Pong: the patent that changed the history of video games | Digital Trends Spanish
On February 19, 1974, the world of video games changed forever. After about two years of filing, Nolan Bushnell and his fledgling company Atari obtained the patent to market Pong, their first home console.
The patent described it as a “video image positioning control system for amusement devices.” However, this long name did not live up to its simplicity: Pong was basically a console that allowed you to play table tennis (or ping-pong) on a screen.
Although the Atari Pong was based on the one that went to the first home console, the Magnavox Odyssey, the results of the latter did not compare with the success that Bushnell’s device achieved from 1975, after bringing the video games of arcade rooms inside homes.
Pong’s origins began in 1972, when Bushnell met and tested the Odyssey at a technology fair. However, the founder of Atari felt that the video game could be perfected, so he set out to develop an arcade machine.
The Atari Pong Cabinet debuted at Andy Capp’s Tavern in Sunnyvale, California, in 1972. It immediately attracted attention and outpaced other coin-operated machines by up to four times.
Between 1973 and 1974, Atari had sold more than 10,000 units of Pong cabinets.
According to Bushnell, this version of Pong played an important role as a “social lubricant”, since it was a video game designed for several users.
“It was very common for a girl with a coin in her hand to pull a boy off a bar stool and say, ‘I would like to play Pong and there is no one to play.’ It was a way in which they could play, they were sitting shoulder to shoulder, they could talk, they could laugh, they could challenge each other ”, he declared.
From demands to ultimate success
In the early 1970s, numerous Oddyssey clones coexisted, including Atari. However, the twist came from the hand of an Atari engineer, who proposed to develop a homemade version of the arcade machine: the Home Pong, whose patent was granted on February 19, 1974.
The first prototype consisted of a device attached to a wooden pedestal with more than a hundred cables, which were eventually replaced by a single chip, the highest performing chip used in a consumer product to date.
The challenge was to market it. Department store chain Sears offered an exclusive deal, but Atari declined. However, after failing to find business partners, he agreed in January 1975.
The first units were manufactured under the Sears Tele-Games name, which sold about 150,000 units. Those numbers made it the most successful product in the store. In 1976, Atari released its own version under its brand, which sold an additional 50,000 units.
Pong’s success did not go unnoticed by Ralph Baer, the inventor of the Magnavox Odyssey. Since a series of documents proved that Bushnell had been familiar with the Odyssey before releasing his version of Pong, Atari agreed to settle an out-of-court settlement with Magnavox. Baer’s company offered Atari a license, in exchange for which it would receive the rights to Bushnell’s company products for one year.