While there were video games developed and played before 1972, gaming didn’t experience any sort of mainstream popularity until the arrival of Pong in November of that year. The game was remarkably simple: a table-tennis match simulated by two blocks on either end of the screen and a dot bouncing between them.
Pong was created by Allan Alcorn, who later contributed to the development of the Atari 2600 console and had involvement with Apple as well. Alcorn was directed on the project by Nolan Bushnell, Atari’s co-founder, who had seen something similar available on the Magnavox Odyssey and wanted something similar at Atari. Pong was the first game developed by Atari, and its popularity took off after Bushnell and Alcorn tested some prototypes in bars that had pinball machines already.
By 1974, a home version of the game was proposed and quickly entered development. A year later, the Pong game arrived in living rooms; it was first available exclusively through Sears and was branded with their “Tele-Games” logo, though in ’76 Atari released it under their own brand.
Also in 1974, Atari faced a lawsuit from Ralph Baer and Magnavox. Baer’s argument was that Atari infringed on his patents and his table tennis concept with their release of Pong, and presented documents that showed Bushnell had played the Magnavox Odyssey game prior to the development of Pong. The case was ultimately settled out of court after Bushnell realized that the legal fees were too much for Atari to handle at the time. Atari became a licensee of Magnavox in the settlement, allowing for the company to continue to produce Pong.
A number of Pong sequels were released, including Pong Doubles, Super Pong, Ultra Pong and Quadrapong – though the most popular was the single-player spinoff, Breakout. The impact of Pong was obvious: it popularized the concept of video games and helped to kickstart the industry at large. Though it seems quite primitive by today’s standards, Pong remains one of the single most influential games of all time.