It’s October 1982. The leaves have begun falling from the trees and the big marketing push for the coming holiday season has started to rev into high gear.
Home videogame systems are this year’s Big Thing. Atari is still the overvalued champion in that realm, but the field has been getting dangerously crowded. Not only does the company have to contend with rival consoles whose tech outperforms the 2600’s aging hardware, but from third-party firms — including the folks making said rival consoles — cranking out 2600 cartridges at a feverish pace with no coin kicked back to Atari.
The environment is one of complacency tinged with (unspoken) anxiety, a pretty decent indicator that a speculative bubble has entered its terminal phase.
Cue the industry-side ad blitz!
I’m sure it sounded like a foolproof strategy in corporate reports and meetings, but the truth is that the writing was already on the wall for Atari and the industry in general. The novelty of the videogame fad was fading while the technology was either behind the curve or desperately trying to keep up with the arcade offerings that drove consumer demand. The foundation wasn’t strong enough to support the generational model adopted by later console manufacturers, especially when affordable home computers offered greater utility for the money spent.
Even if E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark were exceptional games, they wouldn’t have managed to do much more than forestall the inevitable. As it stood, both games sold pretty well, but couldn’t match projections that had become entirely unstuck from reality.
(And, honestly, my friends and I played the hell out of them and the much-maligned 2600 Pac-Man port. Because we were kids and kids have a high tolerance for crap. This is why I tend to raise an eyebrow when some videogame journo or scholar tries to convince me that they hated — hated, I tell you — those games when they were a tyke in the early Eighties.)
The bit about these games being part of a new line of movie-themed 2600 offerings is intriguing. I wonder if they were going to stick with the Spielberg relationship. If so, it’s a shame we missed out on games based on Poltergeist (where the object was to make Tobe Hooper explode with frustration) and The Color Purple (where the goal was to rack up as many Oscar nominations as possible without actually winning an award).