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Atari Coin-Op Division corporate records

 Collection
Identifier: 114.6238
The Atari Coin-Op Division corporate records comprise 600 linear feet of materials, and dates range between 1969 and 2002. Materials include game development documentation, focus group reports, cabinet artwork, cabinet assembly drawings, schematics, technical documentation, corporate memos, patents, financial reports, research material, sell sheets, marketing research, photographs, and various forms of magnetic tape. These materials allow an insight on how Atari designed and developed video games. Unless otherwise noted, materials have been arranged by game, and are arranged alphabetically. Additional scope and content notes can be found within the Contents List section of this finding aid. (Oversized materials, audiovisual materials, and computer media may require advanced notice to retrieve for researchers.)

The Atari Coin-Op records have been arranged into thirteen series, five of which have been further divided into subseries. The materials are housed in 158 records cartons, 9 archival document boxes, 68 flat file drawers, 2 flat boxes, 25 media boxes, and 51 rolled storage boxes.

Dates

  • 1969 - 2002
  • Majority of material found within 1974 - 1998

Language

The materials in this collection are primarily in English, although there a few instances of Japanese.

Conditions Governing Access

At this time, audiovisual and digital files in this collection are limited to on-site researchers only. It is possible that certain formats may be inaccessible or restricted.

Conditions Governing Use

This collection is open for research use by staff of The Strong and by users of its library and archives. Though intellectual property rights (including, but not limited to any copyright, trademark, and associated rights therein) have not been transferred, The Strong has permission to make copies in all media for museum, educational, and research purposes.

Extent

600 Linear Feet

18.8 Gigabytes

Abstract

The Atari Coin-Op records comprise 600 linear feet of game design documents, memos, focus group reports, market research reports, marketing materials, arcade cabinet drawings, schematics, artwork, photographs, videos, and publication material. Much of the material is oversized.

Historical Note

Nolan Bushnell grew up in a small town near Salt Lake City, Utah. As a teenager, he repaired television sets while also working at his dad’s cement contracting business. Bushnell was first exposed to computer games when he attended the University of Utah as a computer graphics student. While there, he, like other computer engineering students, played math and simple video games on large and expensive mainframe computers. Bushnell also worked a part-time job at an amusement park arcade, where he became familiar with coin-op electro-mechanical games. After college, Bushnell combined his knowledge of computers, televisions, and coin-op games to make the first commercial video game, Computer Space. Computer Space was based on the MIT space game Spacewar!, and Bushnell licensed it to Nutting Associates. Although it was the first commercial video game, Computer Space failed to generate much excitement and fanfare. Believing that he could do better on his own, Bushnell, along with his business partner Ted Dabney, founded Syzygy; when they were informed that the name was taken, they changed it to Atari, Inc. Once Atari was officially founded in 1972, Bushnell and Dabney hired engineer Al Alcorn to design a table-like ping pong game. The result was Pong—a simple tennis-like game featuring two parallel bars and a moving dot—which ultimately transformed the video game industry.

Following Pong, the company continued to experience tremendous success. Along with Pong sequels (Doubles Pong, Super Pong, Quadrapong, and other variations), there were other subsequent hits including: Gran Trak 10, Tank, Crash ‘N Score, Breakout (a game that was famously designed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak—though their design, too complicated for mass production, was not used in the final product), Night Driver, Subs, Le Mans, and Fire Truck. In 1975, Atari created a home version of Pong (appropriately called Home Pong), which was marketed exclusively at Sears and quickly sold 150,000 units under the Sears’ Tele-Games label. Two years later, Atari released another consumer product, the Video Computer System (later renamed the Atari 2600), a game system that used video game cartridges. Despite its massive success, the development costs were immense. Bushnell, looking to offset costs to an established company, sold Atari to Warner Communications in 1976 for $28 million (Dabney had left the company a year after it was founded). In 1978, Bushnell left the company he cofounded after several disagreements with Warner.

By the early 1980s, smash hits such as Asteroids, Battlezone, Missile Command, Centipede, Tempest, and Star Wars attracted millions of teenagers and young adults into arcades, and firmly established the coin-op division of Atari as the premier arcade manufacturer. Despite these successes, dark times lay ahead. Beginning in 1983, the video game industry experienced a sharp decline. Atari, as the largest video game producer at the time, began to rapidly lose money. Warner, desperate to unload a potentially unstable liability, explored options to sell the floundering company. In 1984, Jack Tramiel, the former head of Commodore, acquired the home and computer division of Atari from Warner, renaming the company Atari Corporation. Soon after, Warner sold its 60% majority share of the coin-op division to Namco. Namco subsequently renamed the arcade division Atari Games. (Warner, operating under the name Time Warner Interactive, would eventually buy back the majority share of Atari Games.)

Operating as Atari Games, the coin-op division had moderate success with games such as Paperboy, Indiana Jones: Temple of Doom, Road Runner, Gauntlet, Road Blasters, 720°, Toobin’, and Hard Drivin’. Yet, as competition intensified throughout the late '80s and early '90s, Atari Games struggled to compete. As the 1990s progressed, Atari Games produced far fewer successful games and experienced several setbacks. In 1996, Time Warner Interactive, parent company of Atari Games, sold the company to WMS Industries. WMS Industries renamed Atari Games as Midway Games West to avoid confusion with another subsidiary. In 2003 Midway liquidated Midway Games West’s assets, effectively shutting down the last remnants of Atari Games.

System of Arrangement

Series I: Game development documentation, 1976-1999

Series II: Cabinet artwork, concepts, designs, and drawings, 1973-1999

Subseries A: Cabinet concept and industrial design drawings
Subseries B: Assembly drawings
Subseries C: Vendor and part drawings
Subseries D: Cabinet artwork and decals
Subseries E: Technical drawings

Series III: Technical documentation, 1969-1997

Series IV: Engineering notes and reports, 1974-1994

Series V: Corporate records, 1974-1999

Subseries A: Legal
Subseries B: Financial
Subseries C: Memos
Subseries D: Trade shows, reunions, and distributor meetings
Subseries E: Forms, policies, and procedures
Subseries F: Atari Inc., Atari Games, and Time Warner Interactive
Subseries G: Atari Adventure and other business ventures

Series VI: Research material, 1972-2000

Series VII: Software and hardware development, 1980-1996

Series VIII: Advertising and marketing, 1977-2000

Subseries A: Marketing research and promotional material
Subseries B: Sell sheets

Series IX: Pinball, 1977-1982

Series X: Publications, 1975-2000

Subseries A: Layout, review, and manuscript
Subseries B: Operator’s manuals and schematic packages

Series XI: Photographs, 1975-1990

Series XII: Audiovisual materials, 1978-2001

Subseries A: VHS
Subseries B: Betacam
Subseries C: U-matic
Subseries D: Reel-to-reel
Subseries E: Audio cassettes
Subseries F: Tapes reformatted to DVD

Series XIII: Floppy disks and digital files, 1977-2002

Custodial History

The Atari Coin-Op Division corporate records were acquired by The Strong in June 2014 from Scott Evans. The records were accessioned by The Strong under Object ID 114.6238. The records were received from Scott Evans in a shipment of 23 pallets. Evans initially acquired these materials during sealed-bid auctions at an electronics recycling firm in California in 2003.

Related Materials

The Strong acquired several unique museum objects with this accession lot of archival materials. As a result, ICHEG’s collections now include two computer towers which operated at Atari, Inc. (a mobile unit and a stationary tower) and a binder which notable game designer Ed Logg utilized in the creation of iconic Atari game Asteroids.

Also acquired alongside the Atari Coin-Op Division records were the remaining corporate records of Tengen, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Atari Games which operated between 1987 and 1994. (See also the Tengen, Inc. records, 1985-1995, in the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play.)

For additional information on the coin-op division of Atari, see also the Atari design concept sketches, 1973-1991, in the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play. These design sketches provide a further look into Atari’s arcade cabinet designs.

The Strong is also home to a large collection of Atari coin-operated arcade games, ranging from best-sellers like Pong, Asteroids, and Centipede, to lesser known prototypes such as Maze Invaders.

Processed by

Primary processing by Project Archivist Dane Flansburgh (February 2015-June 2016) with assistance from Mary Ann Dannhauser, Kelli Emler, Melissa Fanton, Tyler Kassten, Julia Novakovic, and Robert Ramos (2015-2016).
Title
Finding Aid to the Atari Coin-Op Division Corporate Records, 1969-2002
Status
completed
Author
Dane Flansburgh, Julia Novakovic, and Robert Ramos
Date
18 October 2016
Description rules
dacs

Repository Details

Part of the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play at The Strong Repository

Contact:
The Strong
One Manhattan Square
Rochester NY 14607 USA
585.263.2700
585.423.1886 (Fax)