Fifty years have passed since the game of Pong appeared. It is the first product of game developer Atari and it debuted as an arcade game. Following the popularity of the arcade, a home console version came out three years later.
Pong has its origins in engineer Allen Alcorn. He was hired by Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell to develop games for the company, even though Alcorn had no experience as a game developer. Alcorn said Alcorn and Bushnell previously worked together at electronics maker Ampex. In an interview with IGN in 2012. Then the Atari founder was impressed by Alcorn’s expertise in computer science and electrical engineering. That’s why Bushnell wanted the engineer with his company.
The exact inspiration behind Pong remains unclear. According to Bushnell, the game is based on numerical variations on tennis, including a game he played on a PDP-1 computer in 1964. However, Alcorn says Pong is based on Ping Pong’s Magnavox Odyssey, which Bushnell saw prior to the console release. As a training project, the engineer was tasked with creating a simple game with one moving point, two bats, and numbers for keeping scores.
The first version was too boring for Alcorn, so he added certain elements to make it more exciting, such as the ball moving faster and faster. Another feature is that the paddles in the game cannot reach the top of the screen. This was due to a circuit malfunction. Rather than fix the bug, Alcorn decided to leave it at it. This made the game more difficult and prevented “skilled players from playing the game forever”.
In August 1972, Atari placed a prototype of Pong at Andy Capp’s Tavern in Sunnyvale, California. The company had previously supplied pinball machines with tape. The prototype quickly became flawed due to its extreme popularity. The cause of the malfunction turned out to be quite simple: the coin input tray, which was borrowed from the washing machine from the laundromat, was full, so that no more coins could fit in it.
After finding investors, Atari was able to release Pong. On November 29, 1972, the game was announced and twelve arcade cabinets were distributed throughout California. After its release, Pong consistently earned four times the profits of other coin-operated machines at the time. Bushnell estimated in an interview with Game Informer in 2011 The game makes 30 to 40 dollars a day. That’s about 140 to 160 people playing for 25 cents at a time. By 1974, over 8,000 Pong Arcade cabinets had been sold.
In 1975, Atari released a version of the game for the home console. Two versions appeared on the market: the Home Pong, which was only available through the Sears retail chain, and Atari’s own version. Home Pong sold 150,000 copies and the Atari special edition sold 50,000 copies, Wired wrote in 2012. Also, many manufacturers have created their own version of Pong. Tweakers published an article in 2019 on how to do this Create your own Pong console.
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