Atari's Checkered History as a Gaming Company

When one is considering the most influential companies in the history of gaming, Atari certainly stands near the top of that list. In gaming's early years, Atari was one of the pioneering developers of arcade games. Responsible for Pong, one of the first games ever produced, and the first major gaming hit, Atari also produced several other popular arcade games in the 1970's, including Breakout, Asteroids, and Atari Football.

While Atari wasn't the first company to create a home gaming console, their Atari 2600 was the first with a large selection of games, and become a major hit upon its release in 1977, eventually selling 40 million units. However despite the first console's success, Atari was unable to duplicate that success with subsequent follow-up systems, most notably the Atari 5200, while their attempts to break into the home computer market against Apple were also largely unsuccessful. The company was also reported to have spent large portions of its R&D budget on seemingly random endeavours that had little to do with gaming.

Crash and Slow Revival

By 1983, sales of Atari games were drastically drying up as gamers became disenchanted with the glut of similar and often disappointing games. Game sales were so bad in fact that Atari had to bury millions of unsold cartridges at a landfill in New Mexico, with the game E.T The Extra Terrestrial single-handedly accounting for millions of those cartridges. The game is cited as one of the biggest busts in gaming history and partially responsible for the gaming crash of 1983 that was to follow. Within a year, Atari's business was split up and sold off. Due to turbulence within the company, Atari was largely absent from home console gaming throughout the remainder of the 1980's as the industry made a comeback in the U.S led by Nintendo. Perhaps gun-shy due to their past failures, the company instead focused on the personal computer market, and their fortunes rebounded enough to post a profit in 1986.

Atari took one more shot at the home console market in 1993 with the release of the Atari Jaguar, the first 64-bit home gaming system. Yet despite its technical superior at the time over the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo, the console failed to find much of an audience, selling only 250,000 units during its 3-year run. The behemoth controller with its phone keypad-style layout was considered partially responsible for making the system unappealing, while the lack of games and cost made it a tough sell against the older but more established systems which already had dozens of popular games out.

After bowing out of the home console market, Atari has found renewed success as a developer and publisher of games for other consoles, with such hits as Neverwinter Nights, the Backyard sports series, and the Alone in the Dark series. The Atari Greatest Hits Collection suite of games have also proven popular, bundling several classic Atari games into one, with revamped graphics and features.

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