The patrons of Andy Capp’s Tavern in Sunnyvale, California, didn’t know they were witnessing history during the night of Nov. 29, 1972. On that evening Al Alcorn installed the game Pong at the bar, jumpstarting the video game industry.

Alcorn had created Pong at the request of his bosses, Atari co-founders Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. The duo had founded Atari (initially called Syzygy) when they began working on Computer Space, a simplified arcade version of the mainframe computer game Spacewar!

The Computer Space game had enjoyed modest success and proved technologically innovative thanks to its use of a built-in board rather than a microprocessor, allowing for cost-effective production. However, the average bar patron found that Computer Space was too complicated for them to handle in their inebriated state. On the other hand, Pong was not. The premise was simple: Don’t miss the ball.

Success leads to rapid growth

The game was an instant hit. Alcorn was called back to Andy Capp’s Tavern within days to fix the Pong machine, which he had built using a $75 black-and-white Hitachi TV set and a four-foot wooden cabinet. The game was broken not from mechanical failure, but from overuse; the coin machine Alcorn had borrowed from an old pinball machine was full. Bushnell and Dabney had a hit on their hands.

Atari quickly expanded and increased production of the arcade version of Pong. Then, in 1975, Atari partnered with Sears to sell a home version of Pong for a home gaming system sold under Sears’ house brand, Tele-Game.

Within a year, Atari was selling its own home gaming console, due largely in part to the success and popularity of Pong.

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Photo: Pedro Martinez Valera/Shutterstock

Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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