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Q&A: Atari Cartridges In Deep Caves - The Hidden Stash

Q&A: Atari Cartridges In Deep Caves - The Hidden Stash Exclusive

February 23, 2009 | By Todd Ciolek

February 23, 2009 | By Todd Ciolek
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

[In an offbeat interview, Gamasutra mines the mindset of O'Shea, Limited, which stashed 3 million sealed Atari cartridges in a cave back in 1990, and has been selling them ever since.]

A Missouri limestone cave is hardly the place you’d expect to find a towering tribute to the excesses of the Atari era, but that’s exactly what a liquidation company created there years ago.

When Atari ditched its stockpiles of unsold games in the early 1990s, O’Shea Ltd. was there to buy up some three million brand-new copies of Joust, Galaga, Tower Toppler, Pole Position, Ms. Pac-Man, and other common titles for the Atari 2600 and 7800.

O’Shea chose an uncommon place to store them: 150 feet underground, in a warehouse built from the unused space of a limestone mine.

In the 20,000 square of storage space leased by O’Shea, stacks of sealed Atari games stand in testament to Atari’s past dominance of the video game market, and every title there is available for sale to the public (along with a few Jaguar games) through O’Shea’s website.

In an interview, O’Shea president Bill Houlehan (right) revealed just how the market for mint Atari games is doing today:

How did you come to buy these games in the first place? How did you find out that Atari was liquidating them?

We've been in the closeout business for many years and we were notified by Atari that they were selling everything off.

What really inspired you to grab all of the games? Was there heavy bidding for the unsold games?

In our business it is important that if you have an opportunity to purchase an entire inventory instead of just part of it, you purchase all of it. Otherwise you run the risk of having another company purchase the remaining inventory. Yes, there was heavy bidding for the games.

What year did you buy all of these games? What was the market for Atari games like in the early 1990s? Had Atari 2600 collecting really taken off at that point?

We bought the inventory in 1990, and we had a great deal of business from overseas. We were selling container-loads of games to a company called Intertoys based out of Holland. At the time we purchased the inventory, Atari collecting had not taken off. That really happened in the last few years.

What games are the best sellers? Why do you think they're popular?

Pole Position, Ms. Pac Man, and Dig Dug are our three best sellers, followed by Battlezone, Galaxian, and Hat Trick. I think these are the most popular because they are the video game classics.

So many of our customers say how they feel like a kid again when they get these games. Atari started the video game industry and they built themselves on games like Pole Position and Ms. Pac Man.

Do you find that most of the people who buy your games are simply going to open them and play them, or do you get a lot of business from collectors who want their sealed copies to stay that way?

We have numerous buyers who buy two of each game so that they can play one set of the games, and then they can put the other set of games aside as a collectible set.

Do you see the demand for Atari 2600 games increasing in the years to come, or do you think that nostalgia-driven collecting has already peaked in the generation that grew up with the system?

The generation that grew up with these games have children now and with the new Atari movie coming out with Leonardo DiCaprio, it is bringing back childhood memories around the Atari console.

Their kids have the Wii, but they were the generation of the original video gamers and many customers want to bring back a piece of their childhood with these games and also show their children what they grew up on.

You've been selling these games for some time now. You started with three million, correct? How many games are left? How many do you sell a year?

Yes, we purchased Atari's entire inventory of just over three million games and we have about one million left.

There is usually a very steady flow of purchases for the games, but since the announcement about the movie Atari, we have noticed a drastic spike in sales over the past few months.

How do you decide to raise the price on these games? I see that you've gone from $2 to $5 per game in the past few years.

The cost to store and maintain the games has considerably increased since we first purchased the inventory in the early 90's, and it got to a point where we had to increase the price a few years ago to maintain a reasonable profit.

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