The Tireless Work of Men like Me Keeps Atari’s ‘E.T.’ from Falling into the Wrong Hands
Yes, your paperwork checks out. You’ve got clearance – you aren’t taping this, are you? This information can’t leak out the way someone blew the lid on The Top Secret Catch Phrase Guy. I spent months cleaning up that one. Okay, listen up.
At precisely 3:04 P.M. EST on 7 December 1982, Atari – then owned by Warner Communications – reported only a 10% to 15% increase in expected earnings. That sounds like good news until you realize that the financial world had predicted at least another quarter of unprecidented 50%-100% growth in the business. In fact, quite the opposite happened. Atari had grossly overprojected the sales of nearly every major product.
None was overprojected so much as Atari’s “E.T.” Atari manufactured millions more copies of E.T. than to-date sales of the home system itself. As you know, the Service here gets beta versions of all the games early – I myself have TeamFortress 2 at home this very moment – but in my long career I’ve never seen a more suckacious piece of ass-swilling trash. Knowing that the game was rolling toward release was like watching a train wreck. News went stright up to the cabinent. But there were too many variables. We couldn’t stop it. We couldn’t cover-up the existence of E.T. due to the extensive pre-marketing, nor could Atari postpone the release of the title given the Christmas buying season.
Predictable results: Disappointed schoolchildren, financial ruin, rioting in the streets, Moscow on the red phone cackling like naughty catholic schoolgirls. Orders came from the top to destroy the evidence. I was in the convoy, even, a long line of tractor trailers snaking its way from El Paso under cover of darkness – still an intern back then, you know. Didn’t have full clearance. But even I could guess what they were burying in the sands just outside of Alamogordo, New Mexico. They were burying E.T. Millions and millions of copies of E.T. We called in a steamroller to crush the remains, but frankly there were just too many of them and no guarantee the job was done. Our boys in silvery clean suits poured a slab of concrete over the merchandise in question. All we could do is clean up; we couldn’t stop the 1983 industry crash that set videogaming back a whole decade.
[The man in black pauses to wipe a tear from his eye.]
My job here in Alamogordo is to make sure it doesn’t happen again. God forbid – some nosy kids, some foreign nationals, some Basque separatists, who knows – might dig up just one in-tact copy of E.T. the Extra Terrestrial for the Atari 2600. Looking to sell it on eBay, I dunno. Next thing you know, 1983 all over again. Complete market collapse. Bill Gates selling pencils on the streets of Redmond. This is serious, serious stuff.
Since that terrible year, the Service has had to approve each and every new port of Pac-Man to ensure we don’t have another 2600 incident on our hands. [Does his impression of the ‘honk’ noises Atari Pac-Man made]
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