The Worst Video Game in History: E.T. The Extra Terrestrial

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial the Video Game by Atari

Atari's failure begins with the release of the infamous E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial the video game. Learn the story, play the game.

By Priscilla Rain Hopper
April 29, 2020

Imagine butchering the storyline and the main character of one of the world’s most beloved and iconic movie characters. It seems like the worst mistake a company could make, and unfortunately for Atari, bringing E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial the video game to market was that mistake.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial the video game made it’s major debut under Christmas trees in December 1982, just barely six months after the release of the movie. Unfortunately, the game’s designer, Howard Scott Warshaw, was given just under six weeks to design and complete the game in order to compete in the market during the Christmas sales boom 1 . Critics agree that this video game is one of the worst games ever created to this day because of it's unfortunate useability, ugly design, and poor quality  2 .

Based on their timeline, execution, marketing, and post-production procedure, the rushed mistake known as E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial the video game was the most fatal mistake Atari ever made. The company lost $310.5 million due to the sharp drop in video game sales; which many attribute to the failed Atari game 3 . While Atari sold around 1.5 million copies, because of the abundance of cartridges created, the millions of unsold and sometimes returned copies were dumped in landfills 4 . With more time allotted to the project and a significantly better means of assembly, marketing, and completion, the game would not have blundered so obviously. But, as fatal as it may be, we cannot fix the past. 

  1. Steve L. Kent, The Ultimate History of Video Games: from Pong to Pokemon, the Story Behind the Craze That Touched Our Lives and Changed the World (Roseville, CA: Prima, 2001).

  2. Charels Rogers, “The Absolute Worst Video Games Of All-Time,” Goliath, October 28, 2019, www.goliath.com/gaming/the-worst-video-games-of-all-time/.

  3. Raiford Guins, “Concrete and Clay: The Life and Afterlife of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial for the Atari 2600,” Design and Culture: The Journal of the Design Studies Forum, Vol, 1, No. 3 (November 2009), https://doi.org/10.1080/17547075.2009.11643295.

  4. Atari Parts Are Dumped,” The New York Times, September 28, 1983, sec. D, https://www.nytimes.com/1983/09/28/business/atari-parts-are-dumped.html. 

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial by Atari