In scholarly communications, this week’s big news was the syndication agreement between Elsevier and several other publishers, but in the bigger world of communication and technology, the real buzz was around Microsoft’s $68.7B acquisition of Activision. It is always worth remembering the size of the video game market, estimated to surpass $200B annually by 2023, which massively dwarfs the revenue seen by other forms of entertainment. Joe Esposito recently offered a preview of what we should be thinking about when it comes to the metaverse, and many see this acquisition as Microsoft’s bet that games are the pathway to establishing themselves in this next major technological shift.

All of which made me think about Activision’s roots, which then led me down the rabbit hole of the rise and fall of Atari. Activision, which has been under scrutiny as of late due to a high-profile sexual harassment lawsuit, was formed in the late 1970s by programmers from Atari, which had recently been sold to Warner Communications. As Warner’s corporate culture took hold and the focus of the company shifted away from R&D and the creation of new games, a group of programmers left to form Activision, which became the first great third-party game manufacturer for home consoles. The story is told as part of the video below, which looks at the history of Atari, creators of Computer Space, Pong, and the first great home console, the 2600 (which apparently was not much of a hit until Space Invaders was licensed for it).

Atari’s story remains a compelling tale of huge hits paired with mismanagement and poor decisions, and a trajectory from being the most important name in an enormous industry to becoming an afterthought. For those of us of a certain age (we had an Atari 400 computer!), the name still holds a special formative place in our technology histories.

David Crotty

David Crotty

David Crotty is a Senior Consultant at Clarke & Esposito, a boutique management consulting firm focused on strategic issues related to professional and academic publishing and information services. Previously, David was the Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press. He oversaw journal policy across OUP’s journals program, drove technological innovation, and served as an information officer. David acquired and managed a suite of research society-owned journals with OUP, and before that was the Executive Editor for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, where he created and edited new science books and journals, along with serving as a journal Editor-in-Chief. He has served on the Board of Directors for the STM Association, the Society for Scholarly Publishing and CHOR, Inc., as well as The AAP-PSP Executive Council. David received his PhD in Genetics from Columbia University and did developmental neuroscience research at Caltech before moving from the bench to publishing.


5 Thoughts on "Activision’s Roots and the Many Falls of Atari"

My favorite game on the Atari 2600 and made by Activision was “Pitfall!”. Metaphor perhaps?

I had an Atari 800 computer and then an Atari ST. We even had the printer that would print left to right and then right to left for the next line. Felt like I was king of the world until I went to college and got to use a VAX and gopher.

The Atari logo is featured prominently, alongside Coca-Cola, in a couple of cityscape shots in the future-set science fiction 1982 film Blade Runner. Apparently it was generally believed that Atari was at the forefront of something huge (true) and would be around for decades (not so much).

Great video, and an important reminder that the events depicted in Soylent Green will take place this year.

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