Coleco entered the market in 1982 with the release of the graphically superior Colecovision. To combat this new system, Atari produced the 5200, a technologically comparable system. The 2600 dropped $100 in price in order to remain competitive. Then a company called Ar-cadia released a peripheral called the Supercharger which played games in an audio cassette medium. This allowed for multiple loads and expanded the 2600's capabilities. Atari released Pac-Man and E.T. that year, two incredibly hyped games which were critical flops. Although Pacman sold many copies, it was considered to be a poor translation of the arcade hit.

 

However, there were many fantastic games produced for the 2600 during this period, and it was still selling strong.Ever since the inception of Activision, Atari had been fighting to keep third parties from producing cartridges which they felt were stealing profits from them. Finally the issue was settled when Atari agreed to allow third party manufacturing in exchange for a royalty. Suddenly software companies began popping up all over, and 1982 saw releases from companies like Venturevision, Spectravision, Telesys, CBS, 20th Century Fox, US Games, M Network, Tigervision, Data Age, Imagic and Coleco.

There was even a company that re-leased a line of X-Rated games for the 2600 called Mystique. The year was financially successful for Atari, however there seemed to be a glut of software. Although there were many quality titles still produced, there was an increasing number of rushed games as manufacturers attempted to cash in on the craze.More companies jumped on the band wagon in 1983. Zimag, Ultravision, Amiga, and others were also producing games and peripherals. It seemed as if there was just too much product to meet the demand, and as it turned out there was. By the end of the year, companies began folding. US Games, Data Age, Games by Apollo, Telesys and others all closed their doors from poor sales. A video game crash was oc-curring, and all companies were taking it on the chin. 1984 was a much more subdued year for the Atari 2600, and the price of the system had now dropped to $40-$50. Many were saying that the video game industry was dead. However, Atari surprised everyone by announcing the release of the 7800, and also promising more 2600 games with improved graphics and sound. Unfortunately, neither of these things happened in 1984 because Atari sold their home video game division to Jack Tramiel who believed that home computers would replace video game systems. No further mention of the 2600 or 7800 was made that year, and it appeared that they might be dead. 1985 was another very quiet year for Atari and video games in general, and only a few games were re-leased for the 2600. Activision produced Cosmic Commuter and Ghostbusters, but with little fanfare or marketing, these games did not sell well.

However, because of the huge game library and cheap price, Atari still sold over a million 2600 consoles in 1985. There were very few plans for home video game systems by any company in 1986, since the market ap-peared to be dead. Then, to most people's surprise, Nintendo brought the NES to America and it was a smash hit, proving that video games still had a place in the US. Atari decided that maybe it would be a good idea to release the 7800 units it had in storage, and produce some more 2600 games.

The 7800 was released with only 3 games initially available, although it was compatible with the 2600 library. They also redesigned the 2600 as the 2600 Jr., a machine with the same abilities, but a new look and market-ing campaign. It was sold for less than $50. Video games were once again selling phenomenally in 1987. Atari released several new titles, including Jr. Pac-Man, and also licensed a number of games from other com-panies such as Donkey Kong and Q*Bert. These new titles sold for $10-$15. Interestingly, a number of titles began appearing again from third part companies such as Epyx, Froggo, and Exus. It seemed that the 2600 was not dead yet! In 1988, Atari rehired Nolan Bushnell and announced a number of new titles, including Se-cret Quest, a game written by Mr. Bushnell himself. Atari continued to manufacture these games even until 1989. However, it was apparent that the 2600, after its introduction over a decade ago, was finally at the end of its run. Although it was still produced and marketed outside of the US, the Atari 2600 finished its run in America. No other console has had such a long history or sold as many systems in the U.S. Today, the 2600 still has a large number of fans who remember the countless games played over the years, and the years to come. There are even games being produced by hobbyists, some of them quite professionally, being released on newly burnt cartridges with labels and manuals. And the recent trend in retrogaming has brought many more video game fans to rediscover the 2600, and it continues to live on 22 years after its release!

Alexander Bilstein February 1999

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