The Biggest Selling Atari 2600 (VCS) Games Of All Time - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The Biggest Selling Atari 2600 (VCS) Games Of All Time

Have you played Atari today?

Released in September 1977, the Atari 2600, originally branded as the Atari Video Computer System (Atari VCS) until November 1982, is often credited with popularising the home video gaming craze, and for subsequently causing the first video game crash thanks to heavy investment in Pac-Man and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, both of which being commercial and critical failures.

Although not the first device to use games stored on ROM cartridges instead of dedicated hardware with games physically built into the unit, the Atari 2600 was the first to properly catch on, thanks in no small part to Atari exclusively boasting the home console version of Taito's Space Invaders. Arriving in 1980, the title became the first "killer app" and quadrupled sales of the Atari 2600 at a time when the three year old machine may otherwise have been looking at retirement. When it was eventually discontinued - in January 1992 - over 30 million Atari 2600 units had been sold!

Because of the age of the machine, and the infancy of the industry, exact sales figures aren't always available or accurate, but we do know that classic Atari 2600 titles like Adventure, Laser Blast, Freeway, Kaboom!, Yars' Revenge, Atlantis, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Cosmic Ark, Megamania, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and River Raid all sold at least one million copies each. It's telling, though, that all these titles were released from 1980 onwards, after that massive Space Invaders boost.

With an eventual library of almost 600 games, we've rounded up the eight best selling titles below. One game which is not included in the list, as there are no sales figures for it as it technically wasn't 'sold' but if included in the list would likely eclipse all of the titles below, is Combat. If you owned an Atari 2600 then chances are you had this "tank" game as the console was originally bundled with two joystick controllers, a conjoined pair of paddle controllers, and the Combat game cartridge. That is until 1982 when Pac-Man was phased in to some packages instead. As the vast majority of the Atari 2600's sales came pre-1982, there are likely close to 20 million Combat cartridges either gathering dust, in collector's hands, or in landfill somewhere.

Without further ado then, here are the best selling Atari 2600 games. Along with Combat, which of these titles did you play?..

8. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
Atari paid in the region of $20–25 million to Steven Spielberg and Universal Pictures for the exclusive rights to produce a video game based on the hit 1982 movie. Trouble is, negotiations took so long, and wanting to capture the lucrative Christmas market, Atari left themselves with just five weeks to create the actual game if they were to have it in stores on the already announced release date of December 1982. Most Atari 2600 games at this time took in the region of six months to develop.

But meet the deadline they did, and pre-orders were as massive as the hype surrounding the title. Atari Inc. produced more cartridges for E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial than they had for any release before, and sold a total of 1,500,000 of them during the Christmas 1982 season. Unfortunately, although that may not sound like a small figure, it was a small fraction of cartridges produced, and as those sales all happened in a very short space of time, as soon as the reviews came out, and people were made aware that the game featured "primitive" graphics, "dull" gameplay, and a "disappointing story", sales of E.T. on the Atari 2600 screeched to a blinding halt. Eventually about 2.5 to 3.5 million unsold cartridges of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial were returned to Atari and ended up in landfill.

Despite the 1.5 million cartridges sold, the cost of licensing, development and huge production run meant that E.T. was one of the biggest commercial failures in video game history. It's release cost Atari Inc. dearly, both financially and with the public's trust for brand quality, which in turn became a major contributing factor to the video game crash of 1983.

=6. Demon Attack
Originally released in March 1982 by third-party developer Imagic, Demon Attack is supposedly based on the 1979 arcade shooter Galaxian, though it closely resembles several waves from the 1980 arcade game Phoenix. These similarities prompted a lawsuit from Atari, Inc., who had purchased the latter's home video game rights. Imagic settled out of court, and Demon Attack went on to sell 2 million copies and became Imagic's best-selling game.

=6. Frogger
Another third-party release, this time from Intellivision Inc. Their conversion of Frogger, the a 1981 arcade game developed by Konami and originally published by Sega, proved a home video game success selling 2 million copies after its August 1982 release.

5. Space Invaders
The game that guaranteed the Atari 2600's future, the 1980 release of Space Invaders was the first official licensing of an arcade game for a home gaming console. It was also the first ever game to sell over a million cartridges, but it didn't stop there! By the end of 1981 Space Invaders had sold over 2 million copies, and the Atari 2600 had quadrupled its sales as eager gamers who wanted to play Space Invaders at home could only do so with a VCS.

4. Missile Command
The console port of Atari Inc.'s 1980 arcade smash, Missile Command received rave reviews and is considered a classic from the golden age of arcade games. The game was released for the Atari 2600 in March 1981 with an identical version for the Atari 5200 in 1982. It proved to be so popular and well received that the exact same Atari 8-bit port was later used in the 1987 Atari XEGS as a built-in game that boots up if there isn't a cartridge or keyboard in the console. Mind you, 2.5 million people already owned a copy on their VCS so chance are they'd played it to death already.

3. Asteroids
Although Atari had released Asteroids into arcades in 1979, and it had proved to be a smash hit, the game proved difficult to port to the VCS. Programmers Brad Stewart and Bob Smith tried to fit the game into the standard 4 KB cartridge, but were unable to, so Asteroids became the first game for the Atari 2600 to use bank switching, a technique that increased available ROM space from 4 KB to 8 KB. This lengthy development process saw the game not arrive until July 1981 but it did not dampen sales at all, as Asteroids sold a cool 3,800,000 copies.

2. Pitfall!
Unlike the majority of the other best selling titles on the Atari 2600, this one did not originate in the arcades, rather it was created by legendary game designer & programmer David Crane specifically for this console, and released by Activision in April 1982.

In Pitfall! tThe player controls Pitfall Harry and is tasked with collecting all the treasures in a jungle within 20 minutes while avoiding obstacles and hazards. The game received positive reviews upon release and is widely considered one of the greatest video games of all time. Pitfall! was the top video game on the Billboard charts for more than a year after release, it inspired numerous sequels and ports across a variety of gaming consoles, and helped define the side-scrolling platformer genre. On the Atari 2600 alone, Pitfall! sold over four million copies.

Fun Pitfall! fact for you - Activision shelled out for a big advertising campaign, running commercials nationwide for the game. The child actor they had describing the awesomeness of Pitfall! was a 13 year old Jack Black in his first ever acting role, which you can watch here.

1. Pac-Man
It's fitting that we started this countdown with the abysmal E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and end with Pac-Man, as both games contributed heavily to Atari Inc.'s 1983 registered loss of $536 million.

Bearing little more than a passing resemblance to the original 1980 arcade game released by Namco, Atari actually spent a long time developing Pac-Man. But with instructions to fit the completed game on the cheaper to manufacture 4KB ROM cartridge, rather than a more expensive 8KB bank-switched cartridge, like Pitfall!, programmer Tod Frye soon realised that the simple Atari 2600 hardware could not adequately recreate many important aspects of the game.

To deal with the limitations of the Atari VCS, Frye simplified the maze's intricate pattern of corridors to a more repetitive one. The small tan pellets in the arcade original were changed to rectangular "wafers" that shared the wall colour, and were programmed as part of the same fixed width graphic as the wall itself. To achieve the visual effect of wafers disappearing as Pac-Man eats them, the actual map of the maze was updated every time one was eaten. The toughest programming challenge, though, came with Pac-Man and the ghost characters. They were implemented using the Atari 2600's two Player object coding system, with one being used for Pac-Man and the other being used for all four ghosts. The result of this was that each ghost only appeared once out of every four frames, creating a flickering effect.

Like E.T., anticipation for Pac-Man was high, with pre-orders of near "four million" copies by the end of 1981. Prior to its release on March 16th 1982, the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man was predicted to sell 9 million units before the year was out. This would've led to a profit of $200 million for Atari Inc. Certainly nothing to complain about there, and Atari were so confident they produced more than that number of Pac-Man cartridges to cope with the inevitable demand.

When Pac-Man did arrive it was indeed met with initial commercial success, just like E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Pac-Man eventually sold a massive 7.7 million copies, becoming the best-selling game of all time (for a period), which was no doubt helped by Atari's $1.5 million advertising campaign, a huge sum buoyed on by all those pre-orders. Programmer Tod Frye must've been happy too, as he had negotiated a deal earning reportedly $0.10 in royalties per copy sold, netting a cool $770,000 from his work.

However, as reviews for Pac-Man became known, with critics calling it "disappointing", "devoid of what gave the original its charm", and labeling it "more Flicker-Man than Pac-Man" sales very quickly dried up. On top of that, disgruntled customers were returning their games for refunds, and by the Summer of 1982 many outlets began returning their unsold copies of Pac-Man to Atari. It was reported that Atari had an additional 5 million copies of Pac-Man in warehouses, waiting for a shipping date that never came, and that figure does not take into account the unsold returns from stores and customers.

Although the final tally for Pac-Man was probably a good million or so lower than the reported figure of 7.7 million sold cartridges, thanks to those customer returns, it still easily tops the list of biggest selling Atari 2600 games.

So there you have it, the biggest selling games of all time on the Atari 2600. How many of these titles did you have or play? And which one was your favourite? Let us know in the comments below...

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