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The Infamous ET 1982 Atari Game: Worst Video Game Ever Made


It’s widely acknowledged that Atari’s 1982 ‘E.T.’ game was a colossal disaster, blamed for the company’s downfall and the crash of the entire industry. The man behind the game, Howard Scott Warshaw, has surprisingly taken it in stride despite the chaos it caused. For many, receiving the game on a Christmas morning was a dream come true, only to turn into tearful disappointment quickly. The confusing gameplay, challenging obstacles like the notorious pits, and rushed development are some factors that contributed to its infamous reputation as the worst video game ever made. While the game’s impact on Atari’s demise is a hotly debated topic, its legacy looms large in video game history, serving as a cautionary tale for developers and players alike.

Key Takeaways:

  • E.T. Game Disaster: The E.T. game for Atari in 1982 was a colossal failure, contributing to Atari’s downfall and the industry crash, disappointing many players with its confusing gameplay.
  • Development Challenges: The game’s rushed development time of five weeks, lack of playtesting, and limited resources led to critical flaws like the infamous pits, which made the game almost unplayable for many.
  • Legacy and Redemption: While the game is considered one of the worst ever made, there is a nostalgic following, and some gaming community members have even fixed its significant issues. The designer, Howard Scott Warshaw, has made peace with the game’s infamy and has transitioned into a successful career, finding humor and valuable life lessons in the experience.

Development under Pressure

There’s a golden shining moment in the history of video games, often overshadowed by controversy and criticism – the development of the infamous E.T. game for the Atari 2600. The tale behind this disastrous game sheds light on the intense pressures developers faced during the gaming industry’s early days.

The Ambitious Timeline

An ambitious timeline set the stage for the creation of the E.T. game. Atari secured the licensing rights to the iconic movie, but with just five weeks to develop the game, designer Howard Scott Warshaw faced an unprecedented challenge. Typically, a game of this scale would take six months to create, but Warshaw had to compress his timeline significantly to meet Atari’s demands.

Howard Scott Warshaw’s Role and Challenges

Howard Scott Warshaw was key to developing the E.T. game. tasked with creating a game that captured the essence of the beloved film in a matter of weeks. Despite his best efforts, the rushed timeline and lack of testing led to significant challenges in the game’s design, including the infamous pits that frustrated players and contributed to the game’s hostile reception.

Timeline: Despite the game’s initial success in sales, the rushed development and lack of user testing ultimately led to the downfall of the E.T. game. Howard Scott Warshaw’s role in meeting Atari’s demands within an impossible timeframe highlights the dangers of prioritizing timelines over quality in game development.

The Gameplay and Criticisms

The Pits: Design Flaw or Childhood Trauma?

Criticisms: One of the main criticisms of the 1982 Atari E.T. game was the design flaw surrounding the pits. Falling into the pits was easy, but getting out could be very difficult, leading to frustration and disappointment among players. This flaw, which caused some mild childhood trauma for players, resulted from the rushed development process that did not include thorough playtesting to identify and fix such issues.

The Confusion and Lack of Direction

Design: The E.T. game was also heavily criticized for its confusing gameplay and lack of direction. Players were often puzzled and ultimately gave up on the game due to the absence of clear instructions or hints to navigate the challenges. This lack of guidance was a significant flaw that hindered the overall gaming experience.

This lack of clarity and guidance in the game design contributed to the hostile reception and ultimately added to the game’s reputation as one of the worst ever made. Players could not navigate the game unthinkingly without on-screen directions and hints, resulting in frustration and disappointment. Improved design elements, such as providing brief tips or hints, could have enhanced the player experience and mitigated some of the criticisms directed at the game.

The Aftermath and Myth

The Role in Atari’s Collapse

After the release of the ill-fated ‘E.T.’ game in 1982, Atari experienced a significant downturn. Despite selling 1.5 million copies initially, up to 3.5 million were unsold, contributing to Atari’s downfall. The rushed development, inspired by a tight deadline and lack of proper testing, ultimately led to the game being deemed one of the factors responsible for the company’s collapse.

The Legend of the New Mexico Landfill

Landfill rumors surrounding the burial of Atari’s unsold ‘E.T.’ cartridges in a New Mexico desert have gained mythical status. The legend was somewhat confirmed through the documentary ‘Atari: Game Over,’ which dug up thousands of cartridges, including ‘E.T.,’ dispelling that only the infamous game was laid to rest in the desert.

The New Mexico landfill story adds a layer of mystique to the already contentious history of the E.T. game and Atari’s downfall. While the truth of the burial has been revealed, the myth surrounding it continues to capture the imagination of gamers and industry enthusiasts alike.

Legacy and Reassessment

E.T. Game’s Place in History

Reassessment: Despite the infamy surrounding the E.T. Atari game, its historical place cannot be understated. The game’s rushed development and subsequent failure not only contributed to the downfall of Atari but also left a lasting imprint on the gaming industry as a cautionary tale. To understand more about what made the E.T. game so bad, visit What made E.T. on the Atari 1982 so bad? : r/gaming.

Modern Perspectives and Fixes

Fixes: In modern times, the E.T. game has garnered a nostalgic following, with some gaming community members working to fix its major flaws. Through ROM hacks, issues like the pit problem, where even a pixel on E.T.’s head could trigger a fall, have been rectified. This highlights a new perspective on the game, showing that even the worst of games can be improved with some adjustments.

Legacy: E.T. Atari’s legacy shows the importance of thorough game development and the potential repercussions of rushing a project. While initially deemed the worst video game ever made, the E.T. game’s journey from failure to potential redemption showcases the resilience of the gaming community and the impact of critical assessment and improvement.


Upon reflecting on the true story behind the disastrous E.T. game for the Atari 2600, it becomes clear that its downfall was a combination of rushed development, unrealistic expectations, and technological limitations. While the game has gained infamy as one of the worst ever made, it also serves as a cautionary tale for the industry about the importance of proper development time, playtesting, and managing expectations. Howard Scott Warshaw, the man behind the game, has taken the criticism in stride and even found humor in the situation, ultimately moving on to a successful career in therapy. As the legacy of E.T. continues to be debated among gaming enthusiasts, the game’s story provides a cautionary tale in creating and releasing video games.


Q: What is the backstory behind the E.T. 1982 Atari Game?

A: The E.T. 1982 Atari Game was created with a tight deadline of five weeks due to the high-pressure acquisition of the licensing rights to the famous movie. This rushed development process led to design flaws and gameplay issues that ultimately resulted in the game being considered one of the worst ever made.

Q: How did the E.T. game impact the video game industry?

A: The E.T. game is often blamed for contributing to Atari’s downfall and the entire video game industry crash in the 1980s. Its commercial failure and other factors led to widespread skepticism towards licensed games and highlighted the importance of thorough playtesting and development processes.

Q: What is Howard Scott Warshaw’s perspective on the E.T. game and its legacy?

A: Howard Scott Warshaw, the designer of the E.T. game, has taken the criticism of the game in stride. While acknowledging its flaws, he emphasizes the challenging circumstances in which the game was developed and highlights the range in his career, with other successful titles such as Yars’ Revenge. He has even humorously titled his forthcoming book on the experience as a nod to the game’s infamous reputation.

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