After Hours

Geek Trivia: What is the 'real' reason Atari developed the original Pong?

When Atari first developed Pong -- the first commercially successful video arcade game ever -- it was never even intended to be sold.

A mere 40 years ago this month, arcade video gaming got its first success story; on Nov. 29, 1972, Atari officially announced the release of Pong, the first commercially profitable arcade video game ever made. How Pong came upon its success -- and how it even came into existence -- is one of the more fascinating stories in video game history.

First, some housekeeping. Pong was not the first arcade video game ever produced. It wasn't even the first coin-operated arcade video game. A small number of obscure and unsuccessful prototypes made it into the wild before Pong, but Pong earns its status as the first arcade video game to actually prove popular and earn serious profits. One of those pre-Pong arcade pioneers was a remarkably Asteroids-like video game called Computer Space, created for Nutting Associates by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney in 1971.

The same Bushnell and Dabney that founded Atari in 1972 and released Pong that same year. Computer Space didn't take off, but Bushnell and Dabney saw the potential of the technology and formed Atari to build games that could be successful. They quickly signed a deal with Bally -- then a heavyweight in the pinball machine space -- with the promise of delivering an arcade video game hit that the company could distribute to its customers.

Pong was not that promised game. In fact, when Atari first developed Pong, it was never even intended to be sold -- Bushnell and Dabney commissioned Pong for an entirely different reason.


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Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...


...guys mentioned in the article at Ampex Corporation in Sunnyvale, CA during this time. One day, Nolan told me of their intentions of starting Atari and asked if I might be interested in joining them. My response was, "Nolan, who the hell would ever play a video game?" I have been kicking myself ever since, needless to say!


The Magnavox Pong was just tossed on top of the trash in a barrel. After getting striped down and the paddles (controller) on seperate boxes, adapted to work with an oscilloscope instead of a TV. (No TV's allowed in work spaces on US Navy warships). Talk about a small screen. 1970.

Good Old Dad
Good Old Dad

First came across the game in our local watering hole, where we had stopped for a refreshment after work. It was mounted in a low round table so we could sit in comfort, sip our drinks and gaze down into the Pong-y depths. After the first few rounds, someone noticed that the cash box had been removed, allowing one quarter to be circulated through, ad infinitum. Don't know how many games I played, but it was easily in the hundreds. Got kicked out after last call at 2:00 a.m. Went back a few days later - the cash box was back in and the line up was several people deep.

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