881 buried Atari ET game cartridges sell for more than US$100,000

31 Aug 2015

Sensing they were buying up a piece of gaming history, 881 people have purchased one of the many thousands of Atari ET gaming cartridges that were buried in a landfill.

The Atari ET game launched to tie in with the infamous film of the same name is widely known in gaming circles as being one of the worst video games ever created.

Written in extreme haste to match the same time as the launch of the film, its release could not have been more poorly timed as, in the year of its release, 1982, the entire video game industry went through an enormous crash that threatened its very existence.

The game sold so poorly that many attribute the eventual fall of Atari as a gaming powerhouse to it, with the company deciding it was better to bury thousands of copies in the desert in 1983.

30 years later, a documentary team went and dug up the nearly 728,000 copies with much fanfare, but now 881 alone have raised more than US$100,000 online.

A retro arcade game gold rush

According to the New Mexican paper The Alamogordo News – the city where the cartridges were buried – a total of US$107,930.15 was raised on eBay and, as part of a deal signed with the city’s commissioners, US$65,037.78 goes into the city’s coffers.

It certainly appears that the city has struck retro arcade gold as the person who watched over the original dig, filmmaker Joe Lewandowski, will continue releasing copies slowly to buyers.

“There’s 297 we’re still holding in an archive that we’ll sell at a later date when we decide what to do with them,” Lewandowski said. “I might sell those if a second movie comes out but for now we’re just holding them. The film company got 100 games, 23 went to museums and we had 881 that we actually sold. They were sold in 45 states and 14 countries.”

The city’s commissioner Nadia Sikes added that she was astounded that old video games buried in the ground could raise so much money: “Under no circumstances did I ever think [Joe was] going to sell over US$60,000 worth of games.”

Buried ET game copies image via taylorhatmaker/Flickr

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic