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History of Pong (Game): 23 Things to Know (Origins, Inventor,…)

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

Pong was a simple yet fun game that provided hours of fun and enjoyment in its time. It was a simple ping pong-type game, but it was significant since many people regard it as the first proper video game. Here is the truth about Pong’s history, origins, and inventor.

Pong was manufactured by Atari and first released In 1972. Pong changed the world of games forever, though it wasn’t the first game that was played in the style of tennis or Ping Pong. It was definitely one of the most popular arcade games ever manufactured, paving the way for modern video games.

1. Pong: The Arcade Game That Helped Launch The Gaming Industry

Pong was among the first arcade video games created by Allan Alcorn, who worked for Atari, Inc. Alcorn was instructed to design a game as an exercise to see what he could do. Management was so impressed with Alcorn’s work that they decided to manufacture and release Pong commercially. The concept of video games was still relatively unknown at that time.

2. Tennis For Two: The Inspiration Behind Pong

The very first video game was invented in October 1958 by William Higinbotham. Simply called “Tennis For Two,” the game was made purely for entertainment purposes during an expo where a computer was demonstrated. This is considered to be the inspiration behind Pong.

3. How Pong Was Engineered

Nolan Bushnell told Allan Alcorn to build a Ping Pong game for General Electric because they had a contract with them to manufacture this prototype. Nolan specified that the game should be cheap, and the design should not contain more than 20 chips.

After three months, Alcorn had a working prototype. He designed the prototype board to work with a black and white television. He then developed the segmented paddles so that each segment would send the ball back at a different angle; however, he could only get the prototype to work with 70 chips and not 20 as was requested by General Electric. 

4. Pong Gets Its Famous “Pong” Sound

The device could already get the television’s sync generator to produce a few tones. Eventually, Alcorn managed to manipulate the sync generator to create a satisfying “pong” sound, which also inspired the game’s name. Alcorn then configured the prototype so that the ball would go faster after a few rallies.

5. Pong Demonstrated In 1972

Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dubney were so impressed with the design and how well the game played that they insisted it should be released. The television with the working prototype was placed in a simple painted orange wooden box, with two silver knobs that controlled the paddles. Dabney then welded a coin slot onto the side for demonstration purposes. 

6. The First Working Prototype Of Pong

Bushnell and Dabney knew the owner of a nearby Tavern, Andy Capp’s Tavern, and they went into an agreement that the prototype could be tested there. After a week, the owner called to say that Pong didn’t work. It turned out to be the coin box, which was too full from all the coins inside, so the start mechanism couldn’t be tripped because of all the coins, proving its popularity.

7. The Three Commands Of Pong 

After the success of the first prototype, they wanted to build more prototypes, but this time there should be instructions for the game. So Andy Alcorn wrote three commands to appear on the faceplate of the game:

  • Deposit quarter
  • Ball will serve automatically
  • Avoid missing ball for high score

8. Pong To Be Played In Bars

After only a few weeks of prototypes, you could already find Pong in 10 bars. However, Bushnell, Dabney, and Alcorn underestimated the abuse that the Pong Arcade Game machines would go through. Every Pong prototype would come back because the power supply would break due to bar owners trying to fix the game themselves. 

Even with just ten prototypes out there, Pong still managed to bring in about $150 per week, which was more than what pinball machines achieved in the same timeframe.

9. Demonstrating Pong To Executives 

Bushnell went on a business trip to demonstrate Pong to two businesses that could hopefully license Pong. The two businesses were Bally and Midway Manufacturing. But due to Pong’s success, Bushnell decided that there would be more profit if he kept the game and let Atari manufacture Pong.

However, interest was already stirred between Bushnell, Bally, and Midway Manufacturing. He then told the two executives that neither Bally nor Midway Manufacturing were interested in the deal.

10. Pong Associated With The Mafia

Bushnell struggled to receive financial backing for Pong due to banks seeing the game as a variant of pinball. At that time, the public connected pinball to the mafia since many pinball machines were placed and maintained by them.

11. Atari’s Production Line

Atari finally received credit from Wells Fargo to begin its production line. Atari also needed additional workers for the production line, which they acquired from the unemployment office. Manufacturing was very slow initially; they were only able to produce 10 Pong machines per day, and many of these failed quality tests.

12. Pong Shipped To Japan

Pong was released in Japan in 1973 by Atari Japan. Unfortunately, Pong wasn’t the first paddle and ball game to be released there since there were already two other releases based on the same concept: Sega’s Pong Tron and Taito’s Elepong.

13. The Concept Of Home Pong

As computer chips developed and improved, so did the possibility of designing a smaller version of Pong. This home version would be able to plug into a television.

14. Atari And Magnavox Lawsuit, 1974 – 1976

Before Pong’s release in November 1972, another company developed a similar game. Magnavox Oddysey’s tennis game can be dated back to 1966 but didn’t achieve much success. However, Bushnell saw the Magnavox Oddysey and later stated, “The fact is that I absolutely did see the Odyssey game, and I didn’t think it was very clever.”

He then decided to settle out of court in June 1976 because he felt that the legal costs were more than what Atari could afford at that stage. 

15. The Success Of Pong

The eventual release of Pong was a great success. Its revenue exceeded the revenue of other coin-operated machines. With the game’s success came more demand for production. By 1973 Atari had already manufactured 2500 Pong arcade games, and by 1974 the demand was even greater; by this point, they had manufactured and sold 8000 units.

16. Pong’s Missed Balls

Atari had a few missed opportunities in the market due to the fact that they didn’t have a patent on the solid-state of the game. Many similar games were bouncing around on the market, some of them also called “Pong,” and it is estimated that Atari manufactured less than a third of them.

17. 1975: The Release Of Home Pong

Atari’s Home Pong console was released through Sears in 1975, just in time for Christmas season sales. Bushnell had the capacity to manufacture 75 000 units by the time Christmas came around, but Sears Tower demanded 150 000 units of the Home Pong console.

Bushnell promised that they would deliver 150 000 units, which he managed to do by some miracle. These units were all branded with the Sears’ Tele-Games name.  

18. First Commercially Successful Video Game

The deal with Sears made Pong, and by extension Home Pong, the first commercially successful video game. Sales skyrocketed, and Atari smiled all the way to the bank.

19. Various Clones Appear

Following the success of Home Pong, and due to the lack of patents, many other companies made clones of the Home Pong console and sold them internationally under different names.

20. 1976: Home Pong Under The Atari Name

Having fulfilled its agreement with Sears and with a smiling bank manager, Atari now had the freedom to release Home Pong under its own brand name: Atari. There was no Sears logo in sight.

21. Pong Inspires Nintendo

To some extent, Atari created its own most significant competitor in the video game industry of the 1980s. Previously a playing card producer, Nintendo saw Home Pong and started developing and selling its own clone of the game and console.

22. Pong Becomes A Collector’s Item

Since there were so many official and clone editions of Pong released over the years, and because of Pong’s historical relevance, any original version of Pong is seen as a collector’s item. Atari branded Home Pong games are particularly hard to find and worth a lot of money if they are discovered.

23. Pong Is Immortalized

Over the decades following Pong’s release, the game has been immortalized in many ways. Some console game compilations still feature Pong in some form. In the 1990s, the Commander Keen games had a minigame called “Paddle Wars” that was essentially a Pong clone. The original Pong consoles were also placed in the Smithsonian Museum to remind future generations.

All In All

There’s a good reason why Pong is regarded as one of the most significant video games ever developed and the beginning of both commercially successful video games and home video games. If it weren’t for Pong and Allan Alcorn’s initiative, we would not have today’s booming video game industry.

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who enjoy sharing their knowledge about their favorite games with others!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.