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Why E.T. Is Considered The 'Worst Video Game In History'

In the annals of video game lore, one game stands out: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Within a year of its release in 1982, the Atari 2600 title based on the hit Steven Spielberg movie — one of the first movie tie-ins — reportedly triggered the collapse of the entire video game industry.

Okay, that's a bit hyperbolic. As reported by IGN, many factors led to the crash of 1983, which in turn influenced the way the video game industry looks today. E.T. may have been more of a symptom than the cause — however, despite any logical explanations to the contrary, E.T. went on to become a cult classic. Though, this was less about the game's quality, and more about the persistent rumor that a huge amount of Atari products were buried in the New Mexico desert, including hundreds of copies of the E.T. cartridge. The rumors turned out to be partially true when the site was excavated in 2014.

Decades after its release, gamers remember E.T. and take its lessons to heart. But why was this game considered so bad? Does it really deserve the title?

E.T. spent only five weeks in development

Programmer Howard Scott Warshaw told BBC that a regular game in 1982 took six to eight months to make, but he had to finish E.T. for the Atari system in just five weeks. He got it in on time, and the advertising movie-tie in campaign began. At first, the game sold pretty well. In the end, Warshaw says, E.T. sold 1.5 million copies — but with a run of 4 million cartridges, that simply wasn't enough, leading to a disappointing 1982 holiday season.

But how bad was E.T., really? According to The Video Game History Foundation, reviewers from the era found the game confusing, clunky, and hard to learn, with bad graphics even for the time. Apparently, children had an easier time playing than adults, but people did not like constantly falling into pits

A review from Electronic Games in 1983 said the game "looked like it was turned out in five weeks." The publication expanded on this, commenting, "The graphics are crude, the play mechanics are unlikely to captivate any but the youngest arcaders, and the entire project seems ill-conceived." However, not everyone was down on the game. It's more fair to say E.T. received mixed-to-negative reviews. Some gamers do recall having fun with the title.

E.T. was blamed for the industry's ills

The storm of players and critics who named E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial the worst game in history is probably the result of its failure as a commodity for Atari as much as any real problems with its gameplay. Media Genesis says the industry was already suffering from a combination of maladies, including "blind optimism, inflation, and competition."

In 1983, the gaming industry was relatively new, and the companies inexperienced. Atari had several consoles out at the same time, and constantly fielded challenges from a glut of competitors, such as the Colecovision, Intellivision, and fledgling PCs. Additionally, the industry started to focus on releasing games in huge numbers rather than creating and selling innovative concepts. The New Yorker reports, for example, that Atari's Pac-Man sold 7 million copies, but 12 million copies were made — despite the fact only 10 million Atari 2600s were in homes at the time.

The industry wide crash, which reportedly resulted in a 97 percent revenue reduction in two years, may have been exaggerated. After all, you could still play games on plenty of consoles and in arcades, and Nintendo came along pretty quickly after that — in 1983 to Japan, and 1985 to the U.S.

So, at worst E.T. put the final nail into Atari's coffin, but there's no denying it gets most of the blame. Whether it deserves all the hate is up for debate.