|The First Serve
On November 29, 1972, a recently incorporated company in California named Atari announced the release of its first product, an electronic video arcade game called PONG. Two players would stand at the wood-grain and yellow cabinet, twiddling the control knobs that moved two paddles displayed on a B&W TV screen. With the paddles they would play an electronically abstract game of table tennis, batting a little white blip back and forth in an attempt to “Avoid Missing Ball For High Score”, as the simple gameplay instructions prompted.
Conceived by Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell and designed by Al Alcorn, Pong was a smash success, giving birth to the video game industry. Fast-forward nearly 40 years later, in 2011 that industry was worth US$65 billion dollars.
Among other celebrations of Pong’s 40th birthday, an attempt to enter the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest game of Pong was made on Nov. 16, 2012. A 22-story version of the game, complete with festive lighting, was played on the side of the Downtown Marriott hotel in Kansas City, MO.
In a lead-up to the anniversary, earlier this year Atari announced the Pong Indie Developer Challenge. Offering a grand prize of up to $100,000, the company solicited independent app developers to submit their take on the venerable Pong. The three winners were announced on Aug. 2, and they will participate in a profit sharing scheme divided between the three Pong apps that will see them collect royalties up to the winning prize amounts. The top winner, the freemium-based PONG World by zGames, can be snagged at the iOS App Store here.
Pong put Atari on the road to becoming the fastest growing company in American history. It’s no stretch to consider that when you say Pong is 40 years-old today, you’re also saying the video game industry is 40 years-old. So like those tipsy patrons of Andy Capp’s bar in Sunnyvale California, who played the original Pong prototype until it broke and convinced Bushnell and Atari to produce the game commercially, raise a glass to the grand-daddy of the video game industry. Your serve, PONG!
You can play an updated version of PONG online at Atari.com for free. For more information on the history of Pong and Atari, consult your local Dot Eaters article.