45 years ago this month, video game history was made. In September 1977 – the same year that Star Wars arrived in cinemas – Atari launched its VCS home console and kick-started an industry that would become the billion-dollar monster it is today.
While the VCS (later rebranded as the Atari 2600) wasn't the first home console (the Magnavox Odyssey, released in 1972, took that accolade) nor was it the first to use interchangeable cartridges (that honour fell to 1976's Fairchild Channel F), it was certainly the first of its kind to enjoy mainstream success. Buoyed by Atari's line of smash-hit arcade conversions, the VCS would sell 30 million units during its long lifespan (it was still being sold by Atari in 1992), turning its parent company into one of the biggest entertainment brands on the planet.
The machine launched alongside the following game cartridges:
- Air-Sea Battle
- Basic Math
- Indy 500
- Star Ship
- Street Racer
- Video Olympics
The success Atari achieved with the VCS was sadly squandered, with subsequent systems like the 5200 and 7800 failing to capture the attention of the games-playing public in quite the same way. The video game crash of 1983 – caused in part by Atari's disastrous lack of quality control – would ruin a lot of the good work the VCS had achieved, especially in North America, where the effects of the crash were felt the strongest.
Atari would eventually become Atari Corp, and would launch the likes of the Atari ST, Lynx and Jaguar in an attempt to reclaim the glory days of the VCS. The latter was supposed to be the company's console saviour, but it failed against more powerful systems such as the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn. When the dust had settled, Atari was merged with disk-drive maker JTS Inc. in 1996, and its properties have changed hands multiple times since.
Nowadays, the Atari name lives on, but the company has precious little to do with the Atari that drove the VCS to global superstardom – despite the fact that it has recently released a 'new' version of the machine based on PC hardware.
Still, we've always got those sweet memories. Let us know if you cut your gaming teeth on the VCS, and what your fondest recollections of the machine are by posting a comment below.