Released on September 11, 1977, it is credited with popularizing the use of microprocessor-based hardware and games stored on ROM cartridges (a format first used with the Fairchild Channel F in 1976) instead of dedicated hardware with games physically built into the unit. The 2600 was bundled with two joystick controllers, a conjoined pair of paddle controllers, and a game cartridge: initially Combat and later Pac-Man.
The Atari VCS launched with nine simple, low-resolution games in 2 KiB cartridges. The system found its killer app with its version of Taito's Space Invaders in 1980 and became widely successful, leading to the creation of third-party game developers (notably Activision) and competition from other home console makers such as Mattel and Coleco. By the end of its primary lifecycle in 1983-4, the 2600 boasted games with more advanced visuals and gameplay than the system was designed for, such as the scrolling platform adventure Pitfall II: Lost Caverns, which used four times the ROM of the launch titles.
Atari invested heavily in two games for the 2600, Pac-Man and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, that became commercial failures and contributed to the video game crash of 1983. The 2600 was shelved as the industry recovered, and Warner sold off the home console division of Atari to Commodore CEO Jack Tramiel. In 1986, the new Atari Corporation under Tramiel released a lower-cost version of the 2600 and the backwards-compatible Atari 7800. Atari finally ended production of the Atari 2600 on January 1, 1992; over the system's lifetime, an estimated 30 million units had been sold.