This notorious 1982 release for the Atari 2600 was – at the time – the most expensive movie license ever acquired by a video game company ($35 million dollars it apparently cost), and it also undoubtedly hastened the demise of Atari Inc. (as it was back then), and was also a major contributing factor to the video game market crash of 1983.
Yes: pumping out games as bad and as cynically-rushed as E.T. was created a significant fall in consumer confidence – particularly in North America where the effects of the crash were felt most strongly.
And none of this was the fault of the programmer, Howard Scott Warshaw, who took some persuading to actually take on the project in the first place. Warshaw was given only six weeks to create a finished game from scratch, when normally an Atari 2600 game would take between six to twelve months to program. But complete the game he did, and it was then marketed by Atari some six months after the film had been released (ie. late; when people were starting to become fatigued by the film). Also, Atari suits at the time inexplicably decided to manufacture six million E.T. cartridges in anticipation of high sales. And – while E.T. did sell more than a million copies initially – a lot of the people who bought it were not happy and returned the game for their money back. Ultimately – after returns – Atari sold less than ten percent of the cartridges they manufactured for E.T. and infamously buried hundreds of thousands of them in the New Mexico desert in an attempt to hide their embarrassment.
Throughout the decades there have been numerous instances where upper management at a video games company have made calamitous decisions, but those made by Atari management in the case of E.T. must rank as the greediest, most cynical, and most stupid of all time. Again: no real blame can be placed on the shoulders of the programmer, but the people who pushed him to make the game in six weeks; and the ones who thought that $35 million dollars was an acceptable price to pay for the E.T. video game license, are nothing but fools. Fools who brought the video games industry to its knees with their blindness and greed.
As for the game: it’s dogsh*t, of course. Of little or no redeeming value. It bears little resemblance to the film, or the characters in it, and few people who play E.T. have got anything positive to say about it.
E.T. on the Atari 2600 is an interesting story, but unfortunately one that highlights the very worst of the video games business.