Atari burial ground unearthed in New Mexico

Documentary team excavates games graveyard and finds E.T. - one of the worst games of all time.
Learn more

01.Raiders of the lost Atari


A Microsoft-backed team of diggers has uncovered a lost burial ground of Atari game cartridges from a landfill site in New Mexico, USA ending more than 30 years of mystery.

The cartridge game cemetery had become the stuff of urban legend since the then struggling console games giant buried the games secretly in 1983. 

Early Sunday morning, retro game enthusiasts excavated several areas on the site, eventually turning up hundreds of titles entombed by the entertainment giant, which went belly up in 1984 after a massive recession in the games industry.

In 1983, the North American games industry experienced a massive recession, resulting in huge financial losses across the board. Facing huge financial losses, Atari was rumoured to have dumped millions of unsold games cartridges in the New Mexico landfill under the cover of darkness, before sealing it all under a block of concrete to deter thieves. 

The dig, backed by Microsoft's Xbox Entertainment Studios, is part of a documentary about the North American video games crash. A former Atari manager who spearheaded the disposal, James Heller, said there were 730,000 games buried beneath the landfill. So far, only a few hundred have been recovered from the rubble, many still in original shrinkwrap packaging. 

The North American video game crash of 1983 marked a significant turning point in the games industry. Major studios over-saturated the market with rushed, low-quality games in an attempt to turn quick profits, sometimes on the back of expensive licensing deals.

Copies of E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial were rumoured to be among the cache of cartridges. While at the time expected to help salvage the genre, the game critically panned and bombed with consumers, supposedly putting the cap on Atari’s downfall. 

Atari reportedly spent more than $US20 million for exclusive rights to the game. With its ties to the popular film, Atari anticipated massive sales and produced millions of cartridges to meet demand, but under pressure from a Christmas shopping deadline allowed just five weeks of development.

It’s estimated that while 1.5 million copies were sold, up to 3.5 million were returned to Atari by retailers, contributing to a net loss of $100 million for Atari on the project. Atari closed its doors in 1984, paving the way for Nintendo to take over the market in the late 1980s.

Today, a copy of E.T. sells for around $20 on eBay.


Sign up to our free

Receive FREE email updates of our latest tests, consumer news and CHOICE marketing promotions.

Your say - Choice voice

Make a Comment

Members – Sign in on the top right to contribute to comments