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How Pong Kicked Off The Video Game Craze In 1972

Entertainment | November 6, 2017

A mid-'70s advertisement for a Pong console. Source: flashbak.com

Thanks to Atari and Pong, video games are a pillar of the entertainment industry today. In 1972, Atari released a simple game based on ping pong, packaged in an upright cabinet suitable for bars and arcades, and it became a bona fide craze. Though the idea of computer games had been percolating for several years, it was Pong that made this abstract idea a reality, and made Atari, all of a sudden, the leader in an industry that would explode in the years ahead.

Pong Was Released In 1972

The Magnavox Odyssey, released in 1972, was the first home video gaming console, and one of its games was a rudimentary ping-pong simulation. Atari's co-founder Nolan Bushnell essentially lifted Pong from this Magnavox console, and Magnavox later sued.

Soon after the Odyssey hit the market, Atari released Pong as an arcade game. The game itself was classified as a sports type game that simulated table tennis. Games could either be played against another human competitor or against the game system itself, not unlike today. Players controlled electronic paddles and attempted to volley a small dot back and forth for the winning score. The winner was the player who reached the score of 11 points first. Points were scored when an opponent failed to return a volley. The game had a black and white display, was slow and painfully basic, but we fell in love with it just the same! At the time, it was state of the art. It was such a treat to find yourself in a bar, a bowling alley or some other public gathering place where there was an opportunity to try your skill; so we all shamelessly lined up with our quarters to wait our turn.  

Pong Was Housed In The Now-Familiar Gaming Cabinet

The Pong arcade video game console was big and bulky, not unlike something you would expect to see in an arcade, even now. The game screen itself though was minimal; about the size of a small television. Ironically, it was billed as a “Low Key Cabinet, Suitable for Sophisticated Locations.” The game was easy to spot but even if you didn’t know what to look for, you could usually just go to wherever the largest crown was forming.

Pong Comes To The Small Screen

A few years later in 1975, Atari set another industry precedent by releasing a home version of Pong. Or was it an industry precedent? In what cannot be a coincidence, Magnavox's Odyssey was discontinued in the same year.

The game console sold for somewhere in the neighborhood of $200.00-$250.00, and was released just in time for the holiday shopping season that year. Parents across America were scrambling, not only to find one, but to scrape up the money to purchase one. In 1975, the average, monthly mortgage payment was probably less than the cost of the home version of the Pong video game. For this reason alone, it would have been quite a thrill to find one under the Christmas tree.

The Pong Console Led To The VCS (Or Atari 2600)

America had been bitten by the video game bug and it all started with Atari’s Pong. In 1977, Atari released the Video Computer System (VCS) -- later known as the 2600. It was an improvement over Pong in that it was one console that could play multiple games. Soon other companies began developing and releasing their own video games. Both arcade games as well as games for home entertainment had been redefined. After the technology was developed, it took off from there. Over the years, Atari continued to develop and refine their video games systems and a variety of games were available. At one time, the game system was even available in a modern wood-grain console… Fancy! It was truly mind blowing.  

Atari's Home Gaming Console Business Peaked In 1983

Atari ruled the home video-gaming world in the late '70s and early '80s, on the strength of its 2600 console. But the 2600 went down in the video game "crash" of 1983, and Atari never again dominated the market, although it continued to produce consoles in an attempt to compete. The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) brought the industry out of its slump. Atari's last console, the Jaguar, was produced from 1993-96.

Tags: A Brief History Of... | Arcades | Atari | Pong | Video Games

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.