Pong is often recognized as the first-ever video game in the world. Released in November 1972, it is a simple sports game revolving around table tennis. Because of its simplicity, it has always been a fun game to play; even now.
Pong is also one of the most important video games of all time. It helped to usher in the Golden Age of arcade video games, and it also helped to establish video games as a lucrative industry. It was incredibly successful, selling thousands of arcade machines, which in turn generated a lot of money every single day. Pong was a lot more successful than the arcade machines at the time, like Pinball. So without it, we might not have had modern-day consoles.
Created by Atari, Pong is a game with a rich and surprising history, from how it was made to the influence it had on popular culture. So, let's take a look at some of the most fascinating facts about this classic arcade video game.
10 It Was Not the First Arcade Video Game
Contrary to what most people believe, Pong was not the first-ever video game. The first arcade game was Computer Space, which was released just a year before Pong in 1971. Computer Space was an arcade game that featured a rocket facing off against flying saucers in a starfield, with missiles as the only weapons. And there were a number of experimental video games released in the sixties, like 1969’s Space Travel and 1952’s Noughts and Crosses, or OXO.
Computer Space was not as influential or as successful as Pong. However, its release marked the beginning of the video game industry.
9 It Should Not Have Been Released
When Atari was formed, its founders were Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. After making Computer Space, they hired a developer called Allan Alcorn. He was one of their first employees, and they asked him to make a video game since he did not have any experience. What they didn’t tell him was that this was meant as a training exercise, so they could ensure he would put in the effort.
The game Alcorn developed was Pong. It had all the elements needed to become successful, and when Atari realized how good it was, they manufactured and then released it.
8 It Was The First Successful Arcade Game
Pong is probably the main reason why the video game industry exists and is as lucrative as it is today. In its first year of release alone, over 8,000 Pong machines were sold. This made it the world’s first commercially successful video game, and it even made it to the Guinness Book of World Records. Pong ended up selling over 35,000 machines. The surviving machines, if you can find them, cost a pretty penny.
Thanks to its massive success, Pong ushered in the Golden Age of arcade video games. There were countless imitators, and arcade machines skyrocketed in popularity thanks to it.
7 It Had The First Video Game Lawsuit
Being a commercially successful video game is not the only thing Pong did first. Its considerable success drew the attention of Ralph Baer, who invented the Magnavox Odyssey, the very first home games console in the world. He noticed that Pong drew heavily from a table tennis game on the Magnavox Odyssey.
In April 1974, Magnavox filed a lawsuit against Atari—the first of its kind. Magnavox also sued the Pong imitators, like Chicago Dynamics, Bally Midway and Allied Leisure. Atari eventually chose to settle out of court, since they felt they couldn’t afford the legal costs that would have amounted to around $1.5 million.
6 The First Prototype Quickly Broke Down
When Atari released the prototype for Pong at a local bar, they did not expect it to break down so quickly; it only took a couple of days. However, when inspecting the machine, they learned that the breakdown was not caused by the machine itself being faulty. Instead, the cause was the presence of too many coins inside the machine. Too many people were playing it, causing it to overflow with quarters.
Atari quickly fixed this, and it was a good thing, because Pong was a money-making machine, and would be for years.
5 It Was Expensive
Despite its immense popularity, Pong was an expensive game. Atari sold it at roughly three times the cost of production. And to play Pong, one had to spend a quarter for one round. This was three times the cost of Pong’s closest competitor, Pinball. For a quarter, a player could get three full games on a pinball machine.
However, this did not deter players. According to Atari co-founder, Nolan Bushnell, a Pong machine would rake in $35 to $40 each day. This was four times as much as the other coin-operated machines, which was unheard of at the time.
4 Atari Did Not Want to Build It
After they developed Pong, Atari did not want to manufacture the machines that would house the game. Instead, they wanted to license it to a larger manufacturing company. They approached Bally Manufacturing and Midway Manufacturing and demonstrated Pong to them. However, Bushnell changed his mind after they tested a prototype of the game and it broke down because it had made too much money.
They then sought funding to manufacture it themselves. Banks were skeptical since they thought it was an offshoot of pinball, which at the time was associated with the Mafia. But Atari eventually received a line of credit from Wells Fargo.
3 Pong Was Cloned A Lot
When Pong was released, it reached a level of success which was unheard of. So, a number of companies created their own machines which basically ripped off Pong. They included Allide Leisure, Chicago Dynamics, and Bally Midway.
To counter them, Atari created a number of new products based on Pong. In 1975, for instance, they released a console version of the game, titled Home Pong. In 1973, they also released a four-player sequel which they called Pong Doubles. This game ended up in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the first four-player video game.
2 It Was A Social Lubricant
Pong was a multiplayer-only game and players only needed to use one hand. So, it acted as a social lubricant since it helped players to feel comfortable around each other in public. Players would usually play shoulder to shoulder, and those who wanted to show off would play with their weaker hand as a handicap.
According to Bushnell, many people grew close to each other when playing Pong. Some of them even ended up getting married. He revealed that plenty of players had approached him to let him know that they met their spouses playing the game.
1 Pong Has Influenced Popular Culture
Pong is the game most responsible for the Golden Age of arcade video games. But that’s not where its influence ends. With the release of Home Pong, Atari helped to popularize video game home consoles. Home Pong was also cloned, and many of the clone makers still make video games and consoles to this day.
Pong has also been referenced in a number of more recent video games, like The Xbox 360’s Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts and the Commodore 64’s Neuromancer. The game has even been featured in TV shows like Saturday Night Live, King of the Hill and That ‘70s Show.