Notorious E.T. Atari cartridges dumped in the New Mexico desert fetch $108,000

The legend of the dumped Atari 2600 cartridges was for many years as bizarre as it was mysterious, and when the games were eventually located in a dusty New Mexico landfill 18 months ago, the excitement surrounding the extraordinary story only seemed to grow.

The unsold game cartridges, together with a number of Atari consoles, were reportedly dumped in the landfill in the early 1980s following the closure of an Atari factory after the company hit hard times.

The recovered cartridges – E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Asteroids, and Missile Command among them – were carefully wiped down and put on eBay. About 880 of the approximately 1,300 games have already been snapped up by enthusiastic buyers who wanted to own a part of the legend. Or simply wanted a new game for their out-of-date console.

Alamogordo (pop. 31,000), the New Mexico town where the cartridges were found, announced recently that proceeds from the online sales reached $107,930, that’s about $120 per game. Buyers came from 45 states across the U.S. and a total of 14 countries. Another online sales session comprising a smaller number of the rescued cartridges took place last year, bringing in $37,000.

Alamogordo News said the single largest sale among the more recent buyers came in at $1,535 for an E.T. cartridge, a figure that surprised many observers as that particular game is commonly viewed as one of the industry’s biggest ever failures. Atari’s E.T. game, based on Spielberg’s Hollywood hit, launched in 1982 after just 34 days of development. Widely panned by critics, some say it was the game that finally broke the company, and may even have helped to bring down the early-80s video game industry.

Joe Lewandowski, the garbage contractor who was instrumental in finding the game cartridges (because he helped bury them), told reporters he was still in possession of 297 cartridges that he’s now holding in an archive.

Just over $65,000 of the raised cash will go to the city of Alamogordo, while the local Tularosa Basin Historical Society will receive about $16,250. Expenses such as shipping fees came to around $26,600, the news outlet said.

Lewandowski told the city, “The $65,000 is yours, you can do what you want with it,” adding, “But I don’t want to see it go to pot holes or sewer lines.”