Why Were Thousands of Video Games Buried in the New Mexico Desert?

The home video game market was soaring in 1983, with revenues at about $3.2 billion USD a year. Then the bottom fell out, and by 1985, annual revenues had fallen to about $100 million USD -- a crash of almost 97 percent. At around the same time, industry leader Atari took a costly gamble and threw together a game based on the popular 1982 movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in just 34 days. But the game bombed, and the company was left with millions of unsold cartridges. Fittingly, Atari quietly dumped the worthless E.T. cartridges into a landfill in southern New Mexico, not far from where aliens reportedly crash-landed in 1947. That unceremonious end to the story was only a rumor for 30 years and considered an urban legend -- until an enterprising documentary crew got permission to dig in an Alamogordo landfill in 2014, and found thousands of game cartridges buried there.

Game over:

  • Atari paid director Steven Spielberg $22 million USD for the rights to make E.T. into a video game. Two years later, Atari was out of business, and the stand-alone video game market faded away.

  • Nearly 900 unearthed copies of what has been described as the worst video game of all time were later sold on eBay, netting more than $108,000. One E.T. cartridge sold at auction for $1,535.

  • A documentary about the dig, entitled Atari: Game Over, premiered in 2014. The excavators still have about 300 copies of the game that may be sold at a later date.

More Info: BBC

Discussion Comments

anon1001735

Great money for Spielberg at the time but everyone else bombed. Hmm Atari keepsakes.

anon1001730

I wonder if the short phrase,"... Breath", was the reason for the failure of the game?

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