Although we take video games and other forms of electronic entertainment for granted in the modern day, there was a stage not long ago when the idea of home consoles and commercially viable video games seemed impossible. Consequently, Pong is considered the primary influence on the modern video game landscape.
Developed in 1972 by Atari, Pong became a global phenomenon selling over 8,000 arcade cabinets in its first year. Along with being credited as the beginning of the electronic arcade era, Pong also had a massive influence on home entertainment and the business models of developers/publishers.
During Pong’s history and subsequent successes/failures, it has become an enormous influence on the modern video game industry. Let’s look at several influences in greater detail below:
1. Pong Shows The Importance Of Real World Influences
As is evident from the name, Pong takes influence from the real-world game of table tennis or “Ping-Pong.” Therefore, unlike previous video games such as Computer Space, which relied heavily on a fantastical/sci-fi setting, Pong showcased the potential of real-world simulation and mechanics in video games.
While it is obvious that Pong would influence modern sports titles that seek to accurately emulate their real-world counterparts, like the FIFA series of video games, it has a less obvious influence on other titles/developers.
For example, while the Pokémon series of video games involves the capturing of fantastical creatures in a fictional setting, the idea was influenced by developer Satoshi Tajiri’s real-world hobby of insect collecting.
2. Pong Showed Video Games As A Viable Market
Although Pong was not the first video game/electronic arcade game, it is widely believed to be the first commercially successful video game.
The success of Pong cannot be understated, as it was able to turn a profit, despite being up against more established arcade machines such as pinball, which usually cost three times less than a game of Pong!
In 1972, Pong sold an estimated 8,000 cabinets during its first year. Over time, the number of original Pong cabinets sold was approximately 35,000. However, these numbers would later be dwarfed by home console sales (see influence ten below for further details.)
3. Pong Led To The Development Of Skill Based Video Games
Unlike other electronic forms of entertainment like digital slot machines, video games usually distinguish themselves by being skill-based, whereby continued playtime makes players better (save for certain exceptions such as visual novels.)
Consequently, the decision to make games with mechanics that allow for player improvement and skills development is heavily influenced by Pong.
4. Pong Promotes Accessibility In Video Games
The structure of the original Pong cabinets meant that players could play with either their left or right hand. The simple control scheme of Pong meant that players of various abilities could play and enjoy the game, even though it also had the potential for high-skill play.
Finally, the clear visuals and simple ruleset meant that players could learn how to play the game intuitively, rather than relying on manuals, tutorials, etc.
5. Pong Promotes Making Video Games That Appeal To All Ages
Many beloved video game franchises, like the Mario or Zelda series, are considered “family-friendly” entertainment.
The desire to appeal to people of all ages was a foundation laid by Pong when it saw immediate success among different groups of people, both in arcades and on home consoles.
6. Pong Promotes Video Games As A Social Space
Unlike some of its competitors like pinball, Pong requires two or more players to play. Therefore, this required players to play Pong with their friends or approach people in an arcade and ask them to play with them.
Consequently, Pong was the pre-cursor to video games as a topic of conversation and an active space for conversation, which has become the norm with online play, video game forums, streaming sites, etc.
7. Pong Influenced Competitive Video Games
Along with the need for Pong to be played with two people came the rise of playing video games competitively. Consequently, Pong was responsible for competitive video games, which dominated arcades and modern phenomena such as e-sports.
8. Pong Influenced Young Video Game Developers
The lead designer of Pong was Allan Alcorn. Allan Alcorn graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences in 1971 from the University of California, whereafter Atari hired him in 1972.
During his first year at Atari, the then 24-year-old Allan Alcorn created what would be one of the most influential video games and pieces of electronic media of all time! Consequently, Allan Alcorn was vital in showcasing the talent and potential of young developers.
Two years after the development of Pong. Allan Alcorn was the chief engineer at Atari and the person responsible for hiring Steve Jobs, essentially starting and nurturing the career of another global tech influencer!
9. Pong Influenced Started The Electronic Arcade Era
Although arcades and carnival attractions were long-established businesses before Pong, featuring mechanical games and attractions such as pinball, redemption games, etc. Pong saw a significant shift in the development, manufacturing, and purchase of electronic forms of entertainment in arcades.
Consequently, Pong was the beginning of electronic arcades that would dominate the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, as well as lay the foundations for the modern video game landscape and culture.
10. Pong Influenced Led To The Rise Of Home Consoles
Following the overwhelming success of Pong’s arcade cabinets, developers at Atari downscaled their technology from large arcade printed circuit boards down to large-scale integration chips. These improvements resulted in the development, manufacture, and distribution of Home Pong in 1975.
As a direct result of Home Pong’s success and the inclusion of other console games by Atari, the company’s market on home consoles was valued at approximately $40 million by 1977.
While it would take a few decades before home consoles became the preferred method of playing video games over arcades, Pong ushered in the era of console gaming to the masses.
11. Pong Shows The Need For Copyright Laws In Video Games
In 1974 Pong was at the heart of the first videogame lawsuit. Magnavox sued Atari based on copyright infringement, claiming that the development and design of Pong borrowed heavily from documents from the Magnavox Odyssey that dated back to 1966.
Although the case was settled out of court for approximately $1.5 million, it set a precedent and importance of copyright laws for video game designers.
12. Pong Influenced Ports And Collections In Video Games
The demand for Pong meant that Atari had to license and green light the development of different versions of Pong so that it could be played on various platforms. Consequently, Pong owes its longevity and continued success to different ports of the game.
Further to ports of Pong was the introduction of Pong to Atari video game collections starting in 1977. In conclusion, Pong continues to be accessible and playable on various modern platforms, which has been an influence on the preservation of other classic video games.
13. Pong Influenced Sequels And Remakes In Video Games
Since the release of Pong in 1972, there have been numerous sequels and remakes that have expanded the mechanics and appeal of Pong to new audiences. Some examples of sequels and remakes of Pong include, but are not limited to:
- Pong Doubles,
- Super Pong,
- Ultra Pong,
- Puppy Pong,
- Pong 2000,
- Pong: The Next Level
- Pong Quest.
The success of Pong sequels and remakes has led to various video game publishers and developers making the use of sequels and remakes a staple of video game preservation, marketability, and business practices.
14. Pong Influenced Popular Culture
Since its release, Pong has established itself as a pillar of 70s culture, appearing in various video games, shows, and movies. Some key examples of Pong’s influence include Pong’s inclusion in London Barbican Art Gallery’s Game On Exhibition in 2002 and its permanent display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
In conclusion, despite not being the first electronic video game, Pong showcased the potential of video games as a viable commercial business and the ability of video games to promote social cohesion and skills development!