It was November 29, 1972. Pong, the new arcade game, was being delivered around California.

Screenshot of PONG from the Atari Arcade Hits ...

Screenshot of PONG from the Atari Arcade Hits #1 software title released in 1972 by Hasbro Interactive. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why did players get so excited they launched an industry?

Unlike existing pinball machines, which were mechanical, Pong was computerized.

And, unlike games of the time, you could control completely what happened. You barely needed instructions on how to play.

It was just two paddles, as though ping pong paddles, that you moved up and down either side of the screen, with manual knobs that turned, on the front of the machine.

A ball flew across the screen from one side to the other. As you got better, and advanced, the ball flew faster.

Your job was to synchronize the movement of the paddles with the ball, so you could “hit” it back across the “net” when the ball and paddle collided.

Deceptively simple to understand.

Hours of fun drew you in.

Where had it come from?

It followed on the heels of a computerized arcade game, Computer Space, which made $3 million in revenue, and sold thousands of units, but was difficult to play.

Pong seemed so easy that you had to keep coming back to master it

It, and one of its inventors, Nolan Bushnell, who went on to co-found Atari, was the beginning of the video game industry.

Bushnell and Ted Dabney had invented Computer Space in 1969, with a stake of $500. It launched in 1971.

Bushnell had grown up around arcade games by working summers at an amusement park near Salt Lake City, when arcades meant throwing a ball to knock pins down and win a stuffed animal.

Bushnell found a private computer video game in the computer lab at the University of Utah that later formed the basis for his commercial game, Computer Space.

After the sale of the Computer Space company, Bushnell founded Atari with Dabney and Al Alcorn. In May, 1972, Bushnell saw a demonstration of a tennis video game introduced by Magnavox. He thought they could do better.

Alcorn designed Pong, convinced Bushnell it would be popular and they installed it in their favorite comedy club/bar, still open and now three miles from Apple headquarters, in September, 1972.

The first time it broke and the club owner called Alcorn to come fix it, the console was filled with quarters. Their friend told him that his patrons lined up at the door, waiting for him to open in order to play this new game. Alcorn replaced the cut-down milk carton being used to collect the quarters with a bread pan.

The company started making the games and placed the first 12 of them around the state in the same places where they had been fixing pinball machines, on November 29, 1972.

By March, 1973, they’d shipped 8,000 machines.

By the end of 1974, revenue reached $3.2 million.

In 1975, they hired Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak to design a game for them, Breakout.

In 1976, they sold the company to Warner Communications for $28 million.

In 1981, Atari made more than $1 billion.

100,000 Pong consoles have been installed. You can find them at pizza parlors, bars and bowling alleys.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers

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