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Atari 7800 Sales Figures (1986 - 1990)
by Matt Matthews on 05/26/09 10:30:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


Curt Vendel is known in the classic videogame scene as the owner of the Atari History Museum and designer of the Flashback consoles (essentially clones of the Atari 2600, designed without cartridges for modern consumers). A couple of days ago he released some Atari documents he had on sales of Atari's third major console, the Atari 7800.

I put them together and made a graph so we could more easily see how the hardware sold. Keep in mind: these appear to be shipments to retailers, not units sold through to consumers. Moreover, not all units went to retailers, so some might have been for reviews or other media coverage.

Atari 7800 Hardware Shipments

The surprising figure here is the total of 3.77 million hardware units. I believe previous estimates of Atari 7800 hardware sales were much lower.

The documents released also show that fewer than 152,000 units were returned to Atari.

According to Wikipedia, the Atari 2600 sold almost 8 million units in 1982 (at its peak) and has sold over 30 million units worldwide as of 2004.

There are some oddities in the data that I don't fully understand. When one takes the total revenue Atari made on these hardware sales and divides by the total number of hardware units, the average per unit comes out around $22. That's an astonishingly low figure.

The original price apparently was $140, but it isn't clear to me whether that was the 1984 price (when the hardware was first market-tested) or the 1986 price. Even at $100 per system, which would have been remarkably inexpensive, the retailer margin would have been huge.

There are several possibilities. Perhaps Atari was offering the hardware at such a low price because retailers had been burned by Atari in the mid-1980s when the market had fallen apart. When Nintendo and the NES rebuilt the market, perhaps the competition was so fierce that Atari had no choice but to offer the hardware at such a low rate. Or, perhaps these figures don't represent what we think they do.

Regardless, it is remarkable that Atari had revenue of $97 million over five years just from the hardware of this apparent failed system.

(Thanks to A Black Falcon for posting about this on NeoGAF, which is where I originally saw news of the data drop.)

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Christian Nutt
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I had a 7800, bought because it was stupidly cheap at TRU in the late '80s. It had to be around '88 I guess. If it was already cheap by '88, which was its biggest year, it can't have been much more later.

Though TBH I have no real idea what "cheap" means; I was 11.

Matt Matthews
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I never even knew the Atari 7800 existed until I went classic-gaming-mad in the mid-1990s. It's not that I wasn't old enough ... I am ... but I was into PC stuff and really had no concept of the console world.

Looking back, I regret that the Atari 7800 didn't see better use during its heyday. The homebrew creations, I take it, have been quite good, so I should get back to it.

It's worth owning for Food Fight and Robotron: 2084, at least in my humble opinion.

Clay Cowgill
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Sounds like Atari was just selling the hardware at a loss-- that would be something of "standard operating procedure" launching a console now-a-days, but I suspect it was a little more desperate for them as the prices dropped after launch.

There could also have been agreements in place to price protect inventory and certain retailers-- so they could have ended up paying out a lot of cash or writing down inventory. (That would explain the low return rate... Essentially they would just write off debt or issue credit back the distributors rather than get a bunch of non-selling hardware returned.)

Too bad they didn't bring out the 7800 when it was *ready* instead of years later, they might have been able to keep ahead of the NES...

Tom Sloper
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I was at Atari in 1986-87. I was the guy producing the games for the 7800 then. Would love to see any software sales figures, if those are archived!

Roberto Dillon
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Am I the only one to think that the 30m sales for the 2600 seems unrealistic? The system had about 10m user installed base by 1983... can it have sold about 20m after the videogame crash??

Martin Goldberg
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Roberto - A 1988 press release sent out by Mike Katz/Atari Corp. on June 1st, 1988 regarding their team up at the time with Axlon stated over 25 million Atari 2600's had been sold by that time. The 2600 continued to sell during the crash period, and in fact had a strong sales period again starting November of '85 onwards when Katz dropped the price to the $50 price range and the cost reduced 2600 (often called the Jr.) was introduced. At that time it moved to the "low end" console market, which it dominated and remained a large part of Atari Corp.'s overall console sales. Remember, that figure is world wide and not just the US - also the crash was just a US phenomenon. By '86 it was reported over 20 million 2600's had been sold world wide. It wasn't discontinued until '92, so it's possible to be in the 27-29 million range. As far as 1983, I don't know where you got that figure. Atari's Inc.'s press states an installed user based of over 14 million by the second half of '83. And in fact they had such strong 2600 sales the rest of that year that they raised the price coming in to '84. The problem for Atari Inc. with the 2600 wasn't as much units as it was the overstock of games themselves.

Chris hamilton
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From what I can gather, the 7800 launched at $80 SRP in 1986 (or $79.95) alongside the $50 (49.95) 2600 Jr. (I believe it remained at that $80 price point for most of its market life -and was definitely being sold at that price in '87, alongside the $99 65XE -the XEGS was apparently quite expensive by comparison, oddly)

Still, $22 would seem pretty low (though looking year-by year, it's sometimes higher -1987 is roughly $31, and it also varied further by retail -or quantity purchased per retailer). Perhaps it wouldn't be quite that low after shipping/distribution/holding/stocking costs/fees were considered.

It should also be noted that the NES had already been selling for $99 in mid 1986 (for the control deck -2 controllers+SMB) and $140-150 for the deluxe set, while the SMS was launched at $150 that September.

Some info on this here: