Atari vs. Intellivision – the First Console Wars

Atari vs Intellivision


I have a confession to make.  I still own an Atari 2600, two as a matter of fact (unless my mother doesn’t care about my childhood and sold my original). So my opinion on the Atari 2600 vs. Intellivision may be slightly biased.  I have one at my home in Denver and one in my parent’s attic in Pennsylvania.  Unfortunately the version I have in Denver is a newer model with all the games built right into the system, so it’s kind of cheating and pales in comparison to the original, but the ability to play Pitfall on a 50 inch screen is kind of awesome, much better than the 20 inch television I grew up with.

I vividly remember growing up with my Atari, it was my gateway into gaming that 33 years later that I still, much to my wife’s dismay, partake.  I also remember wanting to go to my friend’s house and play his sweet Intellivision, it was different and just by looking at the controller you knew you were in for a good time!  It’s like a calculator with one huge button at the bottom, and everyone knows that math = fun.  Also, that big button, it rotates, that’s how you control everything on the screen.


The Intellivision was the 2600’s biggest competitor and came out two years after the 2600.  Wait, you don’t remember the Intellivision?  That’s ok, not everyone does, it never took off and Atari quickly became the standard.  In keeping with our throwback Thursday theme, let’s look at why the Atari 2600 won the first console wars.


A gaming console is only as good as its games.  The Intellivision had a respectable 125 titles, but the 2600 had 469.  Here is also where we see the first sign of a marketing strategy for both companies and how they differed.  Atari used a broad stroke, focusing on easy-to-play games focusing on the entire family while Intellivision focused on strategy-based games that appealed to a more dedicated but decidedly smaller audience.

Winner – Atari



Atari was known for having really cool commercials.  Intellivision had a better product that made better looking games, but their marketing often fell flat.  Intellivision focused on quality while Atari focused on quantity.  It was quickly very apparent through effective and targeted advertising that Atari was more successful at bringing the arcade experience home while Intellivision really missed the mark.

Winner – Atari

History would go to show that having better hardware and a better product doesn’t win a technology war.  This same story was repeated with Genesis vs Super Nintendo and still today with the Playstation and Xbox.  Advertising and Marketing Strategy continues to play an integral role in the success or in this case, failure of a product, this and a terrible, terrible controller.

Thanks for reading,



3 Responses to “Atari vs. Intellivision – the First Console Wars”

  1. | October 2, 2014 at 7:26 am #

    Greazt article, this is jjst what thee games world is in need of, keep up
    the great work!

  2. Fred | April 8, 2015 at 11:29 pm #

    Intellivision had much more sophisticated graphics and games but I agree that Atari generated most of the buzz and had a larger game selection.

    I am glad to have grown up with an Intellivision, then I could always go to a friends house to play Atari.

    Both were great systems.

  3. Intv Prim | September 19, 2016 at 12:40 am #

    It is funny how the battle continues…

    I would argue that the Intellivision controller’s disc “won”, as every console in the last 2-3 generations now uses it…. Except that the edges are raised and we now call it a d-pad.

    I would also argue that the consoles had the same number of *unique* titles, about 123 (ie Happy Trails and Locomotion have the same gameplay on the Intellivision, Ocean City Defender is like Atlantis on the 2600, etc).

    Intellivision marketing was also stronger, but in the advertising world frequency beats reach, especially in the 1980s. Atari VCS won on that front.

    Great article. Thanks!

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