In the 1970s, Atari helped form the modern day arcade and video game industry with its release of the arcade game Pong and the video game system Atari 2600. In many ways, Pong was the first “social” video game; the two-player arcade game was placed in public places and encouraged friendly one-on-one competition. Social media buzz is the hip marketing term these days, but Pong’s popularity was spread mainly through good old-fashioned word of mouth.
These days, the video game industry brings in nearly $17 billion in revenue each year. Atari, however, is no longer a big player in the market. Those who grew up in the 70s and 80s may have fond memories of Atari, but it was unable to duplicate the success of Pong and the 2600 as competitors entered the market in the 80s. Two infamously poorly rated games released by Atari, Pac-Man and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, helped precipitate the “Great Video Game Crash of 1983”. Atari never recovered; its foray into computers and new game consoles were not successful.
The company has changed hands many times in the page 40 years. These days, it calls itself a “multi-platform, global interactive entertainment and licensing company.” It strength lies in its licenses; it still owns the rights to Asteroids®, Centipede®, Missile Command® and Pong®, among others. For the most part, it’s stayed away from the full-fledged $60 releases. Its games are primarily based on mobile and downloadable platforms, like the PC, XBox Live Arcade and Playstation Network.
Atari’s journey just goes to show how quickly fortunes can change in the tech industry. No one cares if you were the originator of a piece of technology – if you can’t keep up with the changing times, you will be left behind.