Magnavox Odyssey, the first home video game

The first home video game. Odyssey at play, 1972

Odyssey - Ralph Baer and the Magnavox Odyssey

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Sanders Associates/Magnavox 1972

The Magnavox Video Game

Magnavox company coat-of-arms logo

Magnavox ‘Coat-of-Arms’ logo, 1976

Bill Enders, a member of the RCA team that had previewed Baer’s brown box prototype, is nevertheless very impressed with the demonstration, and when he takes a vice president position at TV manufacturer Magnavox he convinces the company of the virtues of TV Game Unit. A demo by Baer and Etlinger at Magnavox headquarters in Fort Wayne, Indiana further impresses TV marketing division vice president Gerry Martin, and Magnavox agrees to hand-tool some units for testing in some of their dealers across the country in 1971. When these tests are met with encouraging results, Magnavox purchases exclusive rights to the device and all rights to patents and know-how. Sanders is to receive royalties of 50 cents per game sold,  with Magnavox required to aggressively pursue all infringers on related Sanders patents. After test-marketing in the Philadelphia area of what Magnavox initially calls the SKILL-O-VISION TV Game, they do some further development of the system and eventually announce the first ever commercially available home videogame system as the Magnavox Odyssey in May of 1972, with units rolling off the line in quantity that summer for an August release.

Table Tennis, a video game for the Magnavox Odyssey, first home video game system

The Odyssey games: Table Tennis, a launch title for the Odyssey, released in 1972

Basketball, a video game for the Magnavox Odyssey, first home video game system

The Odyssey games: Basketball, released in 1973

Interplanetary Voyage, a video game for the Magnavox Odyssey, first home video game system

The Odyssey games: Interplanetary Voyage, released in 1973

But while Baer had envisioned a cheap TV add-on retailing around $29.95, Odyssey sells for $100, with around 305 discrete parts within the case and controllers. While in the lab Baer and his team had had the various games displayed with backgrounds in colour and with sound, Magnavox cuts costs by going strictly black and white and no audio capabilities. The graphics are so rudimentary that the system comes with a set of two sizes of colour mylar overlays to put on the television screen to represent the various playfields, including Tennis and Hockey.

Click button to play the first home video game console Magnavox Odyssey

There are 12 different plug-in circuit boards included to make the Magnavox Odyssey play different games: Table Tennis, Football, Haunted House, Tennis, Skiing, Analogic, Hockey, States, Submarine, Cat & Mouse, Roulette and Simon Sez. They contain no ROM components found in later programmable systems like the Channel F. They do, however, serve as a power switch for the unit. Also included are two controllers, rectangular boxes with rotary knobs for vertical as well as horizontal control of the player bats. An additional “english” knob allows players to curve the ball vertically after hitting it towards their opponent, which compensates for the lack of any kind of physics model in the ball trajectory. To help buyers of the game system get any kind of play value from three controllable spots appearing on their TV screens, Magnavox must include with the basic Odyssey video game package a cluttered pack-in kit consisting of the overlays and six plug-in game cards, a pack of game cards with information relative to the various gameplay modes, poker chips, play money, scorecards with tokens (as the machine itself can not calculate or display any scores), game boards and a pair of dice. It’s clear that the limitations of the system require the participation of gamers to utilize all of these physical aids in order to play “video games”.

TV commercial introducing the Magnavox Odyssey video game system, 1972

The Odyssey game console is featured in this ad break on the Magnavox holiday Sinatra special, 1973 Magnavox sells 100,000 units of its electronic “game simulator” during the fall/winter season of 1972, boosted by a TV broadcast hosted by Frank Sinatra, where he demonstrates the console for the audience. The Magnavox Odyssey would also be highlighted in the 1973 Frank Sinatra: Ol’ Blue Eyes is Back special over the holiday season of 1973. Advertising material for the console is handled by design firm Lehner Bradford and Cout., who also develop the Master Strategy series of games for the later Odyssey² by Magnavox. One problem with moving the Odyssey video game from store shelves occurs due to the public’s belief, exacerbated by the company’s misleading ad campaigns and salespeople, that the game needs a Magnavox TV to play them. As well, initial distribution is limited to official Magnavox dealers, seriously limiting Odyssey‘s sales potential.

The Magnavox Odyssey Becomes Patently Profitable

Even so, for three years Magnavox has the only home videogame available on the market, with a refined Odyssey introduced in 1974 that adjusts the size and square shape of the on-screen player spots and ball to more closely resemble PONG, introduced as a coin-op video game by Atari two years previous. The revision also keeps the ball in play on the screen without it wandering out of view. In total eventually 333,000 of the original Magnavox Odyssey video game units and light rifle packages are sold before the system is discontinued in 1975….replaced by a new game line introducing the Odyssey 100 and 200 electronic table tennis games that simplify things and eschew all of the pack-in bric-a-brac of the original. These versions also introduce sound effects, new game modes like single-player Smash, as well as offer on-screen scoring indicators. 1975 is the same year as the introduction of home PONG by Atari. Magnavox has been highly distracted over this period of the Odyssey‘s release: the company’s Consumer Electronics Division faces mounting losses in the tens of millions as they are slow in converting their line of televisions with solid-state components. The new Odyssey video game line, along with Atari’s PONG and other companies that hop on the electronic ping-pong bandwagon, spur a buying frenzy among consumers that has most units sold out over the 1975 holiday season, with an average MSRP of $99. Units are picked up in order to appease the adults in the family as much as their kids.

As part of their licensing agreement with Sanders and Baer, holder of the first videogame patent, along with a number of additional patents covering certain game features common to most of the following sports games, Magnavox moves to protect these patents by launching multiple lawsuits against manufacturers of dedicated video game systems. Atari is the target of one such legal action, resulting in a $700,000 payout over PONG and foreign rights. Later in 1979, Magnavox also files suit against makers of programmable systems such as Fairchild and Bally, along with a suit and payment of $16 million from Mattel over their Intellivision. All this litigation results in nearly one-hundred million dollars in license fees and legal judgments. Eventually passing into the hands of Lockheed Corporation, Baer’s video game patent would finally expire in 1990.

Ralph Baer and his arcade game Skate-N-Score

Ralph Baer with his arcade game creation Skate-N-Score, 1977

Back to the period just after the release of the Magnavox Odyssey and the subsequent outbreak of PONG, Ralph Baer makes a trip to Chicago and the November 1973 Music Operators of America (MOA) trade show, scouting out patent infringers. The display floor is booming with PONG clones, and when Baer returns to Sanders his boss looks at his memo listing the tens of thousands of PONG type units being sold and poses the question: “Why aren’t we in this business?”. Thusly is Baer forwarded some R&D cash and set up with a team of engineers to design upright arcade games, the highlight of which is to be a new circuit design that simulates realistic velocity and geometry functions, created by Bill Rusch. The ice conditions in the hockey game can even be adjusted from slick to mushy, according to the players’ skill. Several prototype units of three arcade TV sports games, titled Skate-N-Score, Hit-N-Run, and Pro-Soccer are created and then tested out in the field at a local arcade in Salem, NH called Electro Games. They get an encouraging reception from players, easily beating other games from competitors like Atari and Midway. Sander’s wariness over committing to the arcade market, along with a strict interpretation of the previous TV game technology agreement with Magnavox, eventually sinks the whole coin-op venture.

Odyssey home video game creator Ralph Baer accepts National Medal of Technology and Innovation

Baer accepts National Medal of Technology and Innovation from 43th U.S. President George W. Bush, 2004

The pioneering Magnavox Odyssey is updated with refined versions, like the Odyssey 100 and 200 models…. and the Odyssey 500 in 1976, the first Odyssey game with colour. Another iteration is to be the Odyssey 5000, complete with four detachable joysticks and 24 games to play, including variations. This impressive dedicated unit would remain unreleased, and the design ending up being used as the foundation of the later Odyssey² cartridge-based system. Bear’s original concept of a built-in TV/Videogame hybrid comes to fruition with Magnavox’s release of the $499 Model 4305 19-inch television set, featuring an electronic ping-pong, hockey and smash game available at the touch of a button. Two controllers, with 12ft. cords and game difficulty and reset switches are included.

By the end of 1976, the industry Baer and his team have helped create has sold between three to four million game consoles in the U.S., or about $200 million worth. Baer himself continues to invent and develop a remarkable number of videogame and electronic toy and game patents, with many ending up on the production line and to great success. Baer’s Simon for Milton-Bradley is a particular standout. Some others include a prototypal system to play games through cable TV, the first VCR based “nested data” interactive TV gaming system, the Smarty Bear VCR-cued interactive plush toy, and the Bike Max talking bicycle computer. In 2004, Ralph H. Baer is awarded the U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation, Hardware, “For his groundbreaking and pioneering creation, development and commercialization of interactive video games, which spawned related uses, applications, and mega-industries in both the entertainment and education realms.” Ralph Baer, the creator of Magnavox Odyssey, first home video game system, passes away on Dec. 6, 2014… although the industry he foresaw and helped create lives on.logo_stop

Odyssey 200 Magnavox video game console

An interesting family around the Odyssey 200 video game console, 1975

Ralph Baer, inventor of the video game

Ralph Baer in 2009 at the Games Convention Online, holding Brown Box controllers

Sources (Click to view)

Heading Home
Ralph Baer, Early Work
Videogames, In the Beginning, by Ralph H. Baer, pg. 59, 94 – 100 Rolenta Press 2005
Ralph H. Baer Consultants Les débuts du Jeu D’

Baer, Ralph H, and The History of How We Play. Gametronics Proceedings, 1 Jan. 1977, p. 6. Internet Archive, Images; Ralph Baer speaking to crowd, photo by Liane Enkelis

Sanders Associates, Inc. Boston Globe 10 Sept. 1967: B-7. Print. Image of Sanders Associates logo, 1967
Sanders Associates, Inc. Morning News [Paterson, New Jersey] 30 Nov. 1979: 25. Print. Image of Sanders Associates building, 1979
“1 Savail Ct – Google Maps.” Google Maps. Google, Aug. 2011. Web. 14 Jan. 2022. Image of 95 Canal St., Nashua, NH., 2011
Fun in the Game Room
Development of Brown Box, Odyssey Precursor Machine
Eimbinder, Jerry, and The History of How We Play. Gametronics Proceedings, 1 Jan. 1977, pgs. 159-165. Internet Archive, Baer assigned Harrison and Rusch to an enclosed 10 x 15 ft. office..; A working multi-game model was completed in mid-1967 and Sanders Associates began looking for licensees.; Demonstrations for potential customers continued through 1969 when, after a deal with RCA fell through at the last minute, an agreement with Magnavox was arranged.; The first Odyssey game, introduced in 1972 by Magnavox, contained approximately 305 discrete parts in its master control unit and hand controls.;
Kent, Steven L. “The Great Videogame Swindle?” Next Generation/Abridged Version of First Four Chapters of Electronic Nation Nov. 1996: 64+. Web. 9 Aug. 2021. When he first presented an early light gun invention to the executive board, including the company founder, Royden Sanders, most of the executives felt that Baer was wasting the company’s time. Some suggested Baer abandon the project, other simply wanted to pull the plug. “The IR&D director came up and played with our rifle – we had a plastic rifle by then. And he used to shoot at the target spot [on a television screen] from the hip. He was pretty good at it, and that kind of got his attention. We got more friendly. And it kept the project alive.” -Ralph Baer ;”My biggest problem that summer was motivating Rusch. He’d come in at 10:00 or 11:00 am and spend an hour talking, ’cause he was lazy and frustrating as hell. Rusch was an extremely creative and extremely lazy, hard to motivate guy.” – Ralph Baer
Baer, Ralph H, and The History of How We Play. Gametronics Proceedings, 1 Jan. 1977, p. 6. Internet Archive, Pretty soon I had two spots chasing each other around the screen of a black-and-white TV set that was hanging around one of the labs for one reason or another.; We had bought an RCA 17″ color TV console set early in 1967…; with color and FM sound through the TV set. Even our earliest Ping-Pong games were played against a green background, while, naturally, Hockey was played against a background of blue ice.; The average cost of an ordinary multiple game device was well over a dollar…; and IC power consumption was such as to preclude their use in battery operated Home TV Games.; …with background, which might be a card table – a slot machine face – or a playing field, provided by a Cable Channel transmission;. …the most interesting of these games was a Hockey Game in which both a colorful playing field was transmitted plus four randomly moving hockey player symbols…
Pong: The official site devoted to the PONG story, by David Winter
New Scientist, “Anyone for tennis?”, by Nicholas Valery, pgs. 742-743, Dec 23/30 1976
Participatory Cable Television
Trying to Sell the TV Home Game to Cable Companies
“Getting Into Games.” Personal Computing Nov.-Dec. 1977: 85-86. Personal Computing 1977 11 12. Internet Archive. Web. 25 Feb. 2016. I’ve [Ralph Baer, inventor of the Odyssey] been ranting and raving for ten years about the use of games on cable TV. The very first person we showed the concept to was Irving Kahn of Teleprompter, years ago. We were just ten years too soon.
Herman, Leonard. “The Father of Video Games, Ralph Baer.” Comp. Hubz. Electronic Gaming Monthly Jan. 2000: 168+. Internet Archive. 2 Mar. 2020. Web. 10 Feb. 2022. Image of Ralph Baer posing with Brown Box prototype, orange lighting. Photo by Michael Sexton
Images of the Brown Box front panel, Shooting Gallery rifle, game boxes, Odyssey with controllers plugged into the rear and Brown Box controller close-up taken by William Hunter at the Videogame History Museum display, CGE 2014 in Las Vegas
GOOD DEAL GAMES interview with Ralph Baer

Magnavox Enters the Picture
Magnavox Buys Tech, Creates Odyssey Video Game Console
Baer, Ralph H, and The History of How We Play. Gametronics Proceedings, 1 Jan. 1977, p. 6. Internet Archive, Magnavox expressed a serious interest in building a number of hand tooled units…; and market acceptance-testing them at several of their Home Entertainment Center locations in the U.S. An agreement was worked out in 1971
RetroNi. “Magnavox Odyssey 3D Boxes Pack.” EmuMovies. N.p., 24 May 2018. Web. 18 Aug. 2020. Images of the three Odyssey game boxes together: Table Tennis, Basketball and Interplanetary Voyage
Pong-Story : ODYEMU Magnavox Odyssey emulator
Videotopia – Home Games

Radio-Electronics, “Videogames – Videogame History”, by Jerry and Eric Eimbinder, pgs. 50 – 54, July 1982
Phipps, Jennie. “Come to the TV Sue, and I Shall Ping a Pong With You.” The News Journal [Wilmington, Delaware] 05 Apr. 1976: 21. Web. 1 Feb. 2021. Magnavox developed the original in the field in 1972. Philadelphia was a test market area for its complicated Odyssey.
Odyssey Installation and Game Rules. N.p.: Magnavox, 1972. Internet Archive. Jason Scott, 29 May 2013. Web. 03 Oct. 2019. <>. Instructions for Haunted House game, pp.25-26
Image of Odyssey and packaging contents, and other information from Electronic Games, “Inside Gaming: Meet Odyssey’s Lords of the Rings” by Bill Kunkel, pgs. 8-9, March 1982. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
Magnavox Odyssey, by Sam Hart’s History of Video Games Level Up – Life in the Video Game Ether
Magnavox. The Spokesman-Review [Spokane, Washington] 1 Dec. 1972: 10. Print. Newspaper ad, Magnavox Gift Values…
Magnavox. The Province [Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada] 28 Nov. 1972: 14. Print. Newspaper ad for the Odyssey, “A new dimension in TV entertainment.”
“‘Odyssey’ Makes TV Sets Electronic Playgrounds.” Five Cities Times-Press-Recorder [Arroyo Grande, California] 12 Oct. 1972: 2. Print. Image of Odyssey Roulette being set up on television set, 1972
Odyssey. The San Bernardino County Sun 4 Dec. 1972: A-7. Print. Newspaper ad for Odyssey, “A Gift….”
Magnavox Odyssey. The Charlotte Observer Sun 14 Oct. 1973: 3G. Print. Ad for Odyssey, “Special Pre-Holiday Offer”
FlemishBot. “Magnavox Holiday Specials (USA, 1973).” Magnavox Holiday Specials (USA, 1973), Internet Archive, 12 Sept. 2018, Video of ad break from Sinatra holiday special from Magnavox, 1973

“Magnavox Dealers Introduced To Product Innovations.” The Roselle Register 27 July 1972: Section 4 – 6. Web. 30 Jan. 2021. …”Odyssey” is an all-electronic game simulator….. ;Available to Magnavox dealers in August…
The Odyssey² Homepage, archived Illinois newspaper article, “Electronic Game Wizards”, by Herbert G. McCann, Nov 26 1981
BTread Photobucket stream
Elder Geek: Magnavox Odyssey Inventor Inducted into Hall of Fame
Electronic Games, “A Decade of Programmable Video Games”, pgs. 20 – 23, 34, Mar 1982. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
Capital Times (LA Times news wire), “New electronic TV games are sweeping the country”, by Margaret A. Kilgore, Feb. 3, 1977
Patently Profitable
Hardware Created after Odyssey
Baer, R. (1971). Television gaming and training apparatus (Patent No. US3728480A). U.S. Patent and Trade Office.
Clarion-Register, 1974. ‘Odyssey’ Lets TV Be Used In Playing 12 Different Games. [online] p.8. Available at: <> [Accessed 31 January 2021]. ” In the improved Odyssey, the players are represented by rectangular spots smaller than the square shaped “players” in the original game and the ball has been reduced in size making the total field of play larger… ;The ball now remains on the screen at all times, except in very extreme instances when the English Control is used for a severe angular volley.”
Byte, “Byte News….:Magnavox Files Suit on Microprocessor Video Game Patents”, pgs. 193-194, April 1979
Phipps, Jennie. “Come to the TV Sue, and I Shall Ping a Pong With You.” The News Journal [Wilmington, Delaware] 05 Apr. 1976: 21. Web. 1 Feb. 2021. “Odyssey” and “Pong” went so fast that there was hardly one to found in Wilmington when most people began their holiday shopping, and sales of the $100 adult toys have continued to surpass all predictions, according to local merchants and national manufacturers. ;The games are selling to both adults and children with the emphasis on the adult market.
Newhouse, Nancy. “Black Box Turns TV Into Arena.” Lincoln Journal Star 08 Feb. 1976: 4TV. Web. 1 Feb. 2021. Electronic games played on television sets have been one of the hottest selling items in home entertainment this winter and Lincoln stores report they have had difficulty keeping them in stock. ;…staff merchandiser Dick Lewis said the games were “permanently out of stock” in Ward’s stores across the country before Christmas.
Martin, Douglas. “Inventor Devised First Home Video Game System.” Honolulu Star-Advertiser 08 Dec. 2014: B4. Web. 27 Oct. 2021. Image of Ralph Baer in front of Skate-N-Score, 1977. AP photo.
Baer, Ralph H, and The History of How We Play. Gametronics Proceedings, 1 Jan. 1977, p. 6. Internet Archive, Out of that idea came circuitry that moved the ball in a realistic fashion…; an adjustment changed the ice conditions from fast to sloppy to give beginners a chance. It [Magnavox] had delayed in converting its television line to solid-state devices… 
Baer, Ralph H, and The History of How We Play. Gametronics Proceedings, 1 Jan. 1977, p. 6. Internet Archive, Images: Ralph Baer doing TV interview, Baer accepting Pioneer award, photos by Liane Enkelis
Image of Ralph Baer posing with an Odyssey box, along with other information, from Video Games, “Video Games Interview – Ralph Baer”, by Steve Bloom with some portions excerpted from his book “Video Invaders”, photo by Rob Gray, pgs. 20 – 24, 81 – 83, Vol. 1 Num. 5, Feb 1983
Magnavox Television Catalog 1975. Magnavox Television Catalog 1975, The Magnavox Company, 1975. Images of the Odyssey 100 and 200 game consoles
Lasseri, Mario. “C.P.U. PONG!” Jogos 80, 8 Jun. 2024, p. 5. Image of the Odyssey 500 with box. Date listed is date accessed, publishing date unknown
Winter, David. “Odyssey 5000.” Pong-Story, 1 Jan. 2018, Accessed 8 Jun. 2024. Scan of the flyer for the Odyssey 5000
The Magnavox Company. Magnavox Television. Magnavox, 1975. Internet Archive. 25 Mar. 2016. Web. 23 Feb. 2023. Product shot of Magnavox Odyssey 200 with crazy family
Lima News (AP), “Inventor of tv games has new schemes”, by Jules Loh, Jul. 12, 1977
Magnavox Odyssey Page –
Herman, Leonard. “The Father of Video Games, Ralph Baer.” Comp. Hubz. Electronic Gaming Monthly Jan. 2000: 168+. Internet Archive. 2 Mar. 2020. Web. 10 Feb. 2022. Images of Ralph Baer posing with Brown Box prototype, playing with a toy vehicle and standing next to his workbench. Photo by Michael Sexton
Wolf, Jens. Ralph Baer holding controllers from his Brown Box prototype, 2009. Digital image. Web. 27 Oct. 2021. AP photo
Thanks to Ralph Baer for providing the images for the Brown Box and the Sanders arcade game prototypes, as well as additional information for this article

External Links (Click to view)

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Comments >>

  1. avatarRick D

    A toast to the one who set the ball in motion for the video game world. A wonderful story about a great person in many aspects. There would be no home video game console if it weren’t for Mr. Baer and his Brown Box… 🙂


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