The Atari 5200, released in 1982, had four controller ports, an unusual feature which as far as I know had never been seen before, and would not be seen again until the late nineties.

The 1983 revision of the machine, reverted to only two controller ports.

We don't usually observe later hardware removing features. What was the reason for it in this case? I can think of several possibilities.

  • Perhaps most obvious: the videogame crash was in full swing; maybe they weren't thinking strategically any more; maybe they were just in a panic trying to do anything that would save a couple of dollars (how much did the extra controller ports add in manufacturing cost, anyway?) in an attempt to stave off bankruptcy.

  • Or maybe their game designers were not coming up with games that would accommodate four simultaneous players.

  • Or maybe their market research had started indicating, rightly or wrongly, that their customers weren't interested in four-player games. (That doesn't sound right. Game consoles tend to go in the living room, or sometimes in college dorm rooms or suchlike, where getting three or four players together would be a natural thing to do.)

  • Or the machine didn't have enough computing power to handle four players at a time? (That doesn't sound right, but then I haven't actually tried designing for player games to run on that hardware.)

  • Or something else that I haven't thought of?

1 Answer 1


One reason may be far more of the POKEY I/O was used for each controller on the 5200.

The 4 joysticks on the 400 and 800 computers, were digital and a button. Up to 8 paddles were available too, implying analog controls were a planned for option.

The 5200, used many buttons, and two paddle functions per controller to provide analog control.

There were enough paddle systems to do 4 analog joysticks, but not enough digital I/O to handle the many buttons.

  • 3
    I always wondered why we did not get nice analog controls with a couple buttons on the Atari 8 bit machines. Having used them on the Apple, I found them to be a nice option, but not ideal for twitch games. But... titles like "Choplifter" were much better experiences with analog controls.
    – Spud
    Dec 2, 2021 at 22:11
  • 2
    For whatever reason, quality analog joysticks were slow to arrive on the market. Something like the Atari 2600 joystick may have been clunky, but it was vastly better than any analog stick I remember seeing in that era.
    – supercat
    Dec 9, 2021 at 18:45

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