Videogaming’s Killer App
Nolan Bushnell misses the ball with his Computer Space, the flaccid-selling coin-op video game he makes for Nutting Associates in 1971. At least the futuristic fiberglass cabinet design is a hit though, as the game shows up as a prop near the beginning of the seminal cheesy 1973 SF movie Soylent Green, as a gift given to Joseph Cotten’s female “furniture”, the mistress character played by co-star Leigh Taylor Young.
Despite the inability of his first product to really catch on with the public, Nutting Associates asks Bushnell to take a shot at developing another game. He is unable to reach an equitable agreement with management, however, and Bushnell leaves to create his own company with partner Ted Dabney. Their intention is to design the games and then have a large game company actually produce them. The initial venture capital is $250 from Bushnell and $250 from Dabney, their profits from Computer Space.
“Avoid Missing Ball For High Score”
The first product is to be a driving game, and 25-year old Al Alcorn, the circuit design engineer Ampex had hired to replace Bushnell, is lured over from the company to join Atari and build it. Deciding instead to break Alcorn in with what in Bushnell’s mind is a throwaway experiment, he asks him to build a simplistic Ping-Pong game, building off the motion circuitry developed by Dabney for Computer Space. The concept has players controlling paddles knocking a ball back and forth across the screen. Bushnell prods Alcorn along by telling him the company already has a contract with General Electric to distribute a home version of the game, although there is no such agreement. Though Bushnell’s design demands impossible-for-the-day sound effects like a roaring crowd, Alcorn pulls beeps and blips that are already present in the circuitry for the sound…and when Alcorn describes the noise of the ball hitting the paddles, he inadvertently names the game…PONG. The electronic guts are entirely solid-state and hardwired…no ROMs or microprocessors are present. This baby is made to do one thing and one thing only, play PONG. Having learned his lesson with Computer Space, Bushnell makes sure you only need one hand to play the new game, so bar patrons can hold their beer in the other. After much agonizing about various minutia such as the speed of the ball and how fast the spin-dial control moves the paddles, a prototype system is constructed by Alcorn.
The instructions for the world’s next arcade videogame are legendarily simple: “AVOID MISSING BALL FOR HIGH SCORE”. Everybody in the lab has so much fun playing the game that it is decided to try and market it, although it is seen as a stepping stone…Bushnell plans to quickly leave PONG behind and build a “real”, more complex game. He goes on a trip to Chicago to shop the system to two pinball giants there. In March of 1972, Atari installs the PONG prototype cabinet, screwed into the top of a wine cask, in a local Sunnyvale, California watering hole called Andy Capp’s Tavern. Within two days Alcorn gets an irate call from the bartender telling him that the game is broken and to “get the fucking thing out of here”. When he arrives at the bar to examine it, Alcorn discovers that the machine doesn’t work because the coin mechanism has been filled with so many quarters that it is overflowing and shorting out the machine. It’s thus determined that Atari could have a genre-defining hit on their hands, but Bushnell is in a bind: both Chicago companies he has talked to have expressed interest in the game concept. To avoid burning bridges, Bushnell creates a fiction: he tells the first one that the other has passed on PONG, and he uses the first’s subsequent withdrawal from the deal to quash the interest of the second.
In 1979 Andy Capp’s, the location for the first PONG beta test, becomes a comedy club called Rooster T. Feathers, where a sign on the wall will proudly trumpet its role in video game history, although they wrongly label PONG as the “very first” video arcade game.
With the evidence of the game’s success overflowing from the prototype’s coin bucket, Bushnell decides Atari will build PONG itself. He rents a 25,000-square foot, abandoned roller skating rink at 1600 Martin Ave. in Santa Clara, California and hires a few dozen locals. They plan to christen the new company with the uncomfortable label Syzygy, a term from astronomy meaning cosmic bodies in perfect alignment, such as the Sun, Earth and Moon. Computer Space had sported the label “Designed by Syzygy”. But history thanks the hippies running a candle-making commune that has already registered the name. Unable to purchase the rights to the name from the current Syzygy, over beer and a game of the Japanese game of stones called Go, they scour terms from the game as possible company names. Thus, do Dabney and Bushnell presents a list of three terms from Go to the California Secretary of State, the state corporation regulatory body, as potential company names, in this order: “Sente”, meaning to move first, “Atari” which is the equivalent of “check” in the game Chess, meaning you’re about to take an opponent’s piece, and “Hane”, to bend around an opponent’s stone with your own pieces. Sente is also already registered, but Atari is free so that is the name that goes through. The company is officially established on June 27, 1972, by Dabney and a 27-year-old Bushnell. Syzygy Co. will remain as the name of the “engineering firm” within Atari that actually designs the games they release.
By late 1972 Atari is cranking out big brown and yellow PONG cabinets, with off-the-shelf 12″ black & white TV sets facing outward towards the player – Bushnell and his fellow engineers believe these small screens work best with hiding the lines making up the fast-moving visual elements of the game when people stand close to the machine to play, and will help alleviate eye strain and headaches in players. PONG starts with an initial slow-rollout to a few West Coast distributors and eventually moving nationally in early 1973. The game is a smash, with popular locations pulling in up to $300 a week in quarters, where pinball machines at the time average $40. With location operators seeing an easy return on their investment and distributors scrambling to facilitate them, Atari sells 8,500 machines in one year, at a time when 2,000 pinball games is considered a successful run. According to Bushnell, this equates to a complete turning over of game cabinets in the Atari warehouse 28 times inside the first year. These PONG units have an initial production cost of 500 dollars per machine and a sales price of $1,200 each. Atari keeps ahead of the game by charging distributers up front for PONG, and then paying the companies supplying materials for the cabinets within their 30-day invoices. Thusly does Atari post PONG sales of over $10 million their first year. PONG also revolutionizes the amusement industry by demonstrating that people will plunk a quarter into a game machine for only one game, shunning the “dime-a-game, three-games-for-a-quarter” that was the standard at the time. Proving that players are okay with the increase, in a single PONG cabinet installed at the University of Miami, it’s reported that students have pumped an estimated 3,000 quarters into it in a single week. The game Bushnell considered a quickie knock-off will carry his company for the next two years.
With the success of PONG comes the need for some company branding, so Atari reaches out to Opperman-Harrington Inc., a California design agency headed by George Opperman, a graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto, Canada. He is commissioned by Atari creative director George Ferraco to create a corporate ID logo. Opperman, having graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) With Opperman running through 150 designs over six months, the final candidates are presented to Atari head Bushnell, who falls for what will become the official Atari logo immediately. It meets his top requirement: it must be so simple to be identified at small scale from a long distance, and more importantly to the ever-entrepreneur, able to be reproduced easily on T-shirts and hats. Meant to represent a stylized “A” for Atari, Opperman’s winning design also plays on the idea of two video game players facing off, with the PONG net between them, and the force of play bending the center outwards. The design becomes known as the Atari “Fuji”, due to it evoking Japan’s famous Mt. Fuji. By 1976 Opperman is heading up Atari’s Graphic Design group, giving the artwork for the company’s arcade games that “Atari look”. Opperman would tragically pass away in 1985 at age 50, from lung cancer.
1973 sees the start of a trend that will dog the industry forever more…a flood of imitations following in the wake of a hit game. Literally dozens of PONG clones hit the market, with some the first hitting the market coming from Ramtek, makers of computer displays and terminals. They get their quick jump onto the bandwagon from the fact that one of the owners of Andy Capp’s bar, home of the first PONG prototype, is also the VP of finance at Ramtek. Seeing reports of the money that Bushnell’s game brings in clues them into the great earning potential of the game. Other clones include Midway’s Winner, although they go the legit route – the company obtains a license from Atari for the technology. It also has video-out circuitry, allowing for the game to be broadcast on a TV set at the location, if a bar wants to annoy everyone in the place, for instance. The rest of these unofficial imitations come from outfits like Nutting Associates, Bushnell’s old employer. Their 1973 Wimbledon, where players use physical sliders to control their paddles, at least has the innovation of being one of the first true-colour video games (along with Atari’s own true-colour version of Gotcha, closely preceding NA’s game, see below). Other companies add token improvements to their games over the original, such as the ability to vary ball speed or giving the players a button to serve. In the case of Ramtek, they create what is touted as the first video game that can accommodate lone players as well as a two-player mode with Clean Sweep, where the gamer uses a paddle to knock a ball upwards into a playfield full of dots. When the ball moves through the dots they disappear, the goal being to erase them all and thereby achieving the titular clean sweep.
Some of the variations on the PONG theme include:
Elopong – Taito, Hockey TV, Pong Tron, Pong Tron II – SEGA, Paddle Ball – Williams, Pro Hockey – Taito, Super Soccer, Tennis Tourney, Paddle Battle – Allied Leisure, TV Football, TV Ping Pong, TV Tennis – Chicago Coin, TV Ping Pong – Amuntronics, TV Table Tennis – PMC, Winner (made under licence from Atari), Winner IV – Midway
Along with all the clones Atari makes themselves:
Dr. PONG, Pin PONG, PONG Cocktail,
PONG Doubles, Puppy PONG, Quadrapong,
Rebound, Spike, Super PONG
Even old-time billiards and bowling champ Brunswick gets in on the video ping-pong action with Astrohockey, developed by HID/Visco Games and built at the Brunswick factory in Muskegon, Michigan. Theirs is a similar innovation to Midway’s Winner, where a model with a remote control monitor is available for mounting above bars. Initially, Bushnell takes all this copying of his product as a badge of honour, telling trade magazine Cash Box in the spring of 1973, “We’re really very pleased by the number of manufacturers who are trying to copy PONG. It tells us that our product is superior and that the rest of the industry is interested, and willing to follow our lead into new, high profit areas.” However, things get so brazen with these PONG copies that, during a trade show in the fall of the year, Bushnell stands up during a Q&A session with “leading” video game developers during a seminar about the future of the industry, and demands they admit they’re building their futures on the back of the game his company designed. Whether it has slipped Bushnell’s mind that he himself built his company on the backs of Ralph Baer and Magnavox remains a mystery. Still, Atari isn’t exactly hurting… around the same time as Bushnell’s somewhat justified tirade, his company announces yet another move of corporate offices, to a bigger complex at 14600 Winchester Blvd., Los Gatos CA.
Atari co-founder Ted Dabney and Bushnell become good friends over the early years of the company, with Dabney giving Bushnell the nautical bug by teaching him to sail, and the two going in together on a 41-foot sailboat they name, appropriately, PONG. By early 1974, however, Dabney is feeling pushed-aside and under-appreciated, and is indeed way over his head running Atari’s exploding production facilities. He is also rattled by all the new competition, most of whom have bigger cash reserves and larger presences in the entertainment sector than upstart Atari. Dabney sells his ownership share of the company to Bushnell for $250,000, and as part of the deal, also walks away with the profitable coin-op collections route he and Bushnell had set up. He also takes the rights to the name Syzygy, with a plan to operate independently as Syzygy Game Company. This leaves Bushnell as Atari CEO, and an 80% stake in the company.
Atari, though, is the clear market leader, pulling in $3.2 million in video game sales for that year. Bushnell knows that the only way to compete is to out-innovate the competition; from the start Atari has allocated 7 – 8 percent to R&D. They start selling their second original video game idea, Space Race, in July of that year, with a limited edition version wrapped in a funky fiberglass shell. Atari also continues to mine the PONG bonanza with PONG Doubles in September. Also pushing the boundaries in cabinet design like Space Race is Atari’s Gotcha in October, the first arcade maze game. Its design causes some controversy with pink rubber joystick coverings, which result in the game being referenced internally at Atari as “the Boob game”. The costing (and probably wear-and-tear concerns) of these questionable covers has them removed from the game shortly after release, although one also hopes taste has something to do with it. A version with its screen tinted with a colour overlay is also released, along with a version generating real colours, which makes it the first colour arcade game.
Realizing he is ill-equipped to handle the day to day management of the rapidly growing Atari, in August 1973 Bushnell installs his brother-in-law, psychologist Dr. John Wakefield as president, with Bushnell holding the title of Chairman. Wakefield remains as president until mid-way through the next year, when Bushnell re-assumes the title. Strong competition in regards to technical innovation comes with rival Kee Games, headed by Joe Keenan. In late 1973 several key Atari employees defect to Kee, including early Atari engineer Steve Bristow. Kee releases Elimination around the same time, a game that lets four players compete in a square Pong-type battle, where when a player lets the ball past their paddle into the hole they are protecting four times, they are eliminated from the board, leaving the rest to battle it out. In December of 1973 Joe Keenan announces that his company has reached an agreement to license the game to Atari, who sells their own version as QuadraPong. In 1974 Kee releases Bristow’s Tank. Gameplay consists of two tanks facing off in a maze, while trying to avoid land mines scattered about. The game breaks new technical ground by incorporating ROM chips to hold graphics memory, enabling it to display more complicated detail on-screen than the simple square and rectangular blocks of PONG. Tank becomes the biggest hit of 1974. This same year, Bushnell announces that Atari has ‘acquired’ an interest in Kee and that “We are happy that the people at Kee and at Atari have been able to resolve the problems that led to the original split last summer.” As it turns out, the whole thing has been an elaborate ruse: Kee is actually a secret subsidiary of Atari, set up in a “split” from from the game company to circumvent a holdover from the pinball era where regional distributors demanded exclusive rights to a company’s games. As per the acquisition announcement, Joe Keenan will remain as president of Kee, with financial support from Atari. The company goes on to follow up Tank with three sequels, including 1978’s UltraTank, which allows players to battle the computer, if there isn’t another human tank driver handy. It also offers eight different options in game play to players, including different play fields, mines, bouncing or guided shells, as well as a “camouflage” mode where the tanks only appear when firing or when hit. Choices are made by flicking toggle switches on the cabinet. Eight is also the number of people who can play Tank 8 simultaneously, a game released in 1976 and allowing eight players to stand around the unit with their own controls and battle against each other. Other games manufactured by Atari under the Kee label are:
Elimination – 1973, Formula K – 1974, Spike – 1974, Twin Racer – 1974,
Crossfire – 1975, Indy 800 – 1975, Tank II – 1975, Flyball – 1976,
Quiz Show – 1976, Sprint II – 1976, Drag Race – 1977,
Sprint 8 – 1977, Super Bug – 1977, Ultra Tank – 1978
PONG Bounces Home
1974 sees Atari with an 81% increase in sales for the first half of the fiscal year over the same period the previous year. By May they have 300 employees, mostly young, long haired hippies listening to rock-music blaring from speakers, filling three shifts, day and night, generally producing 200 game boards a day from their Los Gatos manufacturing plant. Atari also makes moves, under the auspices of VP of operations Lloyd Warman, to becoming an arcade operator themselves, opening several Atari Game Centers in the Bay area, filled with their early games like PONG, and Gotcha. One big attraction to drive gamers into their Fun Centers is undoubtedly Atari’s very first racing game, Gran Trak 10, hitting the arcades in March of 1974. Reports come in of Gran Trak 10 pulling in $60, $80…. even $100 dollars a day at prime locations. Stores in the Atari operations division includes the 1300 ft2 Atari Family Game Center, located on the terrace level of the BayFair Regional Shopping Center in San Leandro. Opening on May 31, 1974, it is a more fuller implementation of Atari’s vision for “themed” video game arcades, whether it be “Gay Nineties”, “Old West” or the always wonderful 70’s catch-all “Space Age”. With 16 Atari games installed there, it sounds like the very apex of the video game arcade…. but after replacing Warman with Gene Lipkin, Atari would abandon the Atari Game Center concept by Spring of 1975.
By 1975 there are around 500 employees working at its facilities in Los Gatos and Santa Clara, with 30 engineers ensconced at its far-flung Grass Valley research lab north of Sacramento. One employee, Harold Lee, proposes taking Atari into the consumer electronics realm: a home version of PONG, able to be hooked up to any TV set. Lee, Bob Brown and Alcorn produce the system, giving it the codename Darlene and starting a long Atari engineering department tradition of naming systems after female co-workers. In 1975 Atari cuts a deal with Tom Quinn, head purchaser for the sporting goods department at national retailer Sears, to sell the system under the Sears Tele-Games label. The order is for 150,000 units. Bushnell has nowhere near the facilities to produce that many in the time Sears wants them, so he taps venture capitalist Don Valentine for a $10 million line-of-credit to expand. Released in October, Atari’s $100 home PONG console becomes Sears biggest selling item, with reports of people waiting outside stores for hours to get one. And once again, manufacturers swarm out of the woodwork, this time with myriad versions of home PONG games. Around $250 million worth of PONG-type games for the TV are sold by various manufacturers in 1975., with prices ranging from $60 to $120 depending on what game options are available, or whether the display is B&W or colour. The simple table-tennis game is expanded to include hockey, handball, multiplayer doubles tennis, skeet shooting with a light gun, among other offerings.
PONG On A Chip
By mid-1976, the market has expanded from two companies involved in home video games to over 70, all making clones of Atari’s home PONG game. This insane ballooning of the number of game manufacturers is facilitated by the new AY-3-8500 “PONG-On-A-Chip” LSI (Large-Scale Integration) microchip released by General Instrument Corp early in 1976. The single videogame integrated chip (IC) had been developed at the GI Glenrothes plant in Scotland in 1975, at the behest of Finnish TV manufacturer Salora Oy for use in a new TV design. As the popularity of GI’s game IC spread around Europe in a PAL TV version, work on a NTSC version for North American use was begun in Hicksville, NY. The IC incorporates all of the circuitry needed for a videogame, including sound, and offers these games: tennis, soccer, squash and a one-player practice mode of handball, along with two rifle-shooting games. It also provides character generation for scoring, as well as externally selectable bat sizes and ball speed. Steep or shallow return angles can also be adjusted, and the choice of manual or automatic serving is also available. At a cost of $5 to $6 per chip, depending on volume pricing, the rush on this IC is so intense that only Coleco receives their full shipment order in time to mass manufacture a large enough supply of videogame units for sale over the 1976 Christmas season. The release of its Telstar video table tennis unit, retailing for half as much as Atari’s console, increases the company’s overall sales by 65 percent. Other game makers sell every console they can produce in 1976, helping to move about 3,390,000 units and creating estimated sales of $187 million dollars for the year. In 1977 General Instrument is producing between 1 to 1.2 million PONG ICs per month. Later updates to the chip result in the faster AY-3-8606-1 “PONG” IC. In 1978 they release the AY-3-8700 single chip “Tank” IC, complete with rotating tanks, explosions and tank sounds, among other video delights.
Warner Serves Up a Deal
In 1975 Atari pulls in $3.5 million of net income on around 40 million dollars of revenue for the fiscal year, marking it as a hot high-tech company. So hot that they need to expand their manufacturing space yet again, to a 65.000 ft2 plant at 2175 Martin Ave. in Santa Clara. They also divest themselves of the struggling Atari Japan Corporation, established in Tokyo back in August of 1973. Not even a partnership with Masaya Nakamura and his Namco company the next year can help Atari make in-roads in Japan: the whole kit and caboodle is sold to Namco in a deal that would eventually equal $1.3 million, in the summer of 1974…. while remaining as a manufacturing plant for Atari games. In 1976 the domestic coin-operated video game market as a whole sees $83 million in production, and the beginning of that year sees the exploding Atari expanding yet again, to their biggest corporate space yet: a new $2.5 million, 60,000 ft2 office building at 1195 Borregas Ave. in Sunnyvale CA.. The groundbreaking ceremony for this facility would include someone dressed up as “The Big Cheese”, a rat costume that Bushnell has found and liked as a company mascot; later the character would form the basis of Bushnell’s Pizza/Arcade business Chuck E. Cheese’s. Atari would continue to expand to fill up the area around its corporate HQ, known as the Moffett Park industrial park.
On August 11 of the year Atari announces it has shipped out the 500,000th home video game from its Sunnyvale facility. Atari’s meteoric rise draws the attention of Emanuel Gerard, a member of CEO Steve Ross’ inner-circle at huge media conglomerate Warner Communications, a company which posted revenues of $669.8 million in 1975. Gerard is part of a team, titled “Office of the President”, which is tasked by Ross to seek out possible acquisitions for Warner. With Atari making impressive revenues in an expanding market but run by a team of creatives lacking in big industry savvy, it seems a no-brainer to Gerard to pick it up. Atari has also come to the personal attention of Ross in 1976, via a trip to Disneyland in California. Unable to pull his family members away from an Atari Tank 8 game in the arcade there, Ross quickly realizes the profit potential in electronic games. At Atari, while sales of PONG have topped out at around 12,000 for the upright units, Nolan Bushnell knows that his company has only been responsible for a fraction of games produced in comparison to the total number of PONG-type games…. maybe 100,000 in all, as estimated by trade magazine RePlay. He also knows his company has to out-innovate in order to stay on top. Bushnell has created a new consumer products division within Atari, but to make the next big moves in the market he needs access to a vast amount of cash. The stock market of the mid-70’s is no place to try and raise cash for a small company, so Bushnell tries shopping his company around, including his role model company Disney, who turn him down, as does media company MCA. When another media conglomerate in the form of Warner Communications comes calling with a deal, Bushnell bites. After four months of negotiation, on October 1, 1976, he signs the contract to sell Atari to Warners for $28 million in cash and debt acquisition. Joe Keenan is president of the company, and Bushnell pockets $16 million and the title of chairman of the board. With Warner investing about $120 million into the company by 1978, this new infusion of capital is applied to the development and production of a project inside Atari that will revolutionize the way people play games, and render the market the company itself had created for dedicated PONG games obsolete. It will soon launch the videogame industry into the mainstream and make the brand name Atari as ubiquitous as Coke and Kleenex. This project’s codename? Stella.
Sources (Click to view; inert links are kept for historical purposes)
Videogaming’s Killer App
The Development of PONG
The History of How We Play, comp. “Inventing An Industry: The Atari Games Legacy.” RePlay July 1997: 3. Internet Archive. 8 Jan. 2020. Web. 11 Apr. 2021. 1975 image of Nolan Bushnell in knitted vest, standing. More info: On June 27, 1972, two former Ampex Corp. engineers filed papers with the State of California to incorporate a new computer game design company. Their exiting name, “Syzygy”, was already taken by another corporation. So the partners picked a word used in the Japanese game of Go they like the sound of.
DP Royal Archives – Hollywood/Video Games pt 5 – digitpress.com/archives/arc00041.htm
Bowles, Nellie. “Ted Dabney, an Atari Founder, Pong Creator.” The Boston Globe 02 June 2018: B7. Newspapers.com. Web. 28 July 2021. Although Computer Space flopped, Bushnell had another idea. Having seen a computerized table tennis game he directed Alcorn to build something similar using Mr. Dabney’s circuitry.
“Moments of Truth.” Next Generation, Nov. 1998, p. 112. He [Nolan Bushnell] told Alcorn that he had just signed a contract with General Electric to design a home electronic game based on ping-pong… This was a lie. So he [Bushnell] told another lie and played one side against the other…[etc. etc.]
Electric Escape – The Atari Timeline by Robert A. Jung – www.digiserve.com/eescape/atari/Atari-Timeline.html#1972
CHEGheads Blog, “By Any Other Name: The Origin of Atari”, by Shannon Symonds, May 16 2011
Image of Al Alcorn at the 25th anniversary of the C64 from flickr, Vonguard photo stream
The Arcade Flyer Archive – www.arcadeflyers.com/?page=home
The Revolutionaries: Nolan Bushnell – www.thetech.org/revolutionaries/bushnell/i_a.htmlAtari/Syzygy “SA” logo from Atari Connection, “If Atari Isn’t a Japanese Company, Why Does It Have a Japanese Name?”, by Joel Miller, pg. 19, Summer 1981
Sensei’s Library, “Japanese Go Terms”, Aug. 11 2013
Hunter, William E. Former Syzygy/Atari Office Building. 2014. The Dot Eaters: Video Game History 101, Santa Clara, CA. PONG and Atari | The Dot Eaters. Web. 12 Apr. 2021. Photo of former Syzygy/Atari office building at 2962 Scott Blvd., Santa Clara CA. Photographer, William Hunter
Hunter, William E. 2962 Scott Blvd – Google Maps. Digital image. Google Maps. Google, Jul. 2019. Web. 14 Apr. 2021. Image of rear entrance at 2962 Scott Blvd, Santa Clara CA
Image of Al Alcorn’s Syzygy business card taken at the Videogame History Museum display, CGE 2014 in Las Vegas
Cabriolet, Peter. “‘Pong’ – The Game With a College Education.” The Morning Call [Allentown, PA] 18 May 1974: 12. Newspapers.com. Web. 20 July 2021. Their first Pong game went into a tavern in Sunnyvale, Calif., in March, 1972, and it was an instant hit.
Image of exterior of Rooster T. Feathers from their Facebook photo stream – www.facebook.com/RoosterTFeathers/photos_stream
Hunter, William E. 1501 Martin Ave – Google Maps. Digital image. Google Maps. Google, Nov. 2020. Web. 13 Apr. 2021. Image of 1600 Martin Ave
Associate-manuel-dennis. “PONG Into National Distribution; Success for Atari, Inc.” Cash Box, 7 Apr. 1973, p. 104. Images: PONG creators gathered around cabinet; PONG cabinets being manufactured on factory floor; Other info: Ted Dabney, now vice president and in charge of production facilities.; Bushnell quote on PONG clones; PONG was originally available to a few distributors on the West Coast. Then the company moved into larger facilities to meet a growing demand for the game. With additional facilities being planned, national distribution is now underway.
Hubz, comp. “Ponk, Ponk – the Bouncing Blip Blitzkrieg.” Play Meter June-July 1975: 13+. Internet Archive. 27 Sept. 2020. Web. 8 Aug. 2021. Interview with Nolan Bushnell: Remember, we were scientists at the time and we knew perhaps too much about the human eye and about the right way to do things. When you’re standing right on top of a monitor, it’s generally undesirable to see the line structure on the screen. It’s been shown to give people headaches and all the other things that tv does. A smaller monitor, the 12-inch, turned out to be the largest size in which the line definition becomes somewhat obscure. Also, when you’re standing that close, you don’t have to move your head. It becomes an eye motion, which is more pleasing and comfortable.
Redlands Daily Facts (UPI), “Computerized ‘pinball’ may catch on”, by Richard Harnett, pg. A6, Feb. 28, 1973
The History of How We Play, comp. “Atari Turns 25.” RePlay July 1997: 7-36. Internet Archive. 8 Jan. 2020. Web. 12 Apr. 2021. Photo of George Opperman examining acetate sheet.
Associate-manuel-dennis, comp. “Atari/Midway Pact.” Cash Box 17 Mar. 1973: 56. Internet Archive. 26 Sept. 2016. Web. 9 Oct. 2019. <https://archive.org/details/cashbox34unse_37/page/n56>. Nolan Bushnell, president of Atari Inc., has announced the granting of a license to Midway Manufacturing Co., allowing Midway to produce its latest video game.
Space Race. Los Gatos: Atari, 1973. The Arcade Flyer Archive. Dphower, 18 May 2007. Web. 02 Oct. 2019. <https://flyers.arcade-museum.com/?page=flyer&db=videodb&id=5397&image=1>. Image of Space Race Flyer, 1973
Associate-manuel-dennis, comp. “Far Out Cabinet Available For Space Race Ops.” Cash Box 4 Aug. 1973: 50. Internet Archive. 26 Sept. 2016. Web. 2 Apr. 2021. Pat Karns, national sales manager for Atari, Inc., announced that their new ‘Space Race’ video game is now also available in a contemporary sculptured cabinet, in limited quantities. Sculpted in fiberglass…
PONG’s Impact on the Industry
Stewart, Jon. “The Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall and Rise of Nolan Bushnell.” The San Francisco Examiner 10 Mar. 1985: 11-15. Newspapers.com. Web. 30 July 2021. Bushnell… built as many units as he could find orders for, paying off the manufacturer’s 30-day invoices with up-front payments by distributors. In this fashion, he claims to have turned over the company’s inventory 28 times within the first year…
Critchlow, Paul. “Tennis at Joe’s Tavern But You Don’t Have to Swing a Racket.” The Philadelphia Inquirer 18 Oct. 1973: C-1+. Newspapers.com. Web. 20 Mar. 2021. The TV games represent an economic as well as a technological breakthrough. Set to turn on only after a quarter has been plunked into the slot. they have broken the sacred 10-cents-a-game – three-for-a-quarter price barrier.
Alsop, Kay. “Programmed to Win.” The Province [Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada] 20 Nov. 1975: 42. Newspapers.com. Web. 4 Feb. 2021. In the United States, where they’ve been installed in some universities and high schools, students have been estimated to pump as many as 3,000 quarters a week into a single machine (University of Miami).
Denzquix. “Wimbledon Sales Flyer.” 1973. Internet Archive, archive.org/details/arcadeflyer_wimbledon/page/n1.
Atari, Inc. “Gotcha.” Comp. Dphower. The Arcade Flyer Archive. N.p., 28 May 2008. Web. 25 Sept. 2019. Flyer for Gotcha, 1973
Associate-manuel-dennis, comp. “Kee Game, Atari Pact.” Cash Box 15 Dec. 1973: 42. Internet Archive. 26 Sept. 2016. Web. 25 Sept. 2019. <https://archive.org/details/cashbox35unse_24/page/42>. Joe Keenan, president of Kee Games advised last week that he and Atari, Inc. chief Nolan Bushnell have come to a licensing agreement on Kee’s new game ‘Elimination’.
Brachman, James. “New Electronic Games: Pong & Flying Saucers.” The San Francisco Examiner 03 Feb. 1974: 17. Newspapers.com. Web. 1 Feb. 2021. Bushnell, as Atari’s Chairman of the Board, owns 80 percent of the company…
Associate-manuel-dennis, comp. “3169 Tradesters Pack MOA’s 25th Anny Trade Show.” Internet Archive. N.p., 26 Sept. 2016. Web. 25 Sept. 2019. Image of Nolan Bushnell and Pat Karns demoing Gotcha, 1973
RetroGameChampion, and John Sellers. “The Visionary.” Arcade Fever – The Fan’s Guide to the Golden Age of Video Games, Running Press Book Publishers, 2001, pp. 18–19. From Nolan Bushnell interview: NB: This was during 1973, and at the fall trade show the conference organizers had set up this seminar called “The Future of the Video-Game Business…[etc.etc.]”
Atari, Inc. “Leisure Time Game Center.” Comp. Dphower. The Arcade Flyer Archive. N.p., 28 May 2008. Web. 25 Sept. 2019. Flyer for early Atari arcade games, 1974
Clean Sweep, Ramtek Corporation. Sunnyvale: Ramtek Corporation, 1974. The Arcade Flyer Archive. RamTek Owner, 7 Dec. 2001. Web. 04 Oct. 2019. <https://flyers.arcade-museum.com/?page=flyer&db=videodb&id=2329&image=1>. Flyer for Clean Sweep, 1974
MetroActive News and Issues | Nolan Bushnell – www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/09.16.99/cover/bushnell2-9937.html
Associate-manuel-dennis, comp. “Atari & Kee Resumes Ties.” Cash Box 02 Feb. 1974: 51. Internet Archive. Web. 22 Sept. 2019. Nolan Bushnell, Atari board chairman, announced the acquisition of an interest in Kee Games, Inc….[etc etc]
Hubz, comp. “Ponk, Ponk – the Bouncing Blip Blitzkrieg.” Play Meter June-July 1975: 13+. Internet Archive. 27 Sept. 2020. Web. 8 Aug. 2021. Image of Bushnell in white shirt, smiling. Image of Bushnell with rat costume in background. Other info: Interview with Nolan Bushnell: …the first test location we had was a place called Andy Capp’s Tavern. One of the owners of the place also happened to be the financial vice-president of Ramtek, so he evidently saw some of the earnings reports.
The History of How We Play, comp. “Atari Turns 25.” RePlay July 1997: 7-36. Internet Archive. 8 Jan. 2020. Web. 12 Apr. 2021. Photo of Bushnell, Karns and Al Bettelman together, out front of the C.A. Robinson & Co. showroom in L.A.
Image of Joe Keenan and Nolan Bushnell together, as well as other information, from Video Games, “Video Games Interview – Nolan Bushnell”, by Jerry Bowles, pgs. 16, 19 – 20, 78 – 79, Vol. 1 Num. 1, Aug 1982
Photos of Winner IV were taken by William Hunter at the Musée Mécanique antique coin-op museum, Pier 45, Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco
Associate-manuel-dennis, comp. “New Products from Midway.” Cash Box 28 Apr. 1973: 48+. Print. This game is being built under license and with the cooperations of Atari, Inc….; This unit has extra circuitry to allow the audience to view the match play on the location’s television set, if desired.
“Atari Logo.” Logos-World. 19 Aug. 2021. Web. 13 Sept. 2021. Bushnell was also involved with creative director George Faraco [sic] in the creation of the logo.
Osmun, Mark Hazard. “George Opperman: The Fine Art of Video Games.” Comp. Jason Scott. Video Games June 1983: 30-33. Internet Archive. 31 May 2013. Web. 13 Sept. 2021. Image of George Opperman and Robert Flamate with Star Wars graphics. Other info: Opperman came to Atari via the Ontario (Canada) College of Art… ;…Opperman offers this story: “In 1972, George Ferraco of Atari asked me to work on something for their corporate I.D…. In six months I went through 150 designs. Anyway, I kept trying to stylize the ‘A,” then I looked at Pong-their big game at the time. Pong had a center line and a force (the ball) that kept hitting its center from either side. I though that (force) would bent the center outward. And that’s what I designed.”
Radio47fool. Star Wars arcade cabinet side art panel. Digital image. Imgur. 8 June 2018. Web. 13 Sept. 2021.
Wierdlandtv. “Atari Logo Designs by George Opperman.” Tumblr. 13 Aug. 2019. Web. 13 Sept. 2021. Image of Atari logo candidates, by George Opperman
The History of How We Play, comp. “Atari Turns 25.” RePlay July 1997: 7-36. Internet Archive. 8 Jan. 2020. Web. 12 Apr. 2021. Atari’s second game, not surprisingly, was theme on a subject Bushnell was familiar with. called Space Race, it bowed in July 1973 and was a 2-player. Their first 4-player called Pong Doubles came in September and another Alcorn-designed (maze) game called Gotcha was released in October.
Associate-manuel-dennis, comp. “Pong Doubles 4-Pl. Shipping Everywhere.” Cash Box 13 Oct. 1973: 49. Internet Archive. 26 Sept. 2016. Web. 30 Sept. 2019. <https://archive.org/details/cashbox35unse_15/page/48>. Image of Al Alcorn and Pat Karns in front of PONG Doubles, 1973
Associate-manuel-dennis, comp. “Atari “Sells” Syzygy.” Cash Box 26 Jan. 1974: 53. Internet Archive. 26 Sept. 2016. Web. 1 Oct. 2019. <https://archive.org/details/cashbox35unse_30/page/52>. The name Syzygy was recently purchased by Ted Dabney and will operate as an independent company under the name of the Syzygy Game Company.
Williams, Stephen. “The Zapping of America: Video-Game Madness.” Newsday (Suffolk Edition) [Melville, New York] 01 Aug. 1982: 11-26. Newspapers.com. Web. 28 July 2021. [Steve] Bristow, who is now Atari’s vide president for engineering, said that “from the beginning, Atari’s been spending 7 to 8 per cent on research. Those are substantial numbers. And most of that money is salary, paying people for their thoughts.”
Cabriolet, Peter. “‘Pong’ – The Game With a College Education.” The Morning Call [Allentown, PA] 18 May 1974: 12. Newspapers.com. Web. 20 July 2021. Three hundred workers on three shifts keep the games rolling day and night. ;”We normally do 200 boards a day; so we issue two blocks of boards, chips and components a day,” he [Gil Williams, VP of manufacturing] says.
Bowles, Nellie. “Ted Dabney, an Atari Founder, Pong Creator.” The Boston Globe 02 June 2018: B7. Newspapers.com. Web. 28 July 2021. …the Atari founders were good friends. Mr. Dabney taught Bushnell to sail, and they bought a 41-foot sailboat together. They called it Pong. But as their company grew, their relationship soured. Mr. Dabney left Atari in 1973, selling his portion to Bushnell for $250,000.
The History of How We Play, comp. “Atari Turns 25.” RePlay July 1997: 7-36. Internet Archive. 8 Jan. 2020. Web. 12 Apr. 2021. …the route growing to the point it eventually became so profitable, it was part of Dabney’s separation package when he left Atari the year after it was formed…
Hunter, William E. Images of Former Atari Corporate HQ, 14600 Winchester Blvd. Los Gatos CA. 2014. Los Gatos. The Dot Eaters: Video Game History 101. Web. 13 Apr. 2021. Four images of buildings formerly housing Atari corporate HQ, 14600 Winchester Blvd., Los Gatos CA
PONG Bounces Home
The History of How We Play, comp. “Atari Turns 25.” RePlay July 1997: 7-36. Internet Archive. 8 Jan. 2020. Web. 12 Apr. 2021. [Atari] bowed their very first of many video driving games that March [of 1974]. Called Gran Track [sic] 10… ;Apparently one of the “rightest” locations were out at Funland in Ontario, Calif. which supposedly did $100 a day with this video driver!
Albarado, Sonny. “Silicon Gulch Cowboys Aim to Be Top Guns of Games.” Ed. Hubz. Play Meter Oct. 1975: 31-54. Internet Archive. 6 Oct. 2020. Web. 20 July 2021. Images: Atari Los Gatos entrance ;Nolan Bushnell ;Los Gatos plant assembly line ;Joe Keenan ;Al Alcorn ;Tank cocktail tables on plant floor. Other info: “We normally do 200 boards a day; so we issue two blocks of boards, chips and components a day.”
Atari Leisure Time Game Center Video Arcades/Home PONG Games Proliferate in the Market
Current, Michael D. “A History OfSyzygy / Atari.” A History of Syzygy / Atari. Web. 12 Apr. 2021  April: Lloyd Warman, previously Atari VP engineering, became VP operations (Atari Leisure Time Game Center concept).
Current, Michael D. “A History OfSyzygy / Atari.” A History of Syzygy / Atari. Web. 12 Apr. 2021. October 15-17 : May 31: Official opening of the Atari Family Game Center on the terrace level at BayFair Regional Shopping Center…. etc.
“Newest Atari, Inc. Games Center Opens.” Cash Box 8 June 1974: 37. Web. 14 Apr. 2021. San Leandro, Cal. – Atari, Inc. officially opened another of its leisure-time gems centers here on May 31st. The amusement facility which Atari built and designed, occupies 1300 square feet. It is located on the terrace level at BayFair… ;Atari placed sixteen units in the games room, including their own Pong, Gotcha, Rebound and newest Gran Trak 10 car race games.
Atari Inc. The Atari Leisure Time Game Center. Los Gatos: Atari, 1974. Print. Concept art for the Atari Leisure Time Game Center
Associate-manuel-dennis, comp. “Atari Brings ‘Pong’ Into the Livingroom.” Cash Box 15 Nov. 1975: 45+. Print. Atari employs some 500 administrative and technical personnel at its primary manufacturing facilities in Los Gatos and Santa Clara, California. A staff of 30 engineers, located at the company’s “think tank” in the Sierra foothills, specializes in games research and development.
“1975 In Review.” Cash Box, 27 Dec. 1975, p. 163. Internet Archive, archive.org/details/cashbox37unse_30/page/n157. January: Atari, Inc reported record sales for the first half of its fiscal year with figures representing an 81% increase in sales over the previous year’s period…; October: Atari markets “Pong” TV home unit through the network of Sears stores
Sears Pong. Daily Times-Mail, Bedford, Indiana 17 Dec. 1975: 39. Print. 1975 ad for Pong at Sears “Challenging, Exciting!”
Hawkins, William J. “TV Games: Turn Your Set into a Sports Arena.” Popular Science Nov. 1976: 90. Print. Image of Pong games playing instructions, 1976
OLD COMPUTERS.COM Museum ~ Coleco Telstar – www.old-computers.com/museum/computer.asp?c=665&st=3
Associate-manuel-dennis, comp. “Atari Buys TV Network Time To Advertise Home Video Models.” Cash Box 4 Sept. 1976: 48. Internet Archive. 26 Sept. 2016. Web. 30 Sept. 2019. <https://archive.org/details/cashbox38unse_14/page/48>. It was also announced that on August 11, Atari marked the production of its half millionth unit at the firm’s 125,000 sq. ft. production facility in Sunnyvale.
Current, Michael D. “A History OfSyzygy / Atari.” A History of Syzygy / Atari. Web. 12 Apr. 2021.  August: In Tokyo, Atari established Atari Japan Corporation, headed by Japanese American businessman Kenichi Takumi as its president. ; Winter?: in Japan, Nakamura Seisakusho Co., Ltd. (“Namco”)… agreed to help sell game machines for Atari Japan Corporation. ; July: Atari agreed to sell Atari Japan Corporation (including the manufacturing / assembly plant) to Nakamura Seisakusho Co., Ltd. (“Namco”)… ; August: Atari and Nakamura Seisakusho Co.,Ltd. (“Namco”) agreed on new terms for the acquisition of Atari Japan Corporation by Namco: Namco would pay Atari $500,000 immediately….and would pay Atari $250,000 a year for three years, for a total of $1.3 million.
The History of How We Play, comp. “Atari Turns 25.” RePlay July 1997: 7-36. Internet Archive. 8 Jan. 2020. Web. 12 Apr. 2021. When the smoke cleared, something approaching 100,000 “Pong-styled” games had been built and sold. ;…replaced by Gene Lipkin who joined Atari in 1974 after a sales stint at Allied Leisure. (Lupin originally was hired to run Atari’s remaining arcade operation.)
Electronic Games, “A Decade of Programmable Video Games”, pg. 20 – 23, Mar. 1982
Ad for Visulex computerized Ping Pong kit from Byte, pg, 92, Nov 1975
Lauricella, Tom. “Flashbacks of the 1970s for Stock-Market Vets.” WSJ.com. Dow Jones Products, 18 Apr. 2009. Web. 29 Dec. 2015. …investors were dispirited, questioning whether it was really worth the risk to own stocks. “There was almost no interest in being in the stock market,” says Smith Barney’s Mr. Spooner, who started in the business around 1962. It felt like just about any stocks bought in 1972-73 “turned to dust” he says.
Hawkins, William J. “TV Games Turn Your Set into a Sports Arena.” Editorial. Popular Science Nov. 1976: 88-91. Google Books. Google. Web. 2 Nov. 2016. Manufacturers sold about $250-million worth of TV games last year… Prices range from $60 to $120, depending on the type of game…
Hunter, William E. Former Atari Office Buildings. 2014. The Dot Eaters: Video Game History 101, Sunnyvale, CA. PONG and Atari | The Dot Eaters. Web. 12 Apr. 2021. Photo of former Atari office buildings, part of 1195 Borregas, Sunnyvale CA complex. Photographer, William Hunter
“Warner Communications Corp. Created the Office of President.” The Los Angeles Times 26 Oct. 1976: 8. Print. Chairman and chief executive officer Steven J. Ross said four executive vice presidents were appointed to the new office. They are Jay Emmett, Emanuel Gerard and David H. Horowitz… ;Warner Communications, a New York-based diversified entertainment company, had 1975 revenues of $669.8 million.
Stewart, Jon. “The Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall and Rise of Nolan Bushnell.” The San Francisco Examiner 10 Mar. 1985: 11-15. Newspapers.com. Web. 30 July 2021. Desperately in need of capital to fuel the grand visions of the electronic future, Bushnell put Atari up for sale, first offering it to Disney, his old idol and new rival. Disney turned it down. So did MCA. Then Warner Communications, the giant entertainment conglomerate, stepped in and bought the company for $28 million, more than half of which went directly to Bushnell, who stayed on as Atari’s director.
Associate-manuel-dennis, comp. “WCI Deal to Buy Atari Pending.” Cash Box 18 Sept. 1976: 42. Internet Archive. 26 Sept. 2016. Web. 4 Oct. 2019. <https://archive.org/details/cashbox38unse_16/page/42>. Warner Communications, Inc. has announced that it has signed a contract with the management of privately owned Atari, Inc. for acquisition of the controlling interests in Atari for cash and debt.; Atari had revenues of about $39 million dollars and net income of about $3,5000,000 dollars in the fiscal year ended May 29, 1976
Henry, John. “Video Games Providing New ‘Violence’ on TV.” Daily News [New York City] 25 Dec. 1976: 140. Newspapers.com. Web. 20 May 2021. Image of shoppers in Macy’s video game department, 1976. Photograph by Robert Rosamillia
Buckwalter, Len. “Cover.” Comp. The History of How We Play. Video Games. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1977. N.p., Internet Archive. Web. 24 Sept. 2019. Image of Super PONG in front of TV with plant, 1977.
Buckwalter, Len. “6 – What to Do in Case of Trouble.” Comp. The History of How We Play. Video Games. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1977. 64. Internet Archive. Web. 24 Sept. 2019. Image of man selecting from home video games on shelf.
The History of How We Play, comp. “Atari Turns 25.” RePlay July 1997: 7-36. Internet Archive. 8 Jan. 2020. Web. 12 Apr. 2021. Image of Atari and Namco execs in front of Atari Japan Corporation sign, 1975 ;Image of Atari Sunnyvale HQ groundbreaking, Stunt Cycle arcade game prominent, 1976
“Atari Plans Move to Sunnyvale Park.” Los Gatos Times – Saratoga Observer. Web. 14 Apr. 2021. 1976 image of Atari Sunnyvale HQ groundbreaking ceremony, Joe Keenan grabbing tail of “The Big Cheese”
Image of AY-3-8606-1 IC pinouts from Radio-Electronics, “Build This – Wipeout Videogame”, by L. Steven Cheairs, pgs. 66-70, Sept 1980
Eimbinder, Jerry, and The History of How We Play. “TV Game Background.” Gamestronics Proceedings, Jan. 1977, pp. 159–165. Internet Archive, archive.org/details/GamtronicsProceedings/page/n159. By the middle of 1976, approximately 70 companies were in the home video game business.
Slon, S., & scottithgames. (1982, September). Big Daddy. Video Games Player, 16–56. https://archive.org/details/Video_Games_Player_Vol_1_No_1_1982-09_Carnegie_Publications_US/page/n55/mode/2up?q=Coleco+Industries+1973. He [Nolan Bushnell] chose the latter course and sold out to Warner Communications in 1976. The deal took four months to negotiate.
The History of How We Play, comp. “Atari Turns 25.” RePlay July 1997: 7-36. Internet Archive. 8 Jan. 2020. Web. 12 Apr. 2021. …Warner had loaned Atari around $120 million at their peak in the late 1978.
Eimbinder, Jerry, and The History of How We Play. Gamestronics Proceedings, Jan. 1977, p.2 Internet Archive, archive.org/details/GamtronicsProceedings/page/n3. Image of Nolan Bushnell receiving Pioneering award. Photo by Liane Enkelis
1978 image of Atari’s Graphic Design group from Atari Coin Connection, “Behind the Scenes: Atari’s Artists”, edited by Carol Kantor, pg. 2, June 1978. Retrieved from Pinball Pirate, Sep 15 2015.
Image of APF Pong game in the pages of the 1978 Christmas Montgomery Wards catalog from Wishbook’s Flickr photo stream
Image of Bob Brown from Video Games, “Future Shock Talk”, compiled by Bob Mecoy, photo by Victoria Rouse, pg. 38, Vol. 1 Num. 5, Feb 1983
Brownie Harris’ image of Manny Gerard playing Asteroids, and other information from New York magazine, “Steve Ross On the Spot” by Tony Schwartz, pgs. 22-32, Jan 24 1983
WallyWonka. “Atari 2600 3D Boxes Pack.” EmuMovies. N.p., 26 Nov. 2019. Web. 19 Aug. 2020. Image of game box for Video Olympics on the Atari VCS
Unannotated, Uncategorized or I Just Can’t Damn Remember!
Atari Gaming Headquarters – www.atarihq.com/
Atari Age, “Game-Grams”, pg. 6, Vol. 1 Num. 2 (relaunch), Jul./Aug. 1982
Radio-Electronics, “Videogames – Videogame History”, by Jerry and Eric Eimbinder, pgs. 50 – 54, July 1982
Videotopia – Arcade Games – www.videotopia.com
Atari Age, “Game-Grams”, pg. 6, Vol. 1 Num. 5, Jan./Feb. 1983
Game industry News – Gameindustry.com
GameArchive – http://www.gamearchive.com
Discovery Online, You Shoulda Been There — Pong – www.discovery.com/stories/history/toys/PONG/birthday1.html
Phoenix: The Fall and Rise of Videogames, by Leonard Herman – www.rolentapress.com