Today I found out “Pong” was originally meant only as a training exercise for a new gaming developer at Atari, Allan Alcorn, and wasn’t intended to be released as a consumer product.
When Alcorn was hired by Atari in 1972, Nolan Bushnell, who founded Atari along with Ted Dabney, told Alcorn that he had recently signed a contract with GE for Atari to create a very simple electronic table-tennis game. The only stipulations were that it needed two paddles, one moving spot for a ball, and to have digits that displayed the score.
In fact, there was no such contract and Bushnell just wanted to give Alcorn something very easy to develop as Alcorn had no experience with video game design and development, though he did have a background in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. Even though it wasn’t ultimately meant for public consumption, Bushnell wanted Alcorn to think it was so that he would take it seriously and really put a lot of effort into it.
With the initial set of stipulations for the game, Alcorn found it quite boring, so decided to spruce it up a bit by making the ball bounce off the paddle at different angles, depending on what segment of the paddle was hit. He also had the ball progressively move at a faster rate after each successful return. By a happy accident of a defective circuit, the game also featured a space at the top of the screen which was unreachable by the paddles and which Alcorn felt made the game more fun, as skilled players could try to aim for that spot.
Despite the fact that it was initially meant as a training exercise, Bushnell and Dabney were impressed with what Alcorn had come up with in the few months he had been working on the project. While still pessimistic about its marketability, they decided to try the prototype out at a local bar, Andy Capp’s Tavern, to see how it did. If it did well, they figured they’d try to sell it to Bally Manufacturing or Midway Manufacturing, two companies they had contracts for other games with.
Both Bally and Midway were interested initially in the game. However, within about a week of the test run, the game started malfunctioning and Alcorn was sent out to fix it. What he found was that the game was malfunctioning because the milk carton used to collect the coins had overflowed and eventually some of the coins began causing shorts in the coin operating circuitry.
The manager of the tavern also told Bushnell that he actually had customers lining up before opening time, just to come in and play the game. At this point, Bushnell backtracked on his offer to sell the game and decided to have Atari manufacture it. To do so, he convinced Bally that Midway didn’t think the game had any potential. He then convinced Midway that Bally thought the game had no potential. When the two competitors heard this, they both withdrew, leaving Bushnell free to do business with them later, while still retaining the rights to Pong.
After funding and then manufacturing difficulties, Pong as an arcade style game was finally released and was wildly successful, earning an unprecedented $35-$45 per day, per machine. An even bigger step forward for it, though, was when Atari released a home version of Pong, originally through Sears Sporting Goods under Sears’ “Tele-Games” brand name. That home version sold 150,000 units the first Christmas it was released. From that and subsequent sales, this simple training exercise became the first ever commercially successful video game, spurring the video game boom that followed.
via Gizmodo http://bit.ly/1pcLFd2