Atari Coin-Op Division corporate records Edit


Finding Aid Author
Dane Flansburgh, Julia Novakovic, and Robert Ramos
Finding Aid Date
18 October 2016
Description Rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard


  • 1969 – 2002 (Creation)
  • 1974 – 1998 (Creation)


  • 600 Linear Feet (Part)
  • 18.8 Gigabytes (Part)

Agent Links



  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Preferred citation for publication

    Atari Coin-Op Division corporate records, Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play at The Strong

  • 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).

  • Language

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

  • 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.

  • Collection Scope and Content Note

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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

External Documents