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The History Of Gaming Part 2

Labeled With  history of gaming
Written by DM on Monday, November 14 2005

Part II: Gaming Comes Home

When last we left off, Magnavox had just released the Odyssey, the first home gaming system, and Noah Bushnell had just released the first Computer Space arcade machines. So here we go.

Nutting Inc., the company Bushnell worked for at the time, sent him to Magnavox to check out the Odyssey console, the only sort of competition they had at the time. Bushnell decided after seeing the Odyssey that it was uninteresting and would not hold much interest for anyone. After the Odyssey sells much better than Bushnell's Computer Space, he decides that Computer Space game is too difficult, and decides to design a much simpler and much more entertaining game. The Nutting company gives Bushnell the go ahead, but Bushnell comes to the conclusion that if he is going to be the sole driving force behind this new game, why should he not gain most of the profits? So when Nutting refuses to make him a partner, Bushnell leaves Nutting and forms a brand new company. He uses a Japanese word which is roughly the equivalent of the word "check" in chess for the company's name. Atari, the first recognizable video game company, is born.
Bushnell and his associate Dabney, after setting up the Atari company, hire Al Alcorn to program games for them. Since Alcorn is inexperienced, Bushnell has him program a simple tennis game for practice. He calls the game Pong, since the name Ping-Pong was already copyrighted. Bushnell then decided to try and sell his Pong game to arcade manufacturers without success. No one seemed to think a game as simple as Pong had any chance to do well, so Bushnell decided to market it himself. The Atari corporation installs a Pong arcade machine in a local bar called Andy Capps, and within two weeks the machine breaks down because of the flood of quarters it received. Pong becomes a success.

Meanwhile, Magnavox was marketing its home game console, The Odyssey, to the public at large. Their ad campaign implied that the unit would only work with Magnavox television sets, yet they still managed to sell 100,000 units. This was mostly because the public believed this was the closest thing they could get to Pong at home. While the Odyssey was not noteworthy for its hardware or software, when it became a success, it proved that home gaming was a viable industry.

Atari and Magnavox's success encouraged more companies to develop and market home gaming consoles. Coleco and Channel F both marketed home game systems in 1976. The Coleco unit was a huge oval machine named the Telstar, and the machine only played a version of the game Pong. The Channel F machine by Fairchild Camera & Instrument on the other hand, accepted 8 track shaped cartridges that allowed the user to play more than one game. Thus the first programmable home game console was born -- made by a company that most of you, more than likely, have never heard of. As an interesting side note, Death Race 2000 was released for the home console. This game was the first movie-based game, named after the movie of the same name. Not only that, but it also placed players in control of a car which ran down pedestrians. These pedestrians made a little "uumph" noise when they got hit. The game caused a big enough stir to make 60 minutes at the time. And you thought GTA was the first game to cause controversy over violence.

At this point Noah Bushnell decided that Atari would be better off with the support of Warner Communications, and sells it for $28 millions dollars. He remains on staff as the Chairman of the Board for Atari. In order to get much needed exposure for their arcade games, Atari, along with their parent company Warner, opened a pizza-themed entertainment restaurant. They chose a rat as the mascot, and installed their games and animatronic entertainment throughout the dining floor. They called the establishment Chuck E. Cheese. I'll bet you didn't know Atari started that franchise.

After the success of Chuck E. Cheese, Atari decided to release their own programmable home console called the VCS. Realizing that this name was certainly not consumer friendly, they later rename the unit the Atari 2600. Atari manufactures enough to release the unit in time for Christmas 1977, with a retail price of $249 dollars. Pong, Pac-Man, and later Space Invaders, all helped to make the 2600 a huge success. Besides the Atari 2600, the Bally company releases a home console which fails miserably, mainly because it had a retail price of $350 dollars.

Thus ended the obscure age of home gaming. After the Atari 2600, consoles like the Vector and Intellivison cropped up, adding to what is generally know as the "Golden Age" of early gaming. Along with the original NES, gaming was here to stay. Tune in next time for Part 3, The Golden Age Of Gaming.


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 The History Of Gaming Part 3
 The History Of Gaming Part 1

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