The first question about this site is "why does it exist?" With many collectibles out there, variations exist either through change or error. Sometimes variations are more valuable than the original item. Collectors are fascinated with the idea of why a specific item is changed. Sometimes it's for marketing purposes, possibly a company change, new printer company, or it's totally accidental. But for some reason, a variation draws collectors in. Some collectors just want the rarest variation out there, others want each and every single version. In the mid-1990s, I became active in purchasing vintage video games. I found on the internet through newsgroups, that there existed a list showing all the games released for the Atari 2600 by Atari and many 3rd party companies. With this list, there were entries for different cartridge and label variations along with box variations. I found it fascinating at first that there were so many games released for this system. When I was small with my original 2600, I had almost 50 games and figured the library maybe consisted of 100-150 titles. I was astonished to learn about all these 3rd party companies and titles released I'd never heard of.
I had moved on to Colecovision in 1982, so my concentration moved on to purchasing games for that system and I abandoned the Atari altogether. Eventually I sold my Atari games and moved on to the Commodore 64 by the mid-1980s. I stayed with computers from then on until the mid-1990s when I had acquired an Atari 7800 through a customer from a yard sale. I brought it home and the nostalgia hit me. I then sought to acquire more vintage games and customers began bringing me other systems I never heard of either. Then the collecting bug really hit and I went to the internet to seek out information about Atari and other systems. I began purchasing most of my games through flea markets, yard sales, the newsgroups and a local retail toy/game store in my town. I even sought out ads in newspapers and drove to people's houses just to buy more games.
Move back to the mid-1990s and the list. I originally was a contributor to the list and by the mid-2000s decided I should make a site showing scans of all these variations. I was maintaining the list on my own since there seemed to be no one updating it. I also took the list for its word that it was accurate, but where was the proof? So it took a couple of years to finally get myself going with the site and began scanning whatever I could find along with getting scans from various sites. I took on this venture because it's in my nature to do things like this. I love lists of items and love cataloguing all the hobbies I'm into. So the why is now understood and I'll move on to the explanation of the details about the variations and the site itself.
The site itself is pretty basic. The list originally contained just cartridges and boxes. I decided to add manuals. Manuals and documentation that are in the list are accurate. It's going to take a long time to get all that scanned and uploaded. I try to be as detailed as possible when it comes to the list. Scans help in the majority of identification, but description is just as important.
So what exactly categorizes a variation? It is defined as some physical difference from its counterpart. It may be color, cartridge mold, font, size, shape, copyright or register marks and years, foreign or multiple languages or any other characteristic that you can distinguish that does not look like the one next to it. When it comes to rarity, it all depends on what you can find out there for sale or shown in collections. Rarity is the most difficult thing to determine, since it takes time to investigate and gather data.
The only rarity listed in this site is for the cartridges. I do not put any pricing data, which would be next to impossible to determine. The few sites I've seen with pricing data on games just show a general average of sales of loose or complete data on a title, but does not break down by variation. So there will never be any pricing in the list or on the site. Cartridge rarity is based on several factors. The rarity itself is based on the variation itself, not the difficulty in finding the game. So a game that has say only 100 copies known to exist, but has only 1 variation will be listed as (C)ommon, even though its next to impossible to find the game. So as mentioned above, cartridge variations can be based on anything pertaining to the mold of the cartridge and the label of the cartridge or a combination thereof. I try and order cartridge variations based on year/release first with some exceptions for possible foreign releases. If product number changes and the year is the same, I order it by product number if I can. There may be some items that are currently out of order based on finding new variations, but I try and keep everything structured according to these standards.
I'll discuss boxes before manuals since I've gotten a bit more detailed with my box descriptions and what makes a variation. I believe the majority of production release order is now known. Through thorough investigation on my part with printer dates on the boxes, I've been able to determine order of release for the variations. At least with the Atari made games. Some 3rd party boxes do have printer information on them, most of the major companies, but smaller companies overall do not. Most of the smaller companies have few variations if any. So for Atari especially, I discovered that many of the box variations on the list were listed haphazardly, just to get them on the list, but not to imply any order. While looking at the small tabs found on the top or bottom of the boxes, the printer had begun to put their information along with month and year the box was printed. Most early boxes like the gatefold and Game Program boxes have no printer information. Once warranty information was printed on the back of the box, you begin to see printer names and dates. There were two main companies doing the printing in the beginning, but as the years progressed, several more printers were used. So if you look at the page under the Atari 2600 describing the variations, you'll see the exact order of the boxes printed during their evolution of release. Also on the tiny flap are sometimes printed (Rev)ision numbers. Most of the time, the logical order for release is by revision. But there are often times where a box revision will jump, or possibly only have a later number. There are several boxes with Rev.4 that don't have earlier releases. Some titles I know have box variations that exist, but I have yet to acquire proof. I have a made a list of items of cartridges, manuals, and boxes that should exist, but have yet to be found.
To explain the boxes further, I want to give details about the printers/dates and how they are listed in the document. When I get boxes from purchases, I scrutinize over every detail, making sure that the box I'm holding is not different than the ones listed in the document. Boxes may look the same, but there may be the subtlest of differences. If I cannot determine any difference, I look at the tiny flaps. You may see a box variation that at the end of the description shows several printers/dates. This is because I looked at the boxes and could not find any differences. So a box may be printed in more than one location or by more than one printer, even years later, but they use the same format across the board. There may be very slight differences with the tiny flap, possibly with a product number or color variation, but I will usually ignore those because it's so small of a difference. One of the Combat boxes looks exactly the same, but has 3 different small flap variations, which I actually mention. I list this as one variation instead of three because I cannot find any other difference with the box. Another aspect of the printer date is how I actually determine the date itself. Most of the flaps have a 12 month calendar on them and the month that the box is printed is almost always blanked out. Sometimes there may be more than one month blanked out on the box, and possibly even skipping a month. So for example, “Ivy Hill” 5/81 may be on one box, then “Ivy Hill” 5-6/81 may be on another. This would mean both May and June are blanked out on that second version. There have been even times a month is skipped like “Ivy Hill” 5,7/81 meaning both May and July are blanked out, but June is still there. If you see more than one date with year like “Ivy Hill” 5/81, 11/81, that means there are two different boxes printed by Ivy Hill, one was in May, and another later in November. Also, if you have more than one printer, the description would read “Ivy Hill” 5/81; “Bertco Graphics” 5/81. This would mean that both Ivy Hill and Bertco Graphics were printing the same box style at the same time. I put a semi-colon between printers to distinguish that more than one printer made that same variation. There are a few examples where the words “no printer or date” will be written without the quotes. That means there is no printer on the bottom flap. I think I only do this when there are versions of that box that also have a printer. In some instances with “Adpak San Francisco” early on, there is no date indicating which month the box was printed. The words “no date” without quotes will appear after the printer to indicate that only the printer name is on the flap and that no date is indicated as to when this was printed.
Manuals I have yet to really delve into. Everything on the list I have personally come into contact with or have seen some scan proof on the internet. My guess is there are many more I have not found. So far I have handled manual variations slightly different than cartridge and box variations. Most manual variations will be with color, physical size, glued/staple variation, year or product number. Atari especially has a (Rev)ision number on the majority of manuals released after the original. There are those out though that only have revision numbers on them without having an initial release. My guess is that these were revised prior to being printed. The other thing I began doing and may change my mind with are with the later release titles. Those games that were still being produced from 1985-1988 by Atari Corp. I have found that some of the manuals in these later releases have only the difference in the printer and/or printed date, and that being only a month/year. So Kangaroo for example, the 1988 Hong Kong version I have listed version F with 4 different printers/dates. Though they are technically 4 different manuals, the only difference I could find is the printer and/or date are different. Because of this, I have lumped all 4 variations under one listing. What I will do when I get to the scans of these variations and create the page for them, I will show the entire manual once with the last page of each also shown and noted that they are different. This will be similar to what I do with cartridge mold and label variations, where I show one scan and put a description above the scan detailing what the difference is.
I believe many collectors find variations interesting overall. The recent creation of WATA video game grading service has proven that. Just see the sales of various sealed NES games in the past year. The prices realized are a bit ridiculous. I had been in contact with the owner of WATA and was supposed to be a consultant for his company on the vintage games, mainly the Atari 2600. It was in the works that the older games were finally going to be recognized for what they were and graded and slabbed. But so far, this has been put on hold. I think they weren't expecting the overwhelming response to their service. Hopefully in the future they will have enough people and resources to grade all video games. Then we'll see how much of a market there will be for variations.