The Best-Selling Atari 2600 Games of All-Time

by Brett Walton, posted on 04 April 2013 / 34,094 Views

Welcome to a new feature series on VGChartz where we aim to explore major video game platforms, past and present, and bring you the most successful games on each. Without further ado, we present the godfather of modern video game consoles and the driving force in the first video game boom (and crash) - the Atari 2600.

Overview

The Atari 2600 is a video game platform released in September 1977 by Atari. It is credited with popularizing the use a cartridge-based system (although the Fairchild Channel F was actually the first console to do this) which could play multiple games rather than having games built-in as previous systems had.

The console was originally sold as the Atari VCS (Video Computer System) but after the release of the Atari 5200 in 1982, the VCS was renamed Atari 2600. The console was normally bundled with two controllers, a conjoined pair of paddle controllers and a game. The Atari 2600 was an enormous hit with gamers and featured games such as Space Invaders, Missile Command, Breakout and Pitfall.

 

Top-Selling Games

1. Pac-Man 1982 Puzzle Atari 7.81m
2. Pitfall! 1981 Platform Activision 4.50m
3. Asteroids 1980 Shooter Atari 4.31m
4. Missile Command 1980 Shooter Atari 2.76m
5. Space Invaders 1977 Shooter Atari 2.53m
6. Frogger 1981 Action Parker Bros. 2.20m
7. Demon Attack 1981 Shooter Imagic 2.13m
8. E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial 1981 Action Atari 1.97m
9. Ms. Pac-Man 1981 Puzzle Atari 1.65m
10. Dig Dug 1982 Puzzle Atari 1.64m
11. River Raid 1981 Shooter Activision 1.60m
12. Mario Bros. 1983 Platform Atari 1.59m
13. Donkey Kong 1981 Platform Coleco 1.46m
14. Centipede 1981 Shooter Atari 1.36m
15. Pitfall II: Lost Caverns 1983 Platform Activision 1.31m
16. Adventure 1977 Adventure Atari 1.30m
17. Atlantis 1981 Shooter Imagic 1.27m
18. Combat 1976 Action Atari 1.25m
19. Pole Position 1982 Racing Atari 1.18m
20. Kaboom! 1980 Misc Activision 1.15m
21. Moon Patrol 1982 Shooter Atari 1.12m
22. Megamania 1981 Shooter Activision 1.10m
23. Jungle Hunt 1982 Platform Atari 1.10m
24. Joust 1982 Platform Atari 1.08m
25. Cosmic Ark 1981 Shooter Imagic 1.05m
26. Defender 1980 Misc Atari 1.05m
27. Air-Sea Battle 1976 Shooter Atari 0.98m
28. Donkey Kong Junior 1981 Platform Atari 0.97m
29. Spider-Man 1981 Action Parker Bros. 0.93m
30. Enduro 1982 Misc Quelle 0.87m
31. Custer's Revenge 1981 Action Mystique 0.82m
32. Alien 1981 Action 20th Century Fox Video Games 0.79m
33. Yars' Revenge 1982 Shooter Atari 0.78m
34. Jr. Pac-Man 1983 Puzzle Atari 0.78m
35. Galaxian 1982 Shooter Atari 0.77m
36. Air Raid 1981 Action Men-A-Vision 0.77m
37. Boxing 1980 Fighting Activision 0.77m
38. Crystal Castles 1983 Action Atari 0.77m
39. Berzerk 1981 Shooter Atari 0.73m
40. Kangaroo 1982 Platform Atari 0.72m
41. King Kong 1981 Action Tigervision 0.69m
42. Adventures of Tron 1981 Action Mattel Interactive 0.67m
43. Keystone Kapers 1982 Action Activision 0.66m
44. Kung-Fu Master 1987 Action Activision 0.65m
45. X-Man 1982 Action Universal Gamex 0.63m
46. Battlezone 1982 Shooter Atari 0.62m
47. Halloween 1982 Action Wizard Video Games 0.62m
48. BurgerTime 1981 Puzzle Mattel Interactive 0.59m
49. Smurf: Rescue In Gargamel's Castle 1981 Action Coleco 0.59m
50. Q*bert 1982 Puzzle Parker Bros. 0.58m
51. The Activision Decathlon 1982 Sports Activision 0.55m
52. Action Force 1982 Action CPG Products 0.54m
53. Popeye 1982 Platform Parker Bros. 0.54m
54. Fishing Derby 1979 Sports Activision 0.51m
55. River Raid II 1988 Shooter Activision 0.51m
56. Midnight Magic 1983 Action Atari 0.50m
57. Chopper Command 1982 Shooter Activision 0.50m
58. RealSports Tennis 1982 Sports Atari 0.50m
59. Raiders of the Lost Ark 1981 Action Atari 0.50m
60. Gauntlet 1982 Action Answer Software 0.50m
61. Ice Hockey 1980 Sports Activision 0.49m
62. Millipede 1983 Shooter Atari 0.48m
63. Grand Prix 1981 Racing Activision 0.48m
64. Double Dragon 1989 Action Activision 0.47m
65. Karate 1979 Fighting Ultravision 0.47m
66. Commando 1987 Action Activision 0.47m
67. Circus Atari 1977 Action Atari 0.46m
68. Gremlins 1983 Action Atari 0.46m
69. Ghostbusters 1985 Puzzle Activision 0.45m
70. Phoenix 1981 Simulation Atari 0.45m
71. Maze Craze: A Game of Cops 'n Robbers 1977 Action Atari 0.45m
72. Defender II 1987 Shooter Atari 0.45m
73. Jawbreaker 1981 Action Tigervision 0.45m
74. Super Breakout 1977 Puzzle Atari 0.44m
75. Barnstorming 1981 Action Activision 0.43m
76. Pengo 1983 Adventure Atari 0.40m
77. Mouse Trap 1981 Action Coleco 0.40m
78. Congo Bongo 1982 Action Sega 0.40m
79. Bump 'n' Jump 1982 Racing Mattel Interactive 0.39m
80. Laser Blast 1981 Action Activision 0.39m
81. Airlock 1981 Action Data Age 0.39m
82. Hangman 1977 Puzzle Atari 0.38m
83. Gravitar 1982 Action Atari 0.38m
84. Solaris 1986 Shooter Atari 0.37m
85. Dragonfire 1981 Action Imagic 0.37m
86. Frogs And Flies 1981 Action Mattel Interactive 0.36m
87. Freeway 1980 Action Activision 0.34m
88. Frostbite 1983 Action Activision 0.34m
89. Alien's Return 1982 Action ITT Family Games 0.34m
90. Fantastic Voyage 1981 Action 20th Century Fox Video Games 0.34m
91. Bank Heist 1982 Action 20th Century Fox Video Games 0.34m
92. Carnival 1981 Shooter Coleco 0.34m
93. Frogger II: Threeedeep! 1983 Action Parker Bros. 0.33m
94. Fireball 1981 Action Starpath Corp. 0.33m
95. Dragster 1979 Racing Activision 0.32m
96. Frankenstein's Monster 1982 Action Data Age 0.32m
97. Mountain King 1982 Action CBS Electronics 0.31m
98. Slot Machine 1978 Action Atari 0.31m
99. Astroblast 1981 Action Mattel Interactive 0.31m
100. RealSports Boxing 1986 Sports Atari 0.29m

 

When Pac-Man released in March 1982 it quickly became the best-selling game of all time, surpassing Asteroids in the process (which was ahead of Pitfall at the time). However, despite selling more than 7 million copies, Pac-Man was a very poor port of the arcade game, a massive critical failure and sold far less than the 12 million units that Atari had produced and hoped to sell. The lacklustre reception and sales of both Pac-Man and E.T. (of which more than 5 million units were produced) helped push Atari to a loss of $536 million in 1983 and are largely to blame for the video game crash.

A number of other classic games feature in the top ten - Pitfall, created by David Crane for Activision, was hugely influential and successful in the adventure game genre and classic shooters Asteroids and Space Invaders had their most successful console ports on the Atari.

Overall, more than 27 million Atari 2600 units were sold (the console saw further success from 1985 to the early 90s after the crash as well as the boom years of 1981 to 83) and around 130 million units of software. The Atari 2600 pioneered the cartridge-based games console and was by far the most successful video game console until the NES arrived - which we will be looking at in the next article.

1. Pac-Man 1982 Puzzle Atari 7.81m
2. Pitfall! 1981 Platform Activision 4.50m
3. Asteroids 1980 Shooter Atari 4.31m
4. Missile Command 1980 Shooter Atari 2.76m
5. Space Invaders 1977 Shooter Atari 2.53m
6. Frogger 1981 Action Parker Bros. 2.20m
7. Demon Attack 1981 Shooter Imagic 2.13m
8. E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial 1981 Action Atari 1.97m
9. Ms. Pac-Man 1981 Puzzle Atari 1.65m
10. Dig Dug 1982 Puzzle Atari 1.64m
11. River Raid 1981 Shooter Activision 1.60m
12. Mario Bros. 1982 Platform Atari 1.59m
13. Donkey Kong 1981 Platform Coleco 1.46m
14. Centipede 1981 Shooter Atari 1.36m
15. Pitfall II: Lost Caverns 1983 Platform Activision 1.31m
16. Adventure 1977 Adventure Atari 1.30m
17. Atlantis 1981 Shooter Imagic 1.27m
18. Combat 1976 Action Atari 1.25m
19. Pole Position 1982 Racing Atari 1.18m
20. Kaboom! 1980 Misc Activision 1.15m
21. Moon Patrol 1982 Shooter Atari 1.12m
22. Megamania 1981 Shooter Activision 1.10m
23. Jungle Hunt 1982 Platform Atari 1.10m
24. Joust 1982 Platform Atari 1.08m
25. Cosmic Ark 1981 Shooter Imagic 1.05m
26. Defender 1980 Misc Atari 1.05m
27. Air-Sea Battle 1976 Shooter Atari 0.98m
28. Donkey Kong Junior 1981 Platform Atari 0.97m
29. Spider-Man 1981 Action Parker Bros. 0.93m
30. Enduro 1982 Misc Quelle 0.87m
31. Custer's Revenge 1981 Action Mystique 0.82m
32. Alien 1981 Action 20th Century Fox Video Games 0.79m
33. Yars' Revenge 1982 Shooter Atari 0.78m
34. Jr. Pac-Man 1983 Puzzle Atari 0.78m
35. Galaxian 1982 Shooter Atari 0.77m
36. Air Raid 1981 Action Men-A-Vision 0.77m
37. Boxing 1980 Fighting Activision 0.77m
38. Crystal Castles 1983 Action Atari 0.77m
39. Berzerk 1981 Shooter Atari 0.73m
40. Kangaroo 1982 Platform Atari 0.72m
41. King Kong 1981 Action Tigervision 0.69m
42. Adventures of Tron 1981 Action Mattel Interactive 0.67m
43. Keystone Kapers 1982 Action Activision 0.66m
44. Kung-Fu Master 1987 Action Activision 0.65m
45. X-Man 1982 Action Unknown 0.63m
46. Battlezone 1982 Shooter Atari 0.62m
47. Halloween 1982 Action Unknown 0.62m
48. BurgerTime 1981 Puzzle Mattel Interactive 0.59m
49. Smurf: Rescue In Gargamel's Castle 1981 Action Coleco 0.59m
50. Q*bert 1982 Puzzle Parker Bros. 0.58m
51. The Activision Decathlon 1982 Sports Activision 0.55m
52. Action Force 1982 Action CPG Products 0.54m
53. Popeye 1982 Platform Parker Bros. 0.54m
54. Fishing Derby 1979 Sports Activision 0.51m
55. River Raid II 1988 Shooter Activision 0.51m
56. Midnight Magic 1983 Action Atari 0.50m
57. Chopper Command 1982 Shooter Activision 0.50m
58. RealSports Tennis 1982 Sports Atari 0.50m
59. Raiders of the Lost Ark 1981 Action Atari 0.50m
60. Gauntlet 1982 Action Answer Software 0.50m
61. Ice Hockey 1980 Sports Activision 0.49m
62. Millipede 1983 Shooter Atari 0.48m
63. Grand Prix 1981 Racing Activision 0.48m
64. Double Dragon 1989 Action Activision 0.47m
65. Karate 1979 Fighting Unknown 0.47m
66. Commando 1987 Action Activision 0.47m
67. Circus Atari 1977 Action Atari 0.46m
68. Gremlins 1983 Action Atari 0.46m
69. Ghostbusters 1985 Puzzle Activision 0.45m
70. Phoenix 1981 Simulation Atari 0.45m
71. Maze Craze: A Game of Cops 'n Robbers 1977 Action Atari 0.45m
72. Defender II 1987 Shooter Atari 0.45m
73. Jawbreaker 1981 Action Tigervision 0.45m
74. Super Breakout 1977 Puzzle Atari 0.44m
75. Barnstorming 1981 Action Activision 0.43m
76. Pengo 1983 Adventure Atari 0.40m
77. Mouse Trap 1981 Action Coleco 0.40m
78. Congo Bongo 1982 Action Sega 0.40m
79. Bump 'n' Jump 1982 Racing Mattel Interactive 0.39m
80. Laser Blast 1981 Action Activision 0.39m
81. Airlock 1981 Action Data Age 0.39m
82. Hangman 1977 Puzzle Atari 0.38m
83. Gravitar 1982 Action Atari 0.38m
84. Solaris 1986 Shooter Atari 0.37m
85. Dragonfire 1981 Action Imagic 0.37m
86. Frogs And Flies 1981 Action Mattel Interactive 0.36m
87. Freeway 1980 Action Activision 0.34m
88. Frostbite 1983 Action Activision 0.34m
89. Alien's Return 1982 Action ITT Family Games 0.34m
90. Fantastic Voyage 1981 Action 20th Century Fox Video Games 0.34m
91. Bank Heist 1982 Action 20th Century Fox Video Games 0.34m
92. Carnival 1981 Shooter Coleco 0.34m
93. Frogger II: Threeedeep! 1983 Action Parker Bros. 0.33m
94. Fireball 1981 Action Unknown 0.33m
95. Dragster 1979 Racing Activision 0.32m
96. Frankenstein's Monster 1982 Action Data Age 0.32m
97. Mountain King 1982 Action CBS Electronics 0.31m
98. Slot Machine 1978 Action Atari 0.31m
99. Astroblast 1981 Action Mattel Interactive 0.31m
100. RealSports Boxing 1986 Sports Atari 0.29m

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16 Comments

jalidi (on 05 April 2013)

I believe that Atari invested 100 million to develop the VCS in 1976 and the first run of commercial units came out of Sunnyvale, CA in 1977 (the "heavy sixers" with heavier, more expensive electronic shielding required by the FAA) before they moved it out East for cheaper manufacturing costs. They only sold 250K of these that first year, and about 600K out of 800K made that second year, since the public was already so burnt out on Pong. It was only around 1980 the system became the #1 gift for Xmas, especially after the release of all those great arcade ports. The VCS in the picture is the 1980 version.


martyg (on 05 April 2013)

Jalidi: There were 400,000 units produced for that first year, and they sold out of all of them. Selling out does not denote the type of negative context of "only." As for 1978, it was that the initial pre-season orders (which usually come in during August) totalled 550,000. Those fully sold out of stores, and then no additional orders came in, leaving Atari with 250,000 units that they had manufactured to anticipate restocking. The issue had nothing to do with being burnt out on PONG, the VCS is not a PONG console and only a small portion of the games in the first two years were PONG type games. The culprit was handheld electronic games (Mattel and Coleco's calculator tech based games like Football and Soccer), which took over Christmas sales in '78 and hurt the video game console industry.


  • +1
blunty51 (on 04 April 2013)

Heh...game names have drastically changed over the years eh?


Michael-5 (on 04 April 2013)

Wait, is that wood on the front of the system?


SSJGohan3972 (on 04 April 2013)

Yeah, my 2600 is like that, was originally marketed as the Atari VCS and you could only get it through Sears (or at least that's what my dad told me :)


  • 0
martyg (on 05 April 2013)

There's a bunch of wrong dates for these VCS titles in here as well, which also makes me wonder on the sources used for this chart. Asteroids for the VCS was released in 1981, not 1980. Adventure was not released in 1977 - that would have made it a launch title, which it was not. Missile Command was Spring of 1981, not 1980. Space Invaders was 1980 (more than a famous fact) not 1977, '77 was when Taito's original arcade version was produced. Ms. Pac-Man for the VCS was released in 1983 not 1981 ('81 is again when the arcade version was produced). It seems like for a lot of these you mistakingly used the arcade release dates.


mike_intellivision (on 04 April 2013)

This list is interesting but some things don't ring true. For example, there is no way that 820,000 copies of Custers Revenge were sold, or 630,000 copies of X-Man. Those XXX games could not get distribution and were only made it out a few months before the market collapsed. There are other games as well that seem out of place on the list (Alien's Retun at 85 is a German pirated version of PacMan; Ultravision's Karate at 65 is an incredibly rare find today (and th Froggo version is rare as well) while other games lower on the list are much easier to find). Also, Combat was a pack-in for several years and probably sold more than 1.25M. Finally, is there a reason you lowered the sales for the console by 10% from the standard number of 30M cited everywhere for the last decade?


martyg (on 05 April 2013)

Yah, there's wrong dates in here too. Adventure was not released in 1977, it certainly wasn't a launch title.


  • 0
teknohed (on 17 April 2013)

I read this and thought the exact same thing. where are these numbers coming from. I just can't believe that custers revenge sold that much. I wouldn't believe 80k, much less 800K. Sheesh.


  • 0
Michael-5 (on 04 April 2013)

Wow, this is cool, before my time. I hear Donkey Kong sold about 6 million on the Colecovision, is that true?.


Billjw (on 04 April 2013)

What was the name of the game where you control a police officer and you have to chase down the burglar in like a four story building?


BuckStud (on 04 April 2013)

Keystone Kapers


  • 0
Raze (on 04 April 2013)

Bill - that would be Keystone Capers. I used to ROCK at that game =) One of my all time favs on the 2600Add your reply...


  • 0
Billjw (on 04 April 2013)

Yar's Revenge had the coolest box art but rodeo or missle command are my favorite Atari games


Raze (on 04 April 2013)

I don't get how ET sold so much yet was considered one of the biggest failures in game history. I know the controls weren't so hot, but I was able to beat the game fairly easy. Adventure was my fav game on the 2600. I never realized it was created the same year I was born. Makes sense though, that'd I'd grow into an adventure/rpg fan =)


kumagawa (on 04 April 2013)

It saya in the article Atari had 5 million copies made before launch then sold 2 million of them. 3 million cartridges sitting in a warehouse would have cost a lot of money in 1981.


  • 0
Nem (on 04 April 2013)

Haha... i never realised i was as old as Mario and Pac-man. :)


teknohed (on 17 April 2013)

citation need.


Zappykins (on 08 April 2013)

PacMan was a huge disappointment and I wondered why did they bother with such a poor port. But I think Combat was a major pack in and probably had higher sales. Plus, Sears had their own label on the system, does this include the Sears VCS branded systems?


martyg (on 04 April 2013)

Brett - Wikipedia isn't the best source on the matter, it's just referencing popular theories. What I presented is based on facts, not opinions, via actual documentation at Atari that we of course were able to collect, and direct interviews with the people involved. It was also quite well covered at the time as well by the media, such as: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1291&dat=19840108&id=5y5UAAAAIBAJ&sjid=-IwDAAAAIBAJ&pg=6534,1948069


martyg (on 04 April 2013)

Brett, you took some liberties here and there and introduced inaccuracies because of that. 1) Atari produced that many Pac-Mans not because they hoped to sell that many. Pac-Man was moved to be the pack-in game for the 2600 starting in 1982 as well (with the intro of the Darth Vader model of the 2600). The production numbers account for this fact as well. 2) E.T. is in no way, shape, or form to blame for the video game crash (which is more accurately described as a U.S. consumer industry crash), nor did Pac-Man or E.T. cause the downfall of Atari. Atari's problems that lead to it's downfall were already in full swing by the early part of 1982 and in full crescendo by that summer. These problems came to light on December 7, 1982 when it's earnings projections fell far lower than originally projected, causing massive ripples across the rest of the industry. (When you're 80% of the consumer industry - as Atari was at the time, and you have those problems, the rest of the industry is going to be effected as well). That's when the industry crash actually began, early December '82. E.T. had only just been released about 2 weeks before. If you're interested in knowing more about what was actually going on at Atari during the time, feel free to check out our book "Atari Inc. - Business Is Fun" on Amazon.


ioi (on 04 April 2013)

I'm just paraphrasing what I have read on the matter - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_video_game_crash_of_1983 - I guess there are a number of different opinions on what actually caused the crash.


  • 0
Jozu (on 05 April 2013)

Vgchartz source for these numbers?


Carpevi (on 04 April 2013)

Mario Bros. from 1982? The arcade is from 1983...