For years, Sears sold an Atari 2600 clone called the Sears Video Arcade. But the Sears Atari 2600 clone wasn’t exactly a clone in the sense we think of it. Atari made it for Sears and let Sears put its name on it. Here’s why.
Why Atari would agree to a Sears Atari 2600 clone
In the late 1970s, Atari wasn’t a household name. Sears was one of the largest retailers in the country, and its name held a great degree of trust. The idea of connecting a machine to your television to play video games on it scared some people. Televisions were expensive, and people had a fear of messing them up.
Selling the device through Sears with their name on it gave Atari a way to overcome some of that fear. Sears sold a lot of televisions and other electronics, so people who were nervous about buying a newfangled device from an upstart might be more willing to buy from Sears.
So even though the Sears name in 2017 holds an image of a dying store not keeping pace with the times, that wasn’t always the case. In the 1970s, Sears was a good name to partner with. Atari already had a good relationship with Sears, having given Sears the exclusive on its Pong console in 1975.
It worked out well for both companies. Sears promoted the console and its games in its catalogs, and video games quickly became a popular Christmas present.
Why the Sears Atari 2600 clone was different
The Sears Atari 2600 clone, the Sears Video Arcade, wasn’t a clone in the sense we think of. The Coleco Gemini was more of a true clone: a workalike device designed and built by another company and sold more cheaply. The Gemini also wasn’t blessed by Atari. Coleco built it, and then agreed to pay Atari a license fee after the fact.
The Sears Video Arcade was a little bit cheaper than the Atari 2600, but it looked exactly like the Atari unit and it comes in the same variants as the early 2600s. You can find both heavy sixer and light sixer variants of the Sears Video Arcade. That’s because Atari made it in the same factories. It was an Atari 2600. The label was a different color and it said “Video Arcade” instead of “Video Computer System,” but the joysticks and paddles were the same and it played all the same games. Atari gave the device legitimacy by listing the Sears Video Arcade as a compatible device on its first-party cartridges. It was a private-label version of the Atari 2600, rather than a true clone.
What about the Sears Video Arcade II?
Sears later sold a wedge-shaped console called the Sears Video Arcade II. It was compatible with the Atari 2600 but sleeker and more contemporary looking. Atari made this device too. Atari experimented with a new console called the Atari 2800 that was still backward compatible but had some slight improvements. It sold poorly overseas, but Sears agreed to sell the device in the United States as the Sears Video Arcade II. It has a modernized, streamlined case that resembles the later Atari 7800, but with 2600-generation guts inside.
So the Sears Video Arcade II looks like a clone. But it, too, was made by Atari.