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Atari 2600

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The Atari 2600 is a home video game console developed and produced by Atari, Inc. Released in September 1977 as the Atari Video Computer System (Atari VCS), it popularized microprocessor-based hardware and games stored on swappable ROM cartridges, a format first used with the Fairchild Channel F in 1976. The VCS was bundled with two joystick controllers, a conjoined pair of paddle controllers, and a game cartridgeinitially Combat[3] and later Pac-Man.[4] Sears sold the system as the Tele-Games Video Arcade. Atari rebranded the VCS as the Atari 2600 in November 1982 alongside the release of the Atari 5200.

Quick facts: Also known as, Manufacturer, Type, Generation...
Atari 2600
Four-switch VCS model (1980–1982)
Also known asAtari Video Computer System (prior to November 1982)
ManufacturerAtari, Inc.
TypeHome video game console
Release date
Introductory priceUS$189.95 (equivalent to $920 in 2022)
DiscontinuedJanuary 1, 1992 (1992-01-01)[1]
Units sold30 million (as of 2004)[2]
MediaROM cartridge
CPU8-bit MOS Technology 6507 @ 1.19 MHz
Memory128 bytes RAM
GraphicsTelevision Interface Adaptor
Controller input
  • Joystick
  • paddles
  • driving
  • keypad
  • Trak-Ball
Best-selling gamePac-Man, 8 million (as of 1990)[lower-alpha 1]
PredecessorAtari Home Pong
Atari Video Pinball
SuccessorAtari 5200

Atari was successful at creating arcade video games, but their development cost and limited lifespan drove CEO Nolan Bushnell to seek a programmable home system. The first inexpensive microprocessors from MOS Technology in late 1975 made this feasible. The console was prototyped under the codename Stella by Atari subsidiary Cyan Engineering. Lacking funding to complete the project, Bushnell sold Atari to Warner Communications in 1976.

The Atari VCS launched in 1977 with nine low-resolution games on 2 KB cartridges. The system's first killer app was the home conversion of Taito's arcade game Space Invaders in 1980. The VCS became widely successful, leading to the founding of Activision and other third-party game developers and to competition from console manufacturers Mattel and Coleco. Games grew to use four or more times the storage size of the launch games[5] with significantly more advanced visuals and gameplay than the system was designed for, such as Activision's Pitfall!

By 1982, the Atari 2600 was the dominant game system in North America. However, it saw competition from other consoles such as the Intellivision and ColecoVision, and poor decisions by Atari management damaged both the system and company's reputation, most notably the release of two highly anticipated games for the 2600: a port of the arcade game Pac-Man and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Pac-Man became the 2600's highest-selling game, but was panned for being inferior to the arcade version. E.T. was rushed to market for the holiday shopping season and was similarly panned and became a commercial failure. Both games, and a glut of third-party shovelware, were factors in ending Atari's relevance in the console market, contributing to the video game crash of 1983.

Warner sold Atari's home division to former Commodore CEO Jack Tramiel in 1984. In 1986, the new Atari Corporation under Tramiel released a lower-cost version of the 2600 and the backward-compatible Atari 7800, but it was Nintendo that led the recovery of the industry with its 1985 launch of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Production of the Atari 2600 ended on January 1, 1992, with an estimated 30 million units sold across its lifetime.

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