History of Consoles: Pong (1975)

Console: Pong

Manufactured By: Atari Inc

Year Released: 1972 in arcades/1975 for home version

Discontinued: Late 1970’s

Units Sold: Unknown

History:

Pong was developed and published by Atari Inc, and was the first successful home video game system produced.  In order to talk about the home Pong system (marketed as PONG), we must first start with the Pong arcade.

 

 

Pong was released in the arcades in 1972, and is one of the earliest arcade video games released (Computer Space came out in 1971).  The game Pong is a simple two-dimensional sports game that simulates table tennis.  There are two paddles and a ball along with a scoreboard.  Nolan Bushnell had founded Atari Inc after designing the arcade game called Computer Space with Ted Dabney.  Bushnell felt that he could form his own company to produce and license more video games to other companies because of what he learned working on Computer Space.  Computer Space wasn’t a success with only 1,500 machines sold, but Bushnell felt he had learned a lot in designing the game. He quickly hired Allan Alcorn to join Atari Inc because of Alcorn’s experience with both computer science and electrical engineering, and because both Bushnell and Dabney had experience working with Alcorn at Ampex.  It should be noted that Alcorn had no previous experience working on video games prior to working with Atari Inc.

 

 

 

Pong is heavily influenced by the Magnavox Odyssey’s Tennis game released in 1972. Bushnell today claims that Pong was inspired by previous versions of electronic tennis that he had seen in the 1960’s, however Alcorn claims that Pong was a “a direct response to Nolan’s viewing of the Magnavox Odyssey’s Tennis game”. Either way Maganavox went on to sue Atari Inc, Bally, Coleco and other companies for ripping off version of the Odyssey’s Tennis game.  Atari Inc would eventually settle with Mangavox out of court, and Atari would have to pay royalties on the sales of Pong systems. Bushnell felt that they could win the case, however the legal costs would have been $1.5 million for Atari which would have exceeded Atari’s funds.

Bushnell felt that the Odyseey’s Tennis game “lacked quality”, so he assigned Alcorn on a special project to create a better version of the game.  Alcorn improved the tennis game in a number of ways.  First he broke the paddles into eight different segments to change the balls angle when returned.  For example if the ball hit the paddle in the middle segment it would return at a 90 degree angle, but the outer segments would return the ball at smaller angles.  In addition Alcorn gradually sped up the ball after each return; resetting when the ball is missed.  Dabney wanted Alcorn to program actually sound effects in the game including “hisses” and “boos” from the crowd.  Alcorn however had limited space available in the programing, and was unaware on how to create such sounds using digital circuits.  He did eventually figure out how to create different tones which lead to the sound effects in the game today.

In 1972 Alcorn and Bushnell placed a prototype of pong at Andy Capp’s Tavern which was a local bar in the area.  They decided to place it near the jukebox at the bar, and quickly gained popularity. Because of the success and positive feedback out in the public, Bushnell decided to take a trip to Chicago to talk to Bally/Midway Manufacturing about financing Pong’s distribution.  It wasn’t before long though that Bushnell discovered that he could make more money just keeping it under Atari rather than getting Bally/Midway involved.  By this time however Bally/Midway’s interest in Pong had grown.  Eventually with some cleaver deception, Bushnell convinced Bally/Midway to change their mind and back out.  This created a problem for Atari Inc however because they had some difficulty getting financial backing for Pong at first. Most investors at the time considered Pong a form of pinball, and during this time pinball was closely associated with the mafia.  Atari Inc eventually did receive a line of credit through Well Fargo, and production of the Pong began later that year. By 1973 Pong was shipped to other countries.

Console History:

Due to the success of Pong in the arcades, Harold Lee an engineer for Atari Inc proposed to Bushnell to develop a home version of Pong in 1974. Lee and Alcorn would work together to develop a cost effective home version of Pong.  This home Pong prototype would consist of a hundred different wires which were be quickly replaced by one single chip. At the time the Pong chip was the highest performing chip used for any consumer product. The Pong home system was complete, but Atari Inc had difficulty marketing the the system to retailers.  Retailers felt that the system was too expensive. Atari would quickly team up with Sears to help distribute the Pong, and Sears would brand the system as “Pong Tele-Games”.  The initial order was for 150,000 systems made before the holiday season in 1975, and all systems were sold that season.  Atari would later release another version of Pong under its own brand in 1976.

 

System: 

The Pong system is fairly basic in design.  It has an AC adapter used for power, and two paddle controllers built in on both sides of the system.  There is also an on and off switch, as well as a button to push to start the game.  The sound of the game comes from the system itself and not the TV.  On later version of Pong including Super Pong, there is a switch to select a game, which would change the tennis style game slightly.

The Pong clones really vary in size but are generally have the same gameplay.  Some Pong clone systems even run off of batteries in addition to having an AC adapter.

Legacy:

The home version of Pong was extremely successful and lead to many “Pong clone” type systems developed by many companies including Magnavox, Bally, Coleco, and even Nintendo among others. There were also many sequels to Pong including Super Pong, and eventually different version were released with colors etc.  Pong gave Atari Inc the financial stability to create many other classic arcades we still love, and it lead to the successor Atari Video Computer System (rebranded as the Atari 2600).  Not only did Pong help Atari, but it also helped consumer confidence in the video game market, and helped establish some legitimacy which wasn’t there before.

Personal Thoughts:

Pong today seems very basic in controls and gameplay, though is still classic and easy to catch on. It it weren’t for the success of Pong back in the 1970’s, it’d be hard to say where video game industry would be today.

Rarity (1-10):

A home Pong system depending on the model isn’t that rare today and is a 5 out of 10 in rarity.  The average cost for a Pong system today really depends on a number of factors including condition, and whether it’s complete in box or not.  Expect to pay anywhere from $25-$150+ depending on these factors.

Interesting Trivia:

  • Atari was first called Syzygy but Nolan Bushnell is a huge fan of the Japanese chess game called “Go” , where the word “Atari” in Japanese translates to “Check” in that game.
  • Later on a branch of Atari called “Tengen” who made Nintendo NES games means “center point of the board”, also in the Japanese chess game “Go”.
  • The word “pong” means “a hollow ringing sound” in English.
  • Some variations of Pong include: Super Pong, Quadra Pong, Pong Doubles, Pin Pong, and Doctor Pong.
  • Nolan Bushnell not only founded Atari Inc in 1972, but when on to Chuck E Cheese in 1977.
  • Nintendo actually released the Nintendo Color TV Game 6 in 1977 which was their first video game home system they ever released.  In 1978 they release a version that included 15 built in games.
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About Gamester81

John "Gamester81" Lester started playing video games at a very young age. His first ever console that he played was a Colecovision, quickly followed by an Atari 2600, and his passion for video games hasn't stopped. In 2008 John decided to start a video game review show on YouTube called Gamester81 by reviewing rare and retro video game systems and games. His show quickly grew in popularity, and he became friends with many other gamers in the YouTube community. He is also one of the hosts of the All Gen Gamers Podcast which is a weekly podcast for for people and video games of all generations. Some of John's other hobbies includes collecting Star Wars memorabilia (YouTube channel Starwarsnut77), playing classic arcade games (YouTube channel Gamester81Arcade), watching sports, and listening to music. John is a big fan of the 80's and 90's and in 2009 started a YouTube channel called NEStalgiaholic where he talks about nostalgic items and memories from his childhood. To see some of John's video's in 3D visit his YouTube channel Gamester81in3D. Favorite Systems: Colecovision, Commodore 64, NES, & SNES. Favorite Games: Donkey Kong Arcade, Atari Star Wars Arcade, Super Mario 3, Final Fantasy II, & Goldeneye 007
  • http://twitter.com/cousin_dave Dave

    I had a Pong system as a kid, prior to getting an Atari VCS. I can’t remember the manufacturer of it, but I’d really like to get one again. The video was black and white, the controllers were hard wired, but detachable from the console and it was some kind of cream color trimmed in brown – maybe wood. Options were Tennis/Pong, Squash, Practice, and maybe Hockey but U can’t remember for sure.

    I’d like to get this same system again for my game room, any ideas on what it is? Would have been purchased between 75-76

  • Breshenda Charley

    I have the original pong system from 1975 and it work