Some readers know I write the RePlay Retro column that usually runs toward the back of our issues. I enjoy this task because researching the people and events of four decades ago in coin-op reintroduces me to old friends, long gone in many cases, along with old hits (and some other games that never should have been built).
While researching recently, I discovered that I “met” my very first hit video game just about 50 years to the day I started writing this piece you’re now reading. I had been working on the March 3, 1973, issue of the old Cash Box magazine when an envelope was dropped on my desk that contained a quarter-page ad for something called Pong by a company called Atari.
I’d never heard of anything called Pong until I got a call from an industry vet named Art Daddis who told me a new machine by that name was knocking them dead up around the Bay Area. And guess what? It had a TV tube in it! The game was already out on a bunch of Northern California locations since late 1972 since the young Atari had already begun building them in dribs and drabs using labor often referred to as “the hippies.”
Historians will quickly say this wasn’t the first video game sporting a coin mech (that was Computer Space by Nutting Industries), but it was the very first coin-op “hit”…an appellation we began using to define the superior games that marked the Golden Age of coin-op. Wikipedia says Atari eventually built around 11,000 of the games which was pretty good for a brand-new factory.
While Pong was clearly a “gateway game” into what became known as the “video boom,” it showed up pretty much at the same time as the electronic pinball revolution (Bally’s great 8-Ball Deluxe, etc.), making those coming years good times to be a route or arcade operator. That’s Al Alcorn in the picture with me; he originally designed Pong on instructions from Atari’s Nolan Bushnell.