45 Years of Pong

Pong. One of the earliest video games ever created, and the first commercially successful game, Atari’s 1972 cabinet legend has a lot to answer for. Alongside other products like the Magnavox Odyssey home console, Pong is credited with being instrumental in establishing the video game industry and has earned a phenomenal list of accolades including a place in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian Institution.

To celebrate 45 years since Pong’s release, we’re going to list off a few lesser-known facts about this historic game…

Pong was Created as a Warm-Up

At the time of Pong’s creation, Atari was a but a small, newly formed company. The creator of Pong, a young electronics engineer named Al Alcorn had just been hired for his experience with electronics, but had little knowledge in video games. To familiarise him, he was assigned a warm-up project based on table tennis, the simplest game concept they could come up with at the time. Once Alcorn had successfully built a working version of the base game, it became apparent to Atari that this was an extremely fun and addictive game with a lot of potential.

The Prototype Was DIY at its Best

Pong’s first cabinet was constructed from a wooden box painted orange, with two silver knobs on the front to control the game. A black-and-white Hitachi TV was mounted on the inside and the prototype board was connected. A coin receiver was welded onto the side of the box, comprised of a coffee can and a coin slot from a laundromat. Within a matter of days, this was modified and the coffee can was replaced by a larger milk carton – the game had been so popular that the coins were overflowing into the wooden box and the start mechanism couldn’t trigger.

Pong Had a Hard Time Getting Financed

Back in 1972, before the rise of arcade game cabinets, pinball machines were the kings of arcades, diners and bars. When Atari attempted to obtain financial backing for the production and larger release of Pong, banks viewed the game as a variant of pinball games, which at the time were associated with the Mafia by the public, and were reluctant to support the company. Eventually, Atari gained the support of Wells Fargo who provided a credit line and allowed Atari to establish production.

Atari Turned a Simple Bug Into a Feature

In the initial plan for Pong, the paddles were supposed to reach the top and bottom of the screen, however due to a defective circuit a gap big enough for the ball to fit through remained at both ends. This was effectively a fault in the design, but Atari opted to leave it in the game as it posed a greater challenge and would likely lead to shorter games.

Chuck E. Cheese’s Had a Special Connection with Pong

Video games and pizza have always been the best of friends. As it happens, this relationship may go back further than you’d think – Atari’s co-founder Nolan Bushnell, and one of the men responsible for Alcorn’s Pong assignment, is also the founder of restaurant chain Chuck E. Cheese’s. As Pong grew in popularity, the game appeared in his restaurants which undoubtedly added to its success. Bonus fact: Bushnell was also approached by Steve Jobs (previously a QC technician at Atari) and offered a 1/3 stake in Apple for $50,000, an offer he turned down!

What classic cabinet games have you played, what’s your favourite?

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