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I've heard about a massive amount of Atari consoles and video game cartridges (most of them were unsold copies of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) buried in a sort of dump in the middle of a desert in the early 80's.

Is this an urban legend or did this really happen?

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    Not quite "desert" (Alamogordo isn't in a desert) but close enough... – Joe Dec 22 '16 at 23:36
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    E.T. the game was so bad and so many copies went unsold that it was one of the central reasons behind the video game crash of 1983 and the fall of Atari. Hence why it has the unique distinction of being the only video game to have it's own mass grave. – Ryan Dec 22 '16 at 23:49
  • @Joe I had no idea where that place was, I've only heard this story/legend. – pinckerman Dec 23 '16 at 0:58
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    @Ryan Not true. Only about 10% were ET, according to the people who arranged and executed the dig, as noted in the documentary. It did represent a big loss, but what did you expect when they gave the dev 5 weeks to develop the game when games normally took a few months? ET didn't kill Atari. Bad management did. – jpmc26 Dec 23 '16 at 19:52
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    @jpmc26, they dug up 1300 of 700,000 cartridges... Instead of just citing the doc which I've said is a fluff piece go read about it. There were between 10 and 20 semi-trucks involved in the original dumping. They made 4 million copies of E.T. and only sold 1.5 million many of which were returned. – Ryan Dec 23 '16 at 20:04
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Yes, this did in fact happen. The game E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was notoriously bad and highly criticized, and Atari sent the left over unsold games to a dump to be buried. They were buried in Alamogordo, New Mexico in 1983.

There is a back story behind the mass burial as well. In 1982, Atari had created a port of Pac-Man to their 2600 console. They created more Pac-Man game cartridges than they had sold consoles to the date, confident that their sales numbers would be high, and that Pac-Man would bring in more console sales as well. However, Pac-Man was received poorly, and despite selling 7 million cartridges, Atari was left with 5 million unsold copies. When it came to E.T., creating a video game based on a movie was not a common practice at the time. Unfortunately, the game was a commercial failure, as it was so bad, Atari only sold 1.5 million of the 5 million cartridges they produced for the game.

These two big failures, in addition to the decline of videos games during this time period, left Atari with tons of left over game cartridges that they could not sell, so they decided to just get rid of them.

I found a video of them digging the cartridges back up after years of sitting underground! Some other things that were also dumped there were the consoles, some other games (such as Centipede as seen in the one screenshot in that link, as well as Pac-Man, Yar's Revenge, Defender, Star Raiders, and Space Invaders) and news articles about the event.

Reportedly, 728,000 cartridges were buried there, as stated by James Heller, a former Atari manager who was present at the time of the dig-up. He also stated that there were plans to cover the games with concrete as well, but that didn't happen. Only about 1,300 cartridges were found in the dig-up, as the rest appeared to be buried deeper than anticipated.

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    A bit more supporting details in this Ars Technica article too. – user973 Dec 22 '16 at 15:21
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    This is just amazing. – pinckerman Dec 22 '16 at 15:48
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    There's actually a documentary they made about this. I can't remember the name, but I've seen it on one of the U.S. premium channels (HBO IIRC). Fascinating! – Matt M Dec 22 '16 at 16:16
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    Atari: Game Over produced for Xbox and available there and on Netflix (as of this comment in the UK) is worth watching about this – RoguePlanetoid Dec 22 '16 at 16:22
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    Link to the documentary's wiki : Atari: Game Over – J... Dec 23 '16 at 13:28

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