Posted on May 24, 2007
Atari History Through Commercials (Part 6)
1983 February: Atari Buy One Get On Free Offer
By early 1983, Atari was trying find answers on how to sell its cartridges.With the 2600 market completed saturated with cheap 3rd party games, they had to do anything possible. their first try was a “buy one get one free” offer. By the way, this has to rank as one of the greatest/most annoying (I can’t decide which and, honestly, I don’t want to) Atari commercials ever produced.
1983: Atari 2600 Ms. Pac-Man Commercial
Ms. Pac-Man was one of the best Atari 2600 games ever released. It completely made-up for the dismal Pac-Man cartridge, but it was too little, too late. I loved this version, and played it almost as much as “River Raid”. This first Ms Pac-Man commercial shows 3 young boys dreaming about Ms. Pac Man. It zooms-in to show just how much better the graphics were than the Atari 2600 Pac-Man.
This second commercial does-away with any story, and uses an ut ra-cool “sync-generator” rotating video-cube effect to show the hour different levels in the game, and more of the detailed (for the 2600) graphics.
1983 Summer: Atari Sizzle Film/Commercial For Pole Position 2600
The Atari 8-bit/5200 computer version of Pole Position was almost pixel perfect, but this 2600 translation was not too shabby either. The graphics were still wanting (they had nothing on Activision’s later entry named “Enduro”), but at least it had most of the game-play intact. The 5200 graphics are highlightes in the video. I’m torn as to whether is a sizzle film or a commercial. The “Corporate Executive” joke at the beginning and the 1:30 length point towards an industry sizzle, but it sure looks like a TV commercial.
1983 Summer: Sizzle Film For 5200 Joust
Joust for the Atari 5200 and Atari 8-bit computers was one of the best arcade translations of the early 1980’s. The 7800 version even better. This film looks like it was created for the Summer CES to promote the 5200. The 2600 version is not mentioned at all.
1983 September: Pac-Man Rebate Commercial
Even though the quality of Atari’s products had improved in 1983, they were still sitting on loads of unsold inventory and experiencing a huge slump in sales. To combat this effect, Atari and it’s new President James Morgan (hired after Ray Kassar resigned while he faced charges of inside trading) opted to slash VCS prices with a rebate, and offer a free Pac-Man cartridge to new buyers of the system. It was a bold, yet desperate move to try to save a business that had suddenly turned from cash cow to dead sow. However, what it really managed to do was accelerate a market crash that was already in full-swing.
Personal Anecdote: At this time, I had no idea that the video game business was crashing all I knew was that the local Kay Bee Toys had Atari 2600 games for $5.00 each, and I was going to buy as many as possible. The summer of 1983 was filled with my brother and I buying and playing cheap, terrible games like “Space Cavern” and “Marauder” and loving every minute of it. We also picked up copies of some of the original VCS games (like Street Racer, Indy 500, and Video Olympics) for $.50 cents each at Fed Mart. We just went around buying everything possible, and playingthe hell out our Atari VCS.. We were 13 years old, and had no concept of a “market crash”, or a “sustainable economy”. We just wanted to play as many games as we could find and suddenly we had the opportunity.
Fall 1983: Atari Home Computers Commercial
This commercial features the Atari 600XL, 800XL, and Eastern Front. Atari was just starting to really feel the heat from Commodore. Just a year before The Atari 8-bit computer line was handed the “software crown” by Electronic Games Magazine, as they had calculated that the Atari 400/800 had more games available than any other computer line. However, the story in the fall of 1983 was not very good. Atari had tried to up the ante with the 1200XL in January of 1983, but it was too large, too expensive and had a buggy OS. The Commodore Vic 20 and C64 had undercut the 400/800 by almost 1/2 the price. The 600XL and 800XL were sleek new computers that were supposed to combat Commodore’s encroachment into Atari’s “Home Computer” territory. The severely underpowered 600 XL was a disaster, but the 800XL was a fairly popular machine that kept the Atari Home Computer business afloat for some time afterward.
Personal Anecdote: By this time my brother Jeff and I wanted an Atari XL computer more than anything else in the entire world. We also saw the limitations of the 2600, but instead of abandoning Atari, we wanted to take the next logical step and get one of their computers. We had both started making our own BASIC programs at school, and dreamed of the day we could program our own games on our own computer. We were such huge Atari fans that would have considered no other computer system except for Atari. I recently wrote a blog entry describing how we acquired our Atari 800 computer in 1983. You can read it here.
1983 Late: “Discover The Magic Of Atari” Atari 5200 Games Commercial
This commercial includes many Atari 5200 games that were released in 1983 (such as Realsports Baseball and Joust).
1983 Late: Atari 5200/2600 Mario Brothers
Atari made the original single-screen two-player “Mario Bros.” game for both the 2600 and the 5200. If they had stuck it out long enough and had been given the opportunity to create a conversion “Super Mario Bros.” for the 5200 or 7800, who knows what could have happened.
1983 Christmas Atari Commercial
Even though the games Atari produced in 1983 rivaled almost everything they had done in the past, they simply could not undo the damage done in 1982 by their poor decision making. This Christmas commercial highlights some of the best games Atari had ever produced for its home systems and they all came out in 1983. The games shown in the commercial below are from the 5200, even though Santa stuffs 2600 games into the stockings. Still, the 2600 versions of both Ms Pac Man and Jungle Hunt were very well done for the time.
By the end of the year Atari posted loss of more than $500 million dollars for their parent company Warner Communication. Most of the rest of the industry was affected as well. Within 12 months, nearly every major video game company would be out of business, or would radically change their focus.
Late 1983/1984 Alan Alda Atari XL Computer Commercials
After announcing a whole new set of computer products at the January CES show (the 1400XL and 1450 XLD computers among other items) in 1984, Atari Inc. hired Alan Alda as the spokesman for their computer line. In a series of commercials, Alda attempted to lend his familiar face to Atari’s Home computers in the hopes that it would make the public more comfortable with he idea of Video Game company’s computer wares. In this first commercial Alda attempts to sell the public on Atari’s new word processing program AtariWriter.
In this next one, Alan Alda extols the virtues of Atari’s learning software.
Personal Anecdote: There was one really good reason why I loved these commercials. My mom, who otherwise did not understand our obsession with computers and video games, absolutely adored Alan Alda. As soon as Alda started appearing in Atari commercials, she became interested in our computer adventures. All of of a sudden she was more willing to take us to store to buy software, the user group meetings, and over to friend’s house to trade games. I’m not sure if she thought she could meet Alan Alda or not by doing these things, but anything that helped make my mom go along with our plans was OK with me.
1984 June: Atari Mind Link
At the June CES show in 1984, Atari Inc. was in shambles. rumors were flying about the fate of the America’s first video game company. Atari was showing their newest generation video game system, the 7800, as well as new computers, software and peripherals. The 7800 was very promising, as it was fully Atari 2600 backwards compatible (a major flaw of the 5200 was its lack of backwards compatibility) and had the ability to closely simulate the hottest arcade games of the time (like Galaga) by sporting a very sophisticated graphics chip. Atari also showed experimental products like the “Mind Link”, a set of games and hardware that would players play games using “mind control” (sort of).
Soon after this show, Atari was dissolved into two separate companies. The Home Division (computers and video games) was sold to ex Commodore President Jack Tramiel (the same man who had helped bankrupt Atari Inc.with his line of low-cost Home Computers). Tramiel instantly closed down the video game business, abandoning the 7800. For the second time in Atari’s short history, that an executive chose to promote the failing computer business over the historically much more lucrative/and or promising video game business. It was a costly mistake that damned the company into obscurity. Tramiel’s main goal was to use his “Business Is War” tactics to drive his old rivals at Commodore out of business, and the only way to do that would be focus Atari energies solely on the 8-bit computer line, and a new line of 16-bit machines.