From The Archives Of Retrofinds: E.T. The Game

From our other blog RETROFINDS:
Following the record-breaking success of E.T. at the box office in June 1982, Steve Ross, CEO of Atari's parent company Warner Communications, entered talks with Steven Spielberg and Universal Pictures to obtain rights to produce a video game based on the film. In July, Warner announced that it had acquired the exclusive worldwide rights to market E.T. It was widely reported that Atari had paid US$20–25 million for the rights!!!

When asked by Ross what he thought about making an E.T.-based video game, Atari CEO Ray Kassar replied, "I think it's a dumb idea. We've never really made an action game out of a movie." Ultimately though, the decision was not Kassar's to make, and the deal went through.

The task of designing and programming of the game was then offered to Howard Scott Warshaw, whom Spielberg requested due to his previous work on the video game adaptation of the film Raiders of the Lost Ark. Due to the considerable amount of time that had been spent in negotiations securing the rights to make the game, less than six weeks remained in order to meet the September 1 deadline necessary to ship in time for Christmas shopping season. By comparison, Warshaw's Yars' Revenge took four to five months to complete, and Raiders of the Lost Ark six to seven months. An arcade game based on the E.T. property had also been planned, but this was deemed to be impossible given the short deadline. Warshaw accepted the assignment, and was reportedly offered US$200,000 and an all-expenses-paid vacation to Hawaii in compensation. (Not bad!)

Ultimately, Warshaw designed a game based on what he believed could be reasonably programmed in the amount of time he had available to him. The basic design was worked out in two days, at the conclusion of which Warshaw presented the idea to Kassar before proceeding to spend the balance of the allotted five weeks writing, debugging, and documenting about 6.5KB of original code.

The gameplay of E.T. consists of maneuvering the eponymous alien character through various screens to obtain three pieces of a device that, when assembled, allows him to phone home. The pieces are obtained by finding them scattered randomly throughout various pits, which are called wells.


Atari had expected the game would perform well simply because, the previous October, it had demanded its retailers place orders in advance for the entire year. At that time, Atari had dominated the software and hardware market, and was routinely unable to fill orders. At first, retailers responded by placing orders for more supplies than they actually expected to sell, but gradually, as new competitors began to enter the market, Atari started receiving an increasing number of order cancellations, for which the company was not prepared.[9][8]

While the game did sell well (it ranks as the eighth-best selling Atari cartridge of all time), only 1.5 million of the 4 million cartridges produced were sold. Despite reasonable sales figures, the quantity of unsold merchandise coupled with the expensive movie license, and the large amount of returns, caused E.T. to be a massive financial failure for Atari.

In September 1983, the Alamogordo Daily News of New Mexico reported that between ten and twenty truckloads of Atari boxes, cartridges, and systems from an Atari storehouse in Texas were crushed and buried at the landfill within the city. It was Atari's first dealings with the landfill, which was chosen because no scavenging was allowed and its garbage was crushed and buried nightly. Atari officials and others gave differing reports of what was buried, but it is widely speculated that most of Atari's millions of unsold copies of E.T. ultimately ended up in this landfill, crushed and encased in cement.
(Landfill used)

Great original article on ET the Video Game

ET TV Adverts

Funny Music video using the ET game and landfill as the subject

Funny cartoon from Mad Magazine and original advert for game