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Pong at 40: Success was a surprise born in a bar, Atari developer says

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Pong is 40 years old this week, and its success was as much of a surprise to its developers as anyone else, according to a Buzzfeed interview with Al Alcorn, the game's programmer.

After three months of programming, Alcorn, Atari's chief engineer, produced Pong, which was inspired by the Magnavox Odyssey's tennis game. In September 1972, Atari set it up in the back of a local bar called Andy Capp's Tavern in Sunnyvale, California.

The game proved quickly popular, and within a few days, Alcorn had to replace an overturned milk jug overflowing with quarters with a larger bread pan.

"It was sheer luck that the simplest game you could think of was what the market wanted."

"Up until that point I was expecting to turn up to work one day and there'd be a padlock on the door," Alcorn said. "It was sheer luck that the simplest game you could think of was what the market wanted."

Based on the success at Andy Capp's, Atari began manufacturing arcade cabinets. The company installed its first run of 12 on Nov. 29, 1972, 40 years ago yesterday.

Things skyrocketed from there. Atari had produced 8,000 cabinets by March 1973. According to Buzzfeed, 100,000 Pong cabinets were eventually installed, although only a third of them came from Atari.

Looking back, Alcorn pins Pong's appeal on its approachability.

"You could literally pick up a girl, drink a beer, and play a video game at the same time. It was wonderful."