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Pong: The Game That Was Never Meant to Be

Chris Morris
July 24, 2014

Pong was the video game industry’s equivalent of the Big Bang. Without it, it’s impossible to know where — or if — things would be today.

That makes it all the more remarkable to hear that Pong was never meant to be seen by the public.

Instead, the game started as a simple training exercise, according to the folks at TodayIFoundOut. Atari founder Nolan Bushnell assigned the idea to Allan Alcorn to let him get his feet wet in coding a game, since Alcorn had no game design or development experience at the time.

The rules were simple: Make a game with two paddles, one moving spot for a ball, and digits that displayed the score. Alcorn, though, thought that was boring, so he added a few flourishes, like having the ball bounce off paddles at different angles, and speeding things up after each return.

When Bushnell — and his partner Ted Dabney — saw the result, they were impressed but still unconvinced that the public would care about the game. That led them to put the now famous prototype in Andy Capp’s Tavern to see how it did. (If players liked it, they figured, they’d sell the game to Bally or Midway, who were partners at the time.)

You probably know the story from there. Pong was an instant hit. The machine took in so many quarters that it malfunctioned — and people began lining up outside the pub before it opened, just so they could play it.

Bushnell knew he had a hit on his hands, but he downplayed it to his two larger partners, persuading them to withdraw their rights to buy Pong. Once that hurdle was completed, Atari released an arcade version of the game (which took in a then-unprecedented $35 to $50 per machine per day).

A short while later, the home version was launched — and with that, the video game industry was on its way.

Not a bad journey for a happy fluke.

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