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Everything is impossible until it's not: November edition

A secret warm up exercise and a game too popular to function — we look at how Pong changed the landscape of video games.


Everything is impossible — until it isn’t. At Strike, we’re looking back on disruptive moments that changed the world. From technology that has shaped our lives to feats of human strength and resilience that were never thought possible, every month we’ll bring you a moment in history that changed everything.

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 50 years since the world met one of the most-loved video games of all time. This month, we take a look back at one special November — one where Pong, the simple, elegant, and incredibly addictive video game, took its place in history. 

But it almost didn’t happen. Rather than being some long-perfected and planned project, Pong was a bit of an accident. In fact, it was secretly meant to be a warm-up exercise for a new employee — but it became so much more. 

A warm-up exercise

Al Alcorn was a young engineer, new at the fledgling video game company Atari, with plans of building a complex driving game to rival Speedway, which was hugely popular at the time. But Nolan Bushnell, one of Atari’s founders, thought that it might be a little too ambitious for Alcorn’s first project — so set him the task of a much more basic game.

With two paddles, a bouncing spot, and a simple scorekeeping device, Bushnell secretly planned for this to just be a training exercise. A premise so simple never seemed like fertile ground for an actual video game, just a great way to experiment.

But the quality of the resulting work startled Bushnell and others at Atari — and they thought it might be ready to set into the world.

And yet, it was still in early stages — a prototype, needing to be tested by someone outside of the company. And would such a simple game even be popular? They needed the public's opinion.

Home Pong launched in 1975 and was, unsurprisingly, an immediate success, and the game has remained in the public consciousness for almost 50 years. "

Too many quarters

So the prototype was installed at Andy Capp’s Tavern — a local bar that Atari already supplied pinball machines to — to see how it would fare in the real world. But after not too long, the prototype began having problems. 

Alcorn went to see what was wrong with his prototype and whether it could really stand up to public use. What did he find? The game was jammed — with too many quarters. It had proved too popular. And it is just that level of popularity that made Pong such a disruptive moment. Not the tech, not even the vision — the fact that its simplicity blew past more complex games and tapped into something more inherent and universal. A compulsion, a competitive nature, a social edge — whatever you want to call it, Pong had it.

It was decided the game should be released to the public — and Pong was born. 

Pong made its way onto stages across North America in November 1972 — and into Japan in November 1973. While at first only arcade games were available, manufacturing improvements meant that people could soon take the game home. Home Pong launched in 1975 and was, unsurprisingly, an immediate success, and the game has remained in the public consciousness for almost 50 years. 

Not bad for a secret warmup from a new engineer.

We're always looking to dream bigger and find ways to make the impossible possible. Next month, we'll be back with another moment that changed everything.