "reinventing" the Atari brand with the launch of three new games. On May 7, 2003, Infogrames officially changed its name to Atari Interactive, Inc. Atari now publishes many popular computer and video games, including the Unreal series, RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, and Sid Meier's Pirates!
Video game consoles
Other Atari machines
See also: Atari Games