It was one of the most ambitious, failed promotional stunts in the history of video games. In the early 1980s, Atari invited players of its Swordquest franchise to search through the fantasy adventure games for clues to a larger mystery. Those who correctly deciphered the clues would be summoned to Atari headquarters, where they would compete to win some expensive, real-life treasures, including a chalice, a talisman, and a crown, all forged from precious metals and bedecked with jewels. The winners of the four individual rounds were supposed to compete in a tournament of champions with a $50,000 sword as the prize. In total, Atari’s treasures were said to be worth $150,000. But then proposed four-game series was canceled in 1984 before it reached its conclusion, and the contest died out with it. So what happened to the Swordquest treasures? Eric Grundhauser has some answers in a new article for Atlas Obscura.
As the article explains, Atari was owned at the time by Warner Communications, who also owned DC Comics and the Franklin Mint. While DC produced comic books that could accompany the games (and contain more clues), the Franklin Mint could supply the heirloom-quality treasures. The first two rounds, based on the Earthworld and Fireworld games, went as scheduled, and the prizes were duly awarded to Atari loyalists. But the third game, Waterworld, only received a limited release; Warner was contractually obligated to go through with the third contest but supposedly did so without publicity. Atlas Obscura could not even verify whether that third contest really happened. The ultimate fate of the two final Swordquest prizes, the Philosopher’s Stone and the Sword Of Ultimate Sorcery, is sad and disappointing. According to Atari historian Curt Vendel, these precious keepsakes were likely returned to the Franklin Mint, where they were turned back into “gold coins or other things they could sell.”