Pong has existed since 1972, and if it weren’t for the popularity of early video arcade games like Pong, you probably wouldn’t be playing the latest offering from Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo. It’s the granddaddy of video games, and it has influenced both video games, home consoles, and its cultural fixture.
Pong is a basic 2-d table tennis game for arcade and home consoles. It has been around so long, that many fun and fascinating stories have grown around this early Atari offering. Some of the stories about the early days of Pong have grown and changed over the years.
With a game that has been around so long, it’s not surprising there are so many interesting facts. From how it was created to the legal ground it broke, there’s plenty to discover. Some of these may surprise you, so read on for some fun trivia about the game Pong.
1. Pong Was Never Meant to Be a Real Game
The engineer and developer that Atari had hired to create their video game had zero experience with video games. Allan Alcorn was hired initially to develop a driving video game, but since he had no prior experience developing games, Atari’s co-founder Nolan Bushnell had Alcorn work on some practice code first to improve his skills. That practice project became the Pong game we know today.
2. Players Loved Pong So Much They Broke the Prototype
The prototype for the Pong arcade game was a $75 black-and-white Hitachi television and a lot of circuit boards wired together inside a wooden cabinet. The cabinet had a coin box attached, and each game would cost players a quarter.
The test unit was set up in Andy Capp’s Tavern, a local Sunnyvale bar, and within two weeks, the owner informed them it was broken and the coin box overloaded due to how popular it was.
3. Pong Was Not the First Video Arcade Game
It’s something of a myth that Pong was the first video arcade game, though it was the first successful one. A year before, in 1971, Bushnell had released a space combat arcade game called Computer Space, based on an early 1962 computer game called Spacewar! However, Pong became the first coin-operated video arcade game to capture the imagination of a nation.
4. The Earliest Consoles Were Based on Atari’s Pong
Because Pong had proved to be such a commercial success in video arcades, many game manufacturers copied their design with home consoles based on Pong variations. These clones were not illegal because Bushnell had not yet filed a patent on Pong.
5. The Original Pong Arcade Games Earned Atari $40 a day
The prototype Pong arcade game made an estimated $35-40 dollars a day. As more units were produced and shipped across America, Atari was provided with a steady source of income from Pong. At Atari’s Pong peak, there were around 35,000 Pong machines in the US. That’s a lot of passive income!
6. Pong Wasn’t the First Table Tennis Video Game
That honor went to Magna Vox’s Odyssey, a simple 2-d table tennis game designed for home use. Odyssey also came out in 1972, but slightly before Pong was released as an arcade game. There is some speculation regarding whether Odyssey was the inspiration for Pong.
7. The First Video Game Lawsuit Centered on Pong
Because of Pong’s similarity to Odyssey, the inventor of the Manga Vox, Ralph Baer, filed a lawsuit against Atari (and several other Atari-clone companies) in 1975, making that the first time a case had revolved around video games. Eventually, Atari settled with Magna Vox out of court.
8. Atari Licensed the Pong Patent for $700,000
After Magna Vox sued Atari in 1974, Atari licensed the Pong patent for $700,000. Despite this, Manga Vox won its lawsuit in 1977.
9. The Home Console Version Was Only Available Through Sears
Initially, Atari had intended for Pong to be an arcade-only game. Still, the growing popularity of clones and home video console variants meant that in 1975 Atari released a home version, which was only available via Sears department store under the Tele-Games label.
10. Home Pong Was an Instant Success
Although the 1975 release of the home version of Pong was limited only to Sears, around 150,000 Pong units were sold that holiday season. This made Pong, at the time, Sears’ most successful product.
11. The First Pong Arcade Models Were Made in A Roller Rink
Workers from a local unemployment office staffed the initial Pong arcade game assembly line, and they used an old roller-skating rink on Martin Avenue for their premises.
12. A Game of Pong Wasn’t Cheap
In 1972, Pong was one of the most expensive arcade games at a quarter a game. At the time, a quarter would get three games on a pinball machine. Despite this, the game sucked people in and made Atari a sizeable amount of money.
13. Pong Acted as a Social Lubricant
Pong had to be played by two players, and because of this, it became a way to meet people. Bushnell believes that it was partly this ‘social lubrication’ that made Pong so famous, even talking about how people had approached him to say they had met their wife playing Pong.
14. Pong Spawned many Copycats
Due to its simplicity and success, Pong spawned many clones from companies such as Ramtek, Nutting Associates, Nintendo, and Komani, and copycat clone games made up a considerable part of the market. Experts in video games estimate that up to 2/3rds of Pong-style Arcade games were clones.
15. The first Home Pong Consoles Cost $99
Initially only available through Sears, Pong’s first TV console version would cost you $99 back in 1975.
16. Many Pong Originals Are Still Working
The Market for collectible Pong video Consoles is still strong, and because of the simplicity of the design, many of the old TV consoles are still in working order. The most significant issues are missing or broken controllers.
17. Pong Consoles from 1975 Are Considered Collectables
A boxed Atari home Pong console in mint condition can fetch a small fortune at auctions these days, with only the Manga Vox Odyssey bringing a higher price.
18. The Coin Collector on the Pong Prototype was a Milk Jug
When the first Pong game was made, it had no coin collection. This was added to the machine before it went to Andy Capp’s Tavern, and the legend is that it was a modified plastic milk jug.
19. Pong Has Cemented its Place in Popular Culture
Even if you’ve never played Pong, the chances are you’ve seen it or heard of it. Such was its effect on popular culture that it has been referenced in shows, featured in adverts, and inspired songs and art.
20. Pong Consistently Makes Best of Lists
Despite being ancient by video game standards and extremely simple, Pong still makes gamers’ lists as one of the top-rated video games of all time. This is in part due to its simplicity and addictiveness.
21. Pong Spawned Many Sequels
Bushnell had many sequels made to keep players interested in the game, expanding on Pong’s popularity and creating more elements to stay ahead of the copycat Pong-style games.
22. You Can Play an Art Installation Pong
A French artist called Pierre Huygh created an art and light installation which allowed people to use handheld devices to take part in a game of illuminated Pong on a ceiling. The installation is called ‘Atari Light‘ and has been exhibited at several shows.
23. Pong Takes its Name from Table Tennis
Pong derives its name from the alternative word for table tennis – ping pong – as the game was a simulated game of table tennis.
24. Parents Panicked that Pong Would Harm Teenagers
The panic about video games is nothing new. When Pong first came out, there was fear that young folks would be adversely affected by the game and that it would ruin schooling and sleep and harm their eyes.
25. Atari Co-Founder Started Chuck E. Cheese
Not content with bringing video games to the world, Nolan Bushnell went on after selling his stake in Atari to found Chuck E. Cheese, which means this guy made his millions from arcade games and pizza – truly the American Dream!
Deceptively simple and an undeniable part of video game culture, Pong might not have been there first, but it was the game that swept the nation and grabbed everyone’s attention. Without Pong, there may have been no massive revolution in-home gaming consoles, and the world of home gaming might have looked very different!