Atari History

1972 - 1984

Timeline 1972-1984

Jaguar at the Mall.

June 27, 1972

Atari Incorporated – Co-founders Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney embark on their new venture. Their first engineer hired was Allan Alcorn who designed Pong as simply a test, but it turned out to be the company’s first shipped product.

November 30,  1972

First production Pong arcades begin to ship. Selling at just $1095, Pong began to sell to distributors and dealers to begin showing up in Bars, bowling alley’s and even in Mall’s and JC Penny’s.


To break the exclusive deals with distributors, Atari secretly creates its own competitor – Kee Games, run by Nolan Bushnell’s neighbor – Joe Keenan and headed by Steve Bristow as its lead engineer, Kee Games begins selling knock offs of Atari games, but with unique enhancements.

November 1974

Kee Games releases its first unique game – Tank.

This was the first coin-op game to contain ROM based code for its graphics. It was an instant hit seller and immediately saw a follow up – Tank II that same year. Tank is a very important game to Atari as later on it would become the basis for Atari Combat, which was the pack-in game included with the Atari 2600 video game console in 1977.


December 1975

Pong comes home.

Sears Roebuck approaches Atari to sell video games in its Sporting Goods Department. Atari designs a home TV version of its Pong Arcade, originally looking to sell 50,000 units, Sears wants Atari to produce 150,000 of the Home Pong branded as Sears Telegames Pong. Atari would also sell 50,000 of its own Atari branded Atari Pong units. Sporting color, on screen score and audio from a built in speaker inside of the oddly shaped pedestal console, it turns out to be one of the hottest selling items for the 1975 holiday shopping season with people waiting several hours in line to purchase.

May 13, 1976

Atari Breakout is released. This unique game has been called “Pong turned on its side” – basically it was a video game version of the very popular Racquetball game of the era. The concept was created by Nolan Bushnell and Steve Bristow. Looking to increase profits, the game circuit design was given to a young Atari engineer named Steve Jobs. Steve would come back and deliver a PC board design that reduced 50 chips from the cost, giving Steve Jobs a $5,000 bonus. However it would later be revealed that it was Steve Wozniak, while coming in during the middle of the night to play arcade games after work from Hewlett Packard who in fact designed the Breakout board. The board, while working and saving a great deal of cost was not usable in production, so it would have to be redone. The two Steve’s would move on and later found a computer company many might have heard of… Apple, Inc.

October 1977

The Atari Video Computer System (2600) model #2600 makes its debut. With a retail price of $199-$229, the system is a multiprocessor based, programmable game console. It includes 2 joysticks and 2 paddle controllers. It comes with a 2 player game with 27 variations called Combat. Expected to have a library of 10 different games based on Atari arcade games, the console design is hoped to have a selling life of 2-3 years.

December 1978

Atari Announces its formed a new Home Computer Division. The Home Computer and Consumer Electronic divisions are kept separate from one another.

January  1979

Atari’s marketing decides to try something new – to sell video games all year long and not push only for the holiday shopping season. At the Winter Consumer Electronics show in Atari officially debuts its Atari 400 and Atari 800 Home computers.

Summer 1979

Meanwhile Atari releases Lunar Lander into the arcades.

October 1979

Atari 400 and Atari 800 home computers are officially released.


November 1979

Atari’s answer to the quarter eating arcade hit Space Invaders arrives – called Asteroids, this arcade game will become one of Atari’s best selling and most memorable Atari smash hits.*

December 1979

Selling Atari 2600 units all year round proves to be a major marketing move for Atari, and a profitable one as well. Selling nearly 400,000 units in 1979, Atari sells over $200 million in inventory for a net profit of almost $20 million…. Bigger sales and even bigger profits are ahead.


January 1980

Atari’s first licensed title for its 2600 game console is released… Space Invaders.

June 1980

Atari releases Missile Command into the arcades. Originally titled Armegeddon, its gameplay reflected the Cold War nuclear attack scenario of the era. The designer of the game would only do it if the game was a defensive game and not an attack game.

November 1980

Atari Battlezone is released into the arcades. The “Battle of the Future Tanks” is a hit, with its unique scope view upgrade design, dual control handles and its highly realistic wire frame simulation graphics, this game would later catch the attention of the US Military which would approach Atari to design a version called “Army Battlezone” which would be a very accurate simulation of the Army’s new Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

January 1981

Atari announces but never ships – the Atari Remote 2600 and the Atari Cosmos tabletop 3D holographic (called Holoptics by Atari) game console.

April 1981

Missile Command comes home to the Atari 2600.

July 1981

Atari Centipede becomes the first coin-op to be UL (Underwriters Laboratory) Approved.

August 1981

Asteroids also comes home to the Atari 2600 continuing to give Atari dominance in releases arcade translations to its home console line.

October 1981

Atari Tempest hits the arcades. Its incredible full color vector graphics, enticing sound effects and unique game play bring in huge followings of players to this new game. The game designer actually had a nightmare which was his inspiration for the creation to Tempest.

January 1982

Atari Introduces its Advanced Video Computer “System X” at the Winter CES…. This would later be renamed the Atari 5200 Super System.

February 1982

Space Duel is released in the arcades and Atari’s Haunted House is released on the 2600 (the original internal title was called Graves Manor)

March 1982

Atari releases Pac Man for the 2600. It is a rushed product by a programmer who didn’t really like Pac Man, the result was a very poorly written game bearing little resemblance to the coin-op version.

May 1982

Yars’ Revenge is released on the 2600. The programmer came up with the name by reversing first name of RAY KASSAR – CEO of Atari. Kassar would later find out about this and compliment the programmer for his ingenuity.

June 1982

Atari officially introduces the Atari 5200 Super System.

A new high end game console with controllers that were so packed with features, they became the systems failing.   With speed sensitive 360 degree analog joysticks which were unheard of in 1982, but are common on all of today’s modern consoles.   Using innovative conductive contact pads to cram a full 12 key keypad, 2 left and 2 right first buttons a Start, Pause and Reset button, the controller was impressive, but was difficult to use with many games that required a simple 4 direction digital joystick. Also, Atari’s Pack-in game with its new flagship console was Super Breakout.


July 1982

Atari opens its first “Atari Adventure Center” arcade amusement center at the Marriot Great America theme park in California.

November 1982

Atari releases Millipede, Quantum and Liberator. It also releases its newest license – Pole Position. Originally Atari did not want to license the game, but through some licensing pressure, it took the game and it turned out to be a smash hit in the arcades.

January 1983

Atari would announce a huge assortment of new games for both its 2600 and its 5200 game consoles, among them – 5200: Dig Dug, Kangaroo, Pole Position and Galaxian and on the 2600 – Centipede, Pheonix, Vanguard, Pole Position and Ms Pac Man.

February 1983

Atari announces its new product – “The Graduate” which was also called “My First Computer” a new enhancement to the 2600 console that would’ve added a computer keyboard ontop of the console turning it into a basic computer system.

Atari also announces its “Swordquest Challenge” a series of 4 games that would use included Comic books that would contain clues to solve a puzzle. Winners would then go to Atari for a special contest for each game. Each winner would be awarded a gold and jewel encrusted $25,000 prize and after all 4 winners were awarded, they were to come back and all play against each other in a special contest to win a $50,000 gold and jewel encrusted sword. The contests were canceled after the Fireworld contest because Atari had been sold in 1984. A quiet award ceremony was done to award the Waterworld prize to the winner. The final game – Airworld was never finished or released and its prize and the Sword prize were never awarded and were returned to Franklin Mint during the sale of Atari in July 1984.

March 1983

Atari begins shipment of its new Atari 1200XL home computer. The new design is very high tech, low profile and sleek. However it lacks any expansion capabilities and it is incompatible with a great deal of software.   Sales of the Atari 800 home computer increase as buyers rush to purchase the earlier model before they are no longer available.

May 1983

Atari Star Wars and Food Fight are released into the arcades.

June 1983

Atari announces its “Next Generation” line of home computers – the Atari 600XL, 800XL to replace the Atari 400 and Atari 800.   A new pair of advanced systems called the Atari 1400XL and 1450XLD both of which would have built in modems and speech synthesizers. The 1450XLD would come with a built in disk drive and room for a 2nd to be added by the consumer at one of Atari’s 1,400 authorized Atari Service™ Centers.


Crystal Castles is released into the arcades.

November 1983

Atari releases Major Havoc and Pole Position II into the arcades. Atari signs a deal to negotiate further business with new silicon valley startup Amiga Corporation.*

January 1984

Atari releases its Laserdisc arcade – Firefox, based on the movie starring Clint Eastwood.

Atari introduces “Atarisoft” and introduces its normally Atari-only exclusive titles on IBM PC, Apple ][, C64, TI/99, Intellivision and Colecovision.

Atari announces a large assortment of titles for the 2600 and Atari 5200 systems including Mario Brothers, Moon Patrol and Berzerk.

April 1984

Atari releases Taz and Crystal Castles for the 2600.

May 8, 1984

Atari and Lucasfilm introduce two ground breaking titles exclusively for Atari game consoles and computers – Ballblazer and Rescue on Fractalus.

May 21, 1984

Atari introduces the Atari 7800 Prosytem gaming console. With built in Atari 2600 compatibility, plus the ability to play new perfect arcade titles, the new console along with its 12 launch titles, including exclusives such as Pole Position II packed in, the first home version of Galaga and Xevious as well as new titles such as Desert Falcon hope to give Atari the needed boost back into the home gaming console industry.

May 22, 1984

Atari officially makes public that is has canceled the Atari 5200 Super System.

June 3 1984

Atari unveils the Atari 7800 Prosystem along with its new Mindlink headband controller, the newly redesigned Atari 1450XLD home computer and its new 1090XL expansion system at the Summer CES.    Atari has banners, flyers and press releases all stating *"June 3, 1984--The Day The Future Began."

Atari releases I, Robot into the arcades.