When people play today, chances are very good they're playing a video game. No company did more to make that true than Atari.
Atari did not make the first home video game system—that honor belonged to Magnavox Odyssey. But Atari was the company that truly popularized this play form. Atari first entered the home market with its 1975 electronic table-tennis game Pong. But its true game changer came out two years later: Atari 2600 Video Computer System. The 2600 had better games, more colorful graphics, and sharper sound than the original systems. Most importantly, players could change games by inserting new cartridges. Kids battled friends in Combat, saved the earth in Space Invaders, outran ghosts in Pac-Man, and had fun with Frogger. Americans soon were spending billions of dollars a year on Atari 2600 products.
Because computer technology advances so rapidly, video game systems often have short lives. Atari 2600, however, proved surprisingly long-lived. Its widespread popularity, relative affordability, and abundance of software titles kept it in production for fifteen years. Eventually it succumbed to newer, faster, more powerful competitors, but not before it made video games a staple of everyday play.