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The Pong goodbye: Arcade photos from the 1970s and 1980s

Discussion in 'Gaming Fun - The Other Reality' started by Mark Holtz, Jul 11, 2013.

  1. Mark Holtz

    Mark Holtz Day Sleeper

    Mar 23, 2002
    Sacramento, CA
  2. AntAltMike

    AntAltMike Hall Of Fame

    Nov 20, 2004
    My first business venture was the development of a route of coin operated amusement games. In 1972, two friends and I kicked in $200 each and bought a Rene Pierre foosball table and put in the a bar. A few weeks later, we bought an old used pinball machine, Snow Derby, for under $400 and put it in a fraternity at Dartmouth College. Pretty soon, Pong became the rage and we bought a couple of those for $1,200 each. Back in those days, the wages for unskilled and semiskilled labor were peaking in constant dollars, and I had grunt factory jobs that enabled me to earn about twice as much as school teachers were starting at, and so it was actually possible to enter a capital intensive business by basically working long hard hours and generating modest capital.

    Most people are unaware that Pong was not the first commercially manufactured, coin operated video game. Nutting Associate's Computer Space was, but it was a flop. And while Pong initiated the first wave of the video game craze, most of those units never earned enough to pay for themselves because the video game business, unlike the pinball business, was a "hit" business, meaning that nearly every customer wanted the same game at the same time, and as soon as a new popular game came out, not only did very few people want to play the "old" game, certain high traffic locations that had scarce floorspace wouldn't even allow the late model, older game to stay on their premises.

    Nolan Bushnell claims that Midway Manufacturing came up with the development money for the first Pong, but then told him that they were not interested in it for two reasons: it had no single player mode, and the paddles were uninteresting as characters.

    Pong didn't have a microprocessor in it. It couldn't, because the microprocessor hadn't yet been invented. It used a clever circuit called the slip counter to enable the image of the ball to appear to move continuously across the screen. That circuitry was at the heart of a game console named Oddessey, which had been designed for Magnavox by Sanders Associates of Nashua, to help Magnavox compete in selling its domestically manufactured TVs. Magnavox and Sanders eventually sued Bally/Midway and Atari for either patent or copyright violation (I remember it wasn't clear at the origination of those suits whether the circuitry was protectable as a patent or a copyright). I was interviewed by a lawyer for Sanders to see if I might be useful to furnish so-called "expert witness" testimony, but I assured them that for their purposes, I could not be established as sufficiently expert.

    Video games died out by the mid 1970s. Atari amd Midway kept producing new games, but the game operators weren't buying very many of them. There were some good driving games made in that interval, but those were the only games that had the staying power to earn for long enough to justify their price. The video game business got revived in 1978 or 1979 by Space Invader. I was at a service seminar when my local distributor got its first Space Invader but it hadn't yet been established that it was going to be a hit. I was mesmerized by the relentless, "dum-dum-dum-dum, dum-dum-dum-dum" sound and was sure it was going to be a hit and they let me buy that sample unit.

    Space Invaders was followed by Asteroids and Galaxian, and they by PacMan and Defender. As someone wrote in Newsweek, "You're either a PacMan player or you're a Defender player", and added, "A person playing Defender who is not skilled at the game has no more of a chance of succeeding than he would if you put him in the cockpit of a real fighter jet and sent him off to battle".

    Malls that had shunned pinball machine arcades were very receptive to video game arcades. Unfortunately for that industry, the new machines kept obsoleting the old ones, and by about 1983, there were arcade bankruptcy foreclosure auctions seemingly every few weeks in my market. A lot of game operators blamed the manufacturers for licensing out the games for home use, but I found that argument silly. I can buy beer for a small fraction of what I pay for it in a bar but that fact doesn't put bars out of business, and I could watch movies on TV but TV didn't put movie theaters out of business.

    When I first got into the coin operated games business, most cities and towns had ordinances that games could not be priced above ten cents per play. That is because those laws had been passed in the 1950s when so-called "bingo games" that looked like pinball games were commonly used for gambling and when municipalities had legislated them out of business, the game operators tried to sustain the gambler's interest by paying off on other games, so limiting the price that could be paid for an amusement game was one way of making them less suited to high stakes gambling.

    I got lots of support from police chiefs in several towns where I wanted game licenses issued. By the mid 1970s, the police just weren't concerned about pinball machines or video games providing the gateway to serious criminal behavior, and as one chief said to me, whenever he had to go find and arrest any young local kid, it was most convenient for him to send a cop to one of my arcades to find him.
  3. Nick

    Nick Retired, part-time PITA DBSTalk Club

    Apr 23, 2002
    Interesting stories from the waayback machine!. :coffee
  4. yosoyellobo

    yosoyellobo Icon

    Nov 1, 2006
    Jacksonville Fl
    I remember wearing shoes like the ones in the article. Could not wear them for more then two weeks because of back pain and gave them away:)

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