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Ricardo Cividanes da Silva

Why Atari 5200 was considerate a fail?

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Hi everyone.

I'm working in Atari 5200 history and many reports speak of failure. But, what things caused 5200 to fail?
Your problematic joystick? Your games? Your old hardware concept? The Atari company strategy?
I would like to know your opnion!

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It's basically a stripped down 3 year old computer design coupled with an unreliable joystick, plus its just too big.

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There was alot of hype for "System X" before Atari released the 5200.  When it came out the price was prohibitive, the joysticks were unreliable and not easy to use like the 2600, the "new" games were rehases of the  800 computer, the packin was terrible and finally parents complained that it didnt work with their existing 2600 carts they invested in (ie, I have to buy another version of pacman?).

 

It was a 1/2 arsed effort and the public reacted accordingly.

 

The 5200 joystick wouldve been a good choice if it worked well for 95% of the games people played back then.  Offer a "paddle stick" as an option like the 2600 had other controllers.  Atari also needed to come out with new games which showcased the better graphics and sound the 5200 brought.  

 

Woulda/coulda/shoulda - Atari did not.

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Basically, it was a bad year for video games when it released.   The crash was just beginning.   There were several systems released in 1982, (Colecovision, Vectrex), all failed and left the market within a couple of years.

 

Instead of trying to turn things around when the market improved, Atari seemed to panick and decided the tech was the problem, and announced the 7800 two years later, and cancelled the 5200 around the same time.  This obviously angered existing 5200 owners.

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11 minutes ago, Goochman said:

There was alot of hype for "System X" before Atari released the 5200.  When it came out the price was prohibitive, the joysticks were unreliable and not easy to use like the 2600, the "new" games were rehases of the  800 computer, the packin was terrible and finally parents complained that it didnt work with their existing 2600 carts they invested in (ie, I have to buy another version of pacman?).

 

It was a 1/2 arsed effort and the public reacted accordingly.

 

The 5200 joystick wouldve been a good choice if it worked well for 95% of the games people played back then.  Offer a "paddle stick" as an option like the 2600 had other controllers.  Atari also needed to come out with new games which showcased the better graphics and sound the 5200 brought.  

 

Woulda/coulda/shoulda - Atari did not.

It gives the impression that the system has not been tested. They simply put the Atari 800 in another box and sold it under another name without worrying about the "details".  The Atari administration thought more in profits as quality.

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Kassar didnt want to screw to golden goose 2600.  From the outside it seems like an Engineering project gone haywire until someone said "just ship it"

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52 minutes ago, krslam said:

It's basically a stripped down 3 year old computer design coupled with an unreliable joystick, plus its just too big.

I don't think the tech was the problem for 1982,  it certainly blew the Intellivision away,  it was competitive against Colecovision-  if you compare CV vs 5200/A8 games side-by-side, Coleco wins some, Atari wins some.   So roughly equal there.   Joysticks were a problem for sure.

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4 minutes ago, zzip said:

Basically, it was a bad year for video games when it released.   The crash was just beginning.   There were several systems released in 1982, (Colecovision, Vectrex), all failed and left the market within a couple of years.

 

Instead of trying to turn things around when the market improved, Atari seemed to panick and decided the tech was the problem, and announced the 7800 two years later, and cancelled the 5200 around the same time.  This obviously angered existing 5200 owners.

It´s true. Atari forgot what sell a video game: The games! They  focused in more and more technology and bits and new version of same games and forgot the main.

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3 minutes ago, Ricardo Cividanes da Silva said:

They simply put the Atari 800 in another box and sold it under another name without worrying about the "details".

Don't forget that the Atari 8-bit line was designed to be a replacement for the 2600,  it was always supposed to be a console.   The tech was too expensive for a console in 79.   

 

But it didn't help that they made the controllers and carts incompatible.   I'm convinced these companies didn't do proper market research back then, they just copied what the competitors were doing.  Intellivision has a keypad with terrible joystick?  We better make a keypad with terrible joystick!   That plus the peripheral arms race with every company announcing keyboards, 2600 adaptors, trackballs, steering wheels, etc.   I don't think the average parent wanted to buy all those expensive peripherals

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10 minutes ago, Ricardo Cividanes da Silva said:

It´s true. Atari forgot what sell a video game: The games! They  focused in more and more technology and bits and new version of same games and forgot the main.

Exactly,  and the problem only got worse under Tramiel.  He didn't get the arcade division which would have brought a stream of new games that could be ported,  they just kept releasing the same old games and not chasing enough hot new ones until it was too late.

 

The 7800 launch titles were already a bit dated when announced in 1984,  they were horribly outdated when the system finally launched in 86.  They didn't have games that could compete with Nintendo.

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27 minutes ago, zzip said:

Exactly,  and the problem only got worse under Tramiel.  He didn't get the arcade division which would have brought a stream of new games that could be ported,  they just kept releasing the same old games and not chasing enough hot new ones until it was too late.

 

The 7800 launch titles were already a bit dated when announced in 1984,  they were horribly outdated when the system finally launched in 86.  They didn't have games that could compete with Nintendo.

Now THEY DO have the games to compete with Nintendo, thanks to ALL OF US here at AtariAge who come up with "New Games For Classic Systems"!!! Sure the new 5200 ports that came in the early days here at AA were simply 8-bit (400/800/XL/XE/XEGS) titles converted over to her. But then, came the homebrews, and guys like @playsoft, @Ryan Witmer, @Wrathchild, @johnnywc and many others through these forums, who have brilliantly graced all of us who own these underrated classic systems, we are the life's blood and heartbeat that keeps these systems relevant, and we have seen a spike in prices on eBay and other sites for these now-rare units, ironically enough some units have been known to go for prices similar to the actual MSRP from back when they were first put out, and yet they are almost all pre-owned.

 

......And think just 30 years ago these systems were mainly and plentifully available for cheap at your local thrift store or Value Village or Goodwill, I can recall getting a 2600 unit for about 10 bucks at the now-defunct Community Thrift Store here in Port Townsend in the early-90s as well as carts and controllers that were also about a buck a piece.......things have changed quite a bit since then because what we now call "retro-gaming" has become mainstream to the point where because of ALL OF US Atari is STILL relevant in a day and age of Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, and Xbox. 

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Every console released near 82 eventually failed.  Even the Colecovision was cancelled 1 year after the 5200 was discontinued.  The video game crashed affected a lot of companies.  

 

 

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How are you guys defining the 'fail'? Seems to me they sold a ton of 5200s. Was it perfect? No. Was the Colecovision perfect? No. Was the Atari 7800 a failure? I think a lot of classic gaming history is made up right here on AtariAge.

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Posted (edited)

Atari thought it was a failure since they replaced it within two years.  I wouldn't say colecovision was a failure, it became the top selling video game system in 1983/84 until the commodore 64 took over.

 

Atari kind of screwed themselves promoting atari 2600 pacman in 1982 and then coming out with the 5200 pacman cartridge later in the year.  Millions of people bought atari 2600 consoles just to play pacman.  That could have been millions of 5200 consoles.

Edited by mr_me
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Well what is strange about the controller is that other people made better analog yolks, good ones existed before and after the 5200 release so there was a chance to remake and or fix the controller.

It is a bizarre pinout, normally an analog joystick was used in the past to get the directional input down to two pins which a few PC platforms did which affords more face buttons etc. . The 5200 however uses a 15-pin port to make an analog joystick, a couple of face buttons, and one overindulgent keypad that takes the lion's share of the pins because the kids, they love keypads, can't get enough of them.🤣

Then you take the 5200 games, they didn't use analog input since they were mostly arcade games with digital input Eg. Pac Man, so why go with an analog yolk idk? On top of that you can do digital control through an analog pinout, see Gravis Gamepad. 15 pins for that, it was like the whole NA console industry was allergic to multiplexers and shift registers, Nintendo and Sega sure weren't using 9-pin expansion.

 

As far as history people wonder about the vertical controllers of the era but it's never really explained. It has to do with the hand dominance migration issue in arcades, first they were symmetrical in face buttons so left and right hand ambidextrous layout, then they changed majority right handed layouts to a left hand to try and boost quarter intake which stuck as a standard and then face button count grew off that. Then you look at the 80s home controller and they tried to maintain that symmetry in the layout even though it was bad ergonomics for either hand dominance.

 

The console is too damn big, it rivals most 1980s electronics in shelf real estate, right now I have very few shelf alcoves big enough for it. There was this marketing gimmick then of making the console tidy, put the controllers away, resulted in console shells far bigger than hardware inside of them. Also see the Intellivision and Colecovision.

 

It was expensive bitd from what I hear, like a lot more than the 2600 that it couldn't take off. I think the graphics are a large step up but back then it probably didn't seem like enough to justify a new expensive console. What was David Crane saying, a 2600 game then in today's currency is $140 USD, imagine that across the spectrum of gaming expenses.

 

Atari seemed to want to keep the 2600 going forever and it did but that doesn't bold well for advancing technology or new models. They made the next generation but probably released it a year or two late with the '83 crash pending.

It was irrational but people really wanted to use their 2600 carts on the 5200 even though historically backwards compatibility is still rare, guessing they assumed Atari was screwing them but it was a non trivial matter to do that, the eventual solutions are just whole 2600 units attached to the main console for power and AV sake. Must have never occurred to them to just attach both machines to one TV or they didn't have the space to.🤔

 

The present loves to use their "FAIL" stamp on anything remotely imperfect. The game industry failed as a whole and none of the game companies could escape that collapse. 😞

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I hate to be that guy, but the word "failure" implies an external referent.  What did it fail to do?

 

It definitely failed to sell as many units as the 2600.  That's for sure, but so did every other console on the market, and not by any small margin.  The Colecovision sold more than any other, but at 6 million, it was closer to the 5200's 1 million than the 2600's 20 million by 1985.  Even accounting for the 2600's head start, it was still outselling everything else on the market between '82 and '85 despite its significant technological inferiority.  Simply put, the market had chosen the game console for the late 70s/early 80s, and nothing was going to touch that.

 

This pattern repeated with the NES, which had competitors who couldn't come close to touching it in terms of sales.  Finally, Sega came along with the Genesis, and the market finally was able to support two competing consoles, but in this era there were like 5 or 6 other competitors that got washed out.  Nothing came close to touching Playstation's numbers, and it really wasn't until the Wii and Xbox 360 came along that the market would bear more than two competing consoles without a runaway leader.  But, by this time, the video game market was just massively bigger than it ever had been for cultural reasons.

 

So, I guess it "failed" to do what, in retrospect, was never possible in the first place, and it took a long time for the industry to learn that lesson.

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I lost interest in the 5200 almost immediately. I had a lot of the games already on the 400/800 and didn't need them in a different format.

 

I instead put more effort into Colecovision. Each game was different and had great arcade connections.

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Failure?  Meh.

 

My 5200 was early enough to be a four port but late enough that the pack in was Pac-Man rather than Super Breakout.  I loved my 5200!  I didn’t have an 8-bit computer so for me this was a huge leap forward over my 2600.  The joysticks felt weird out of the box, but pretty quickly I got used to them. They were great on Gyruss and Dreadnaught Factor, and Space Dungeon with the dual-stick chassis provided hours of frenetic fun.

 

I didn’t get a Trak-Ball until 30 years later, but I’m convinced that’s one of the finest home controllers of any era, any console, and provides my favorite version of Galaxian available, including arcade.

 

I think if Atari had put a centering spring in the CX-52 and offered a true arcade joystick as an accessory at a similar price point to the trackball, the 5200 would have an entirely different reputation today.

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I heard that Atari engineers did design the 5200 joysticks with centering springs but they were removed at the last minute as a cost cutting measure.

 

3 hours ago, MrTrust said:

The Colecovision sold more than any other, but at 6 million

Not six million, colecovision sold less than three million.

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5 hours ago, MrTrust said:

I hate to be that guy, but the word "failure" implies an external referent.  What did it fail to do?

 

It definitely failed to sell as many units as the 2600.  That's for sure, but so did every other console on the market, and not by any small margin.  The Colecovision sold more than any other, but at 6 million, it was closer to the 5200's 1 million than the 2600's 20 million by 1985.  Even accounting for the 2600's head start, it was still outselling everything else on the market between '82 and '85 despite its significant technological inferiority.  Simply put, the market had chosen the game console for the late 70s/early 80s, and nothing was going to touch that.

If PS2 was being outsold by PSX (and competitors) years after its launch, and discontinued after 2, then it would be considered a failure, and rightly so. The same applies to any other successor console, or piece of kit in general.  The "market" doesn't just elect chosen ones for set periods of time. You could argue if 5200 was a failure as a console, or was it Atari's general failure (for me probably the mix of the two) but it'd be a bit of a semantic exercise. Speaking of which, it was a successor, not a competitor, hence why your NES/PSX examples do not apply here.

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I don't think adding the Adam ( stand alone ) and clones get close to 6 Million.

 

But I do know where one CV and one Adam ended up.  Thanks Mom and Dad!   I did play a lot of Donkey Kong, Venture and Lady Bug :)  When I had no one to play Intellivision Games with.

 

 

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The six million error comes from the fact that coleco reportedly sold six million donkey kong cartridges.  Some mistakenly assume colecovision pack-in; but most of them were in fact atari 2600 and intellivision cartridges.

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Really, failure can be a strong term, but the Atari 5200 suffered front your competitors, it's clear.
Other thing. Atari 5200 were, basically, a Atari 400/800 computer, right?  So, why someone buy a Atari 5200 if they had a Atari 400/800 with the same games? The Atari marketing didn't see the obvious and this fact caused low sales. They not positioned console correctly in the market.

 

@MrTrust you has reason. I thing it was a little bit of all of that.

 

@edladdin you has a 5200, right?  How were they the controllers? As I understood you it had fun without any problems with controls. Here in Brazil we don´t  had access to Atari 5200 and I saw it many years late.

 

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15 hours ago, Allan said:

How are you guys defining the 'fail'? Seems to me they sold a ton of 5200s. Was it perfect? No. Was the Colecovision perfect?

 

15 hours ago, mr_me said:

  I wouldn't say colecovision was a failure, it became the top selling video game system in 1983/84 until the commodore 64 took over.

 

A console generation lasts 5-7 years.   The 5200 didn't even make it to two years before it got cancelled, the Colecovision didn't even make 3 years.   When they died, most people in the industry assumed that the console concept was no longer viable,  the future was in home computers.    That's why they are considered failures.

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