Pong has unique origins, starting with a manager telling a junior engineer that he hoped to design a game “that any drunk in any bar can play.” The junior engineer, Allan Alcorn, did just that out of what was initially supposed to be a simple skills exercise. People haven’t stopped talking about Pong since.
Iconic Pong is not the world’s first video game, but it is credited with revolutionizing gaming. It is admired for being true to its objective and allowing players to do exactly what it claimed: hit a ball back and forth. Upon its release, the public and bar owners fell in love.
Pong’s first prototype filled with quarters so unbelievably fast the bar thought it was broken rather than needing to be emptied. People fell in love that fast and that much. But what makes it so special? Here are 13 reasons why Pong was and is such a success.
1. Pong’s Rules Were Short & Sweet
Pong was not the first computer arcade game to hit bars, but it was the simplest. The game had two instructions:
- Deposit quarter
- Avoid missing ball for high score
This made Pong easy to understand, even if you were drunk. Computer Space, released before Pong, had complicated instructions that required concentration and dedicated playing to get good. But with Pong, players could follow along and have fun without having to stop drinking. It was a win for players and bars.
2. Pong Allowed People To Interact With Their TV
Until Pong, most people passively interacted with screens, such as their TV. Screens were objects people watched but did not control. Computer Space only appealed to a very niche (and sober) audience. The other arcade games, such as pinball, were not on a screen. But here was Pong, allowing individuals to control the actions of a “TV.”
As Nolan Bushnell, co-founder of Atari, explained to NPR, people would ask, “how does the TV station know that I’ve turned this nob?”
Thus, to finally have the control that, until that point, was reserved for a TV studio was powerful and mind-blowing.
3. Pong Began As A Social Game
One of Pong’s geniuses was to be a social game. People could play the game with a buddy or a stranger like they did with darts or pool. It allowed folks to interact without awkward small talk. But unlike darts or pool, it didn’t require you to have a lot of experience to hold your own.
This was particularly useful for people on dates. Instead of uncomfortable silences, dates could direct their conversation about the game. Instead of embarrassing moments of looking into each other’s eyes and glancing away, Pong gave the couple a screen to look at. It broke the ice, provided common ground, and the public was grateful.
4. Pong Only Required One Hand To Play
Pong only required a single hand to play the game. This isn’t true of pool or pinball. Instead, you had to set the beer down when it was your turn, and who knew the state of your drink when you returned. Plus, you could show off to your buddies or date by playing the game with your weaker hand.
Pong’s one-handedness was excellent when on a date. You could be playing while your other hand was busy holding hands or wrapped around someone’s waist. Darts, one of the few other one-handed bar games, couldn’t compete with that.
5. Pong Gives All Control Over To The Players
Pong didn’t have any elements beyond players’ control. The game didn’t throw random obstacles into the mix or have a timer. Players couldn’t yell, “That’s not fair,” because the game had withheld a critical piece. There was a ball and two bats, and how these were used was entirely up to the players.
6. Pong Was Competitive
Pong provided healthy competition between players. Unlike pool or darts, players couldn’t argue that it was unfair because of bad lighting, a wall that’s too close, the other person’ got the better stick or darts, or claim that the opponent was receiving outside help. Also, unlike pinball, the game didn’t require turns; you played each other head-to-head.
People loved this interactive competition where the playfield was even. You didn’t even have to be an expert to have a chance at winning, just decent small-muscle coordination.
7. Women Were Good At Pong And Loved It
Women especially enjoyed playing a game that didn’t require muscle or come with an air of “unladylike” scorn. A woman could play a friend or her date and be on equal footing, and they loved this.
8. Pong Kept Score
Pong kept the scores of players, which allowed people to not only compete against each other but have all-time high scores. Players could be competing against themselves for their ultimate top score, but also all-time high score for the bar. Thus, another layer of competitiveness was added to the game.
9. Pong Made A Satisfying Sound
Gamers are known to go on and on about graphics. But sound is also a key gaming element. Pong didn’t have any flash, no fancy graphics, or complicated theme songs, but when that weird-looking “ball” hit a player’s bat, Pong gave off a very satisfying “thunk.”
This would be even more important when Pong moved from the bar to the home. Unlike many other video games, the sound was annoying. Thus, playing the game didn’t cause an uproar to “turn the darn thing down.” It just “thunked” away in its soothing manner.
10. Pong Made Four Times As Much Money
Bars loved Pong because it made them more money. The average daily take from an arcade game, such as pinball, was around ten bucks. Pong made four times that amount. Part of this was to do with Pong’s setup. One quarter gave two players a single match. At the same time, pinball would give a player three games for their twenty-five cents.
Thus, bars installed Pong because it made them money. People played Pong because more bars had it than other games. It was a snowball effect of a situation.
11. Pong Kept Getting Cloned
Cloning was a crucial factor in Pong’s long-term success. While pirating is not an action to be applauded, the fact other manufacturers would copy-cat Pong forced Atari to continuingly make changes to the game to stand out.
Just like people want the latest version of phones and apps, folks wanted to play the latest version of Pong. As a result, bars would have to upgrade their Pong or lose customers to the bar that did. Thus, Pong managed to thrive despite the piracy.
12. Home Pong Was Released
Pong became a household name when it moved into the home as a single console game. Atari arranged an exclusive contract with Sears where families could get their very own Pong at home. But unlike other games, you didn’t buy a cartridge or get Pong as part of a package deal. Instead, the consul was the game, making it marketing gold.
13. Pong Doubles Made It Novel
Pong was always looking for ways to stand out from the rest. In 1973 it made history with Pong Doubles, becoming the first four-player video game. However, all four players do not play at the same time. Instead, the teams competed one-on-one, twice.
Pong revolutionized how the general public viewed screens. It was interactive and accessible; anyone could play it, even drunks. Thus, it made money while providing an easy way to socialize. Thus, Pong holds a soft spot in people’s hearts to this day.