By: Nick Gambino
Before there were Nintendo, Xbox, or PlayStation consoles, there was Atari. The OG in the home video game console market turned 50 on Monday, marking half a century since Pong pinged into arcades and set off a revolution of glued eyeballs.
Atari was incorporated by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney on June 27, 1972, but the two founders had a hand in another video game milestone. They created the first commercial video game for arcades just a year before – Computer Space.
Determined to revolutionize the sphere, they created their company Atari (a word which derives from a move in the Japanese game Go). The first order of the new company was to create an arcade game version of Tennis. They hired Al Alcorn for the project and the end result was the first successful commercial video game ever, Pong.
To test out the game Bushnell and Dabney placed it in a pub for patrons to play between drinks. A couple of weeks later they got the call that the Pong machine was broken. It seems it was super popular, and all the non-stop stream of coins had jammed up the game. The cabinets were soon mass-produced and distributed throughout the U.S.
Pong was such a hit they soon saw a ton of knockoffs popping up. The solution? Expand their offerings to different types of games. Over the next several years they produced titles like Breakout, Tank, and Gotcha.
While those were certainly milestone accomplishments, it was their next move that would create the model for a multi-billion-dollar industry still going strong today. The Atari VCS or the Atari 2600, as it was later called, ushered in a home video game console boom.
The ability to play multiple games in the comfort of your own home was not unlike how VHS changed the movie industry. Consumers wanted to enjoy themselves in their living room. It’s too much to ask someone to put on their pants and trek outside simply for the love of the game.
Launched in 1977, Atari saw millions upon millions of the VCS (2600) fly off the shelves, thanks to high-quality games like Combat and a home version of Space Invaders. It wasn’t until 1983 when a dip in quality with games like ET and Pac-Man and fierce competition began to take Atari down. That year they reported a loss of $536 million.
Their luck never really turned around, even after the market recovered thanks to the Nintendo Entertainment System. In 1992, the Atari 2600 was officially discontinued. These days you’ll find Atari strolling through the park, feeding the pigeons.
In all seriousness, Atari hasn’t folded. They are now owned by French company Infogrames and are still putting out bit games here and there.
Their current output isn’t their legacy. Atari will always be known as the little company with a big vision that captured the world’s heart. Happy birthday, Atari.