Video games have provided endless entertainment since the early 70s; Pong spearheaded the lucrative industry. In 1972 during its first year of release, Pong sold more than 8,000 arcade machines. More successful than other popular machines, like Pinball, Pong took the world by storm, making three times more money than the average $10 a day.
At just 24 years of age, Allan Alcorn, a junior engineer from Atari, revolutionized the world of video games with the development of Pong. In the original arcade game, Pong’s only instructions were, ‘Deposit quarter’ and ‘Avoid missing ball for a high score,’ Pong was simple enough for anyone to play.
Pong’s success came from its simplicity and the fact that it was fun to play. This simple game of table tennis helped establish the video gaming industry. The following fifteen ways describe how the Pong changed the world:
1. Pong Had a Two-Player Format
Inspired by the sport of ping-pong, Pong encouraged competitive instinct as two players battled it out to see who would score eleven points first. Pong used paddles to hit a ball back and forth. If a player could not return the ball, their opponent received the point.
Pong required two players meant that it was a social game where players either brought their friends along or asked strangers to play with them. This novel approach led to its popularity; other games, such as Pinball, were single-player only. In later versions of the game, Pong Doubles and Quadrapong, up to four players could play.
2. The Home Console Version Of Pong
Not only was Pong available as an arcade game, but there was also a home console version. A player could choose to play another player or play against the computer. The home console version of Pong was released in 1975; it used television as a monitor. Pong became a feature of many homes in America; Sears and Roebuck and Company distributed it.
The Tele-Game brand name sold the home version. Its first units consisted of a chip in a prototype circuit board, two control knobs in the shape of paddles, and a red push button to start the game. The Atari Pong Model C-100 was released in 1976.
With its distinctive sound of a paddle hitting a plastic ball, the arcade game version lured adults, not kids, to play. It enticed men and women players to become skilled enough to master it. The top of the screen displayed the score. The ball was hit by moving the paddles on each side up and down.
3. Pong Gave Birth To The Gaming Industry
Although not the first video game created, Pong spearheaded the gaming console industry by developing its home console version in 1975. Up to that point, SpaceWar, created by scientists at MIT, was created for the DEC PDP-1 mainframe, one of the first computers. This game was too complex, so players soon lost interest, but it served as inspiration for developing coin-operated arcade machines such as Pong.
Alcorn developed a system that generated pixels on a screen that encoded video signals. The home console was a condensed version whereby a single chip in a smaller machine connected to the television. It wasn’t long before other manufacturers created gaming consoles with similar architecture as Pong.
By the end of the 70s, plenty of these home systems existed. One such system, the Telstar Alpha, used a chip and was designed to output video to a radio frequency modulator. This feature allowed the game to be displayed on the television monitor.
4. Pong Ushered In The Era OF The Console
In 1978, the Atari company released Atari 2600, a video computer system that introduced the microprocessor into gaming consoles. Games were stored on ROM cartridges and were plugged directly into the consoles by this time. A single-player version of Pong was developed by a young technician, Steve Jobs.
Jobs employed Steve Wozniak to help him develop what would later become known as Breakout and inspire him to create his computer terminal, the Apple I.
5. Simplicity Made Pong Popular
Whereas other video games like Computer Space were too complex, the simplicity of Pong made it so intuitive that young children could get the hang of it immediately.
The coin-operated game machine worked by simply inserting a quarter or token into the slot. With a turn of the knob, it was possible to control the tennis paddle on the screen. One heard a beep each time the ball hit the paddle. The longer the game continued, the more the ball speed increased.
6. Pong Expanded Into Other Games
Their popularity increased when the Pong home versions were designed to hook up to people’s television sets. Sears advertised the game in its Roebuck catalog, and Sears sold more than 150,000 copies.
Pong was expanded to include more games that also involved hitting a ball. Games such as soccer and hockey were soon an exciting addition in American homes.
7. Pong Stimulates A Competitive Gaming Market
With the success of Pong and its extended sports games, other developers soon jumped on the bandwagon. In addition to sports-related games, battle games, racing, space adventures, and many others were created for the home console.
Games such as Centipede, Asteroids, and Missile Command were also adapted by Atari to be used in homes.
8. Pong Inspired More Sophisticated Game Design
Pong started a video game revolution; it led to the development of much more sophisticated and advanced systems, such as Nintendo and Sony PlayStation.
Nintendo, a Japanese company, started producing a clone of Pong called Home Pong. Atari subsequently released four sequels of Pong, Pong Doubles, Super Pong, Quadrapong, and Pin-Pong.
9. Pong In Popular Culture
Pong also became part of many popular TV shows in America. Shows such as ‘King of the Hill,’ ‘Saturday Night Live,’ and ‘That 70s Show’ featured Pong.
10. Pong In Doctor’s Offices
Atari produced a free version of Pong; this became a feature in many doctor’s offices. Originally called Snoopy Pong, it served to entertain children in doctor’s waiting rooms. Its name originated from the Peanuts character Snoopy, which was popular. Later it was renamed Puppy Pong to avoid legal action.
11. The Magnavox Lawsuit Against Pong
A lawsuit ensued in 1974 when Magnavox made claims that Atari had made copyright infringements. They claimed that Pong was very similar to the Magnavox Odyssey, created in 1966. The first video game lawsuit set a precedent and led to the introduction of copyright laws in the video game industry.
12. Pong Referenced In Video Games
Neuromancer for Commodore 64 and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts for Xbox 360 are two video games referencing Pong. The House of Pong is a feature in Neuromancer, and the Pong-faced Lord of Games (a.k.a. LOG) is a powerful nemesis in the Banjo-Kazooie game.
13. Pong on Multiple Gaming Platforms
Pong was incorporated into many gaming platforms, such as Video Olympics in 1977 on the Atari 2600 gaming console. In 2002, Pong was featured in ‘The Brotherhood of Speed,’ released on PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC.
14. Pong Influenced Popular Culture
Pong became part of popular culture in the early 70s. It was part of popular TV shows and tributed to the ‘Atari Light’ artwork by artist Pierre Huyghe, displayed at the Venice Biennale in 2001. It was also presented in a lit-up ceiling display at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León in 2007, which showed two people using a handheld gaming device to play Pong.
15. Pong Builders Introduce Removable Game Systems
In 1976, Atari released the first removable game system called Video Computer System (VCS). The 2600 system had hardware that was quite sophisticated at the time, although it would be considered simple by today’s standards.
A feature of 2600 was its removable cartridges. These cartridges allowed many games to be played with the same hardware. Games were encoded on ROM chips; the chips were attached to a small, printed circuit board (PCB). There were also joystick ports, a power supply, and video output.
Although Pong was not the most sophisticated game, its simplicity was its appeal; it sold millions and revolutionized the world video game industry. Because of Pong, Gaming became of the most profitable entertainment industries globally.