Thousands of E.T. video game cartridges were supposedly dumped in a New Mexico landfill in the early 80s after the game’s disastrous release, and now a team of searchers is setting out to the dump to see if they can locate the long-lost games.
It has long been rumored that Atari executives ordered millions of copies of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial to be buried in the early 1980s, and over the decades that followed the story has tuned into something of an urban legend among gaming fans. Some have located the site they believe holds the E.T. video game cartridges, though to this point no one has actually looked to see if they are there.
The game was created as a tie-in to the blockbuster 1982 movie of the same name and cost $25 million to create, but today is remembered as one of the biggest flops in video game history.
Atari executives pushed for the game to be released for the Christmas shopping season, leaving only a fraction of the time needed for development and testing. As a result, the game’s design was terrible and gameplay nearly impossible, say gaming experts.
“The game looked bad and it had nothing to do with the movie really,” said Sam Claiborn, an editor at video game news site IGN. “It was just E.T. falling in holes.”
As a result of poor sales, Atari was left with close to 5 million E.T. video game cartridges that could not sell. Many believe the game’s crash led to Atari’s financial difficulties in the early and mid 1980s.
At least one developer who worked on the E.T. video game thinks the cartridges aren’t buried in New Mexico. Programmer Howard Scott Warshaw has said the urban legend that the game was buried by the millions just isn’t plausible.
“Atari was a failing company at the time,” he said in a 2004 interview. “They were desperate for cash. Why not reuse the plastic cases and some of the boards and ROMs? There is a lot of money to be saved by cannibalizing the inventory and reusing that. Why would a failing company spend money they didn’t have in an effort to waste even more money by throwing away usable resources?”
He added: “But, sad as it is and unromantic as it is to say, I’m sorry but I don’t buy the dumped cartridge stories.”
A group of gamers now plans to make a trip to the landfill, which is about 200 miles south of Albuquerque, to see if they can find the games. They will be accompanied by a documentary film crew from Microsoft’s Xbox Entertainment Studios, Microsoft said in a statement.
The search for the E.T. video game cartridges is several months in the making. Excavation plans were originally denied by the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, but ultimately approved on Monday. More details about the exact date of the dig are expected to be released soon.