Lost E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial Game Cartridges Found

The landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico was dug up to find the fabled cache of buried Atari 2600 games.
The landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico was dug up to find the fabled cache of buried Atari 2600 games.

APRIL 28, 2014 • For decades there has been speculation about the thousands of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial game cartridges that Atari, Inc. supposedly buried in the desert back in 1983. Now they have been found. Thanks to a partnership between Xbox Entertainment Studios, Fuel Ent., and the multiplatform media company Lightbox, a dig was sponsored at a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico to search for the discarded games for a documentary called: Atari: Game Over. The production is part of a six-part series, Signal to Noise. Not only has the excavation uncovered the E.T. cartridges but other titles such as Asteroids, Centipede and Space Invaders, plus Atari 2600 hardware. Atari had fallen into tough financial circumstances by 1983 as the home video game business was in a downturn. The E.T. title was rushed through production to make its release by Christmas in 1982 and received many negative reviews. Despite this, the title sold 3.5 million units, which was still short of the 5 million necessary to cover product licensing fees and production costs. As Atari wrote off losses, the decision was made to dump unsold stock from the company’s nearby El Paso service center to the Alamogordo landfill, and 14 fully loaded trucks were dispatched. A layer of concrete was even poured on top of the discarded product to keep anyone from finding the games and reselling them. Fuel acquired the exclusive right to excavate the landfill late in 2013, and took the media opportunity to Microsoft.

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In related news, a release date for the Xbox One in Japan was locked down by Microsoft Japan Co., Ltd. The console will launch there on September 4 with Microsoft games such as Dead Rising 3, Forza Motorsport 5, a Halo title, Kinect Sports Rivals, Ryse: Son of Rome, and Sunset Overdrive. Forty-eight companies are said to be in line to support the console in the market. Japan was one of the 26 markets that Microsoft announced on March 18 that would get Xbox One in September. Other nations include Argentina, Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Greece Hungary, India, Israel, Korea, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates.

Impact: What happened to the surplus E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial units has been one of the biggest legends in the games industry. The only way the legend could have gotten larger is if the crew in New Mexico had failed to find the discarded product – as happened to Gerardo Rivera with Al Capone’s empty vault in 1986. In addition to the nostalgia, this event reminds us that the industry has been around a long time, and when things are going well, it’s easy to jump in with everything you have… and sometimes you hit bottom. That’s a lesson firms pushing to enter the booming mobile games expansion should heed. Market growth is never unlimited – there’s always a plateau. None of the Atari cartridges recovered so far are playable, which is unfortunate since usable E.T. carts are much more valuable today than they were 31 years ago.

Rising Sun XBX1-SNo console game market is as xenophobic as Japan. Western games are just not a big sell there. Nearly a year after the Xbox One’s initial launch perusing the list of launch titles for Japan finds a preponderance of Western titles. Of the 40-plus titles on the launch slate only Final Fantasy XV (Square Enix), Kingdom Hearts III (Square Enix), Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes & Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (Konami), and Strider (Capcom) have obvious home market appeal in Japan. By September we would have expected more Japan-themed titles in the pipeline. Frankly, we have to think Japanese consumers will see themselves as an afterthought in Microsoft’s plans. Without taking them more seriously, we don’t see the Xbox One doing much better than its predecessors in Japan, which was a paltry performance at best.

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