The Atari 2600, originally branded as the Atari Video Computer System or Atari VCS for short until November 1982, is a home video game console from Atari, Inc. Released on September 11, 1977, it is credited with popularizing the use of microprocessor-based hardware and games stored on ROM cartridges (a format first used with the Fairchild Channel F in 1976) instead of dedicated hardware with games physically built into the unit. The 2600 was bundled with two joystick controllers, a conjoined pair of paddle controllers, and a game cartridge: initially Combat, and later Pac-Man.
The Atari VCS launched with nine simple, low-resolution games in 2 KiB cartridges. The system found its killer game with its version of Taito’s Space Invaders in 1980 and became widely successful, leading to the creation of Activision and other third-party game developers as well as competition from home console manufacturers Mattel and Coleco. By the end of its primary lifecycle in 1983–84, games for the 2600 were using more than four times the ROM of the launch titles with significantly more advanced visuals and gameplay than the system was designed for, such as Pitfall! and its scrolling sequel Pitfall II: Lost Caverns.
Atari invested heavily in two games for the 2600, Pac-Man and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, both of them being commercial failures that contributed to the video game crash of 1983 which ended the market relevance of the 2600. Warner sold off the home console division of Atari to Commodore CEO Jack Tramiel. In 1986, the new Atari Corporation under Tramiel released a lower-cost version of the 2600 and the backwards-compatible Atari 7800, but these were not enough to turn things around, and ultimately it was Nintendo that led the recovery of the industry. Atari finally ended production of the Atari 2600 on January 1, 1992. Across the system’s lifetime, an estimated 30 million units were sold.
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