Searching For The Worst Video Game Ever
June 3, 2013

In Search Of The Worst Video Game Ever: E.T. And The Atari Crash

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

There´s an old story often told by video game fanatics about Atari, a New Mexico landfill and the worst game ever made. As the story goes, when the bottom fell out of the once-booming video game market in 1983, Atari was left with millions of unsold copies of the E.T. game for the 2600 console. The company then sought out a landfill in the American desert (only about 150 miles away from Roswell) in which to dump millions of unsold game cartridges and some other equipment.

This story is commonly told as a cautionary tale, a story about one of Corporate America´s largest failures. Now one Canadian documentary film crew wants to get to the bottom of the great video game crash of 1983 and the alleged New Mexico dump. According to KRQE News, the city council of Alamogordo, New Mexico has granted the film crew access to the landfill and will let them excavate the site to discover if Atari really did dump millions of copies of E.T. in a desert. The Canadian film company, Fuel Industries, has chosen a good time to begin the digging, as September will mark the 30th anniversary of the alleged 1983 New Mexico Dump.

According to, Atari is often blamed for kickstarting the Great Video Game Crash of 1983. American companies like Atari had long dominated the video game scene with consoles, arcade games and popular titles like Pac-Man. Yet things were getting shaky at Atari, a company which Apple cofounder Steve Jobs once worked for in the mid-70s. Former employees were launching independent gaming platforms, many of which used stolen parts or ideas from Atari.

Facing competition, the company started the scramble to stay relevant. One way to do this — so the they thought — was to pay between $20 and $25 million to license the rights for the film E.T. — The Extraterrestrial, the box office smash of 1982. They acquired the rights for this game in July, placing them in a serious time crunch to have the game ready in time for the lucrative holiday season. Their developers had only five weeks in which to create this game, a project which they allegedly spent up to $125 million to build in addition to the licensing fees.

Atari clearly expected this game to go gangbusters and created five million copies. Yet when the game finally hit the shelves, gamers complained about terrible graphics as well as a confusing and endless game play. According to some reports, Atari sold only 1.5 million copies of the game, many of which were allegedly sent back to the company by angry gamers who felt it was a waste of money. Later that year the company announced a smaller increase in profits than expected by analysts and, as a result, their stock crashed. Atari was left with nearly half a billion dollars in losses by the end of 1983, and some of that likely came from the dump in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

The Alamogordo Daily News covered the Atari dump when it happened, but they did not catalog exactly what was being dumped. What´s more, one man who owned a garbage company at the time claims he saw Atari dumping cartridges and consoles in September 1983, and the New York Times even did a story on the dump, claiming the company had 14 truckloads full of material from their El Paso, TX warehouse.

Fuel Industries now has six months to go digging in search of these 30-year-old icons of failure, but it might not be easy going. According to KRQE, when Atari completed their dump, they smashed the cartridges and consoles and covered the heap in concrete. Fuel may very well locate the forgotten heap, but it´s possible that nothing they find there will be salvageable.