PONG arcade machines started in late 1972 with Atari PONG which had an immediate success, resulting in around 19,000 PONG machines sold. Soon after PONG entered the one year old video game market, numerous companies copied the game (an easy task as it was built with simple electronic chips and a regular TV set). Atari's first PONG license was sold to Allied Leisure who released the game under the name of Paddle Battle. Because Allied Leisure could not make the electronic boards, the company contracted Universal Research Labs (URL) to manufacture the boards (early Paddle Battle boards show an URL copyright). However, the competition did not take long to get strong and one of its immediate effects were the release of Wimbledon by Nutting Associates in early 1973, a four-player PONG game in color (this company released the first successful arcade machine in 1971: Computer Space). Atari didn't have enough time to release PONG Doubles, the equivalent in black and white. Many companies released arcade PONG machines between 1973 and the late 1970s: Amutronics, Bally, Midway, Meadows, Nutting Associates, Ramtek, Taito, Williams, etc. Some PONG clones could play against the players. Some others played variants such as Football and Hockey. Some more advanced even played PONG games in a "Breakout" mode where the ball would destroy a number of squares placed on the game field between the players. The PONG saga had an enormous success during these years, until more advanced games appeared in 1975 after what PONG left the market to leave the place for other games named Tank, Indy 500, Space Invaders, PacMan, etc.
Atari released the first arcade version of PONG in late 1972. The photo on the top of this page shows the very first prototype which was placed at Andy Capp's Cavern. Soon after, Atari launched the commercial version of PONG: the famous "yellow" cabinet. Earlier specimens had silver knobs whereas later ones had black knobs. Although some collectors prefer the first version, this kind of difference does not change the importance of PONG in the video game history, nor does it change the value of this game. The machines were numbered at the manufacturing plant and a lot of people say erratic things about the serial numbers of their machines. Nolan Buschnell (who designed Atari PONG) explained that the serials were encoded to avoid guessing how many machines were manufactured. Serials start with two same letters followed by three or four digits. The first machines to roll off the assembly line were numbered ZZ-001 through ZZ-999, then AA-001 through AA-999, then YY-001 through YY-999 and then back to BB-001 through BB-999 and so on. Thus, the very first machine had serial ZZ-001 (see it at the Atari Historical Society) and those with serials starting with AA have machine between #1000 and #1999. Those with YY have a machine between #2000 and #2999.Pictured left: original Atari PONG upright from David Winter's collection. This nice specimen looks almost as new and has not been refurbished. It was made in 1973, has the second generation coin slot and black knobs.
Before talking about the numerous PONG arcade machines inspired from Atari PONG, it is interesting to see how some people tried to enter the video game business by reselling improved Atari PONG games in kit form. Click the picture on the left or click here to read more about this.Pictured left: Gyro PONG upgrade kit, from David Winter's collection. Note the use of joysticks, individual serve buttons and paddle size switches.
Another interesting point is how companies designed early arcade PONG games and derivates. Ramtek is a nice example. They started in 1973 and the circuit boards of their games were hand wire-wrapped. Judge by yourself: click the picture on the left or click here to read more about this.Pictured left: hand wire-wrapped board as used in a yet unknown Ramtek game, from David Winter's collection.
To realize how the PONG business grew in the 1970s, have a look at the pictures below (courtesy of Al Kossow). They show the printed circuit boards of bootleg PONG machines (we still need more photos of the machines themselves).
|Board of Chicoin (Chicago Coin) PONG.
Nearly identical to Atari PONG.
Chips are all socketed, making service much easier.
|Meadows PONG: probably copied from Atari PONG,
although the board looks totally different.
Another remake, although looking different from Atari PONG.
|Above: Two boards from arcade PONG
cabinets. The one on the left is nearly identical to Atari's one.
The other one has nothing in common. The placement of the chips looks a bit like Meadows PONG.
|Above: two four-player versions of PONG.
One uses an overlay to simulate a colors.
Atari did a really big
mistake at the begining. As a matter of fact, a game without patent
has no protection against bootlegers, even if it uses an analog or
a digital system without software. Atari did not patent PONG until 1973 and many competitors started
making their own version of PONG just
a few weeks after the release of Atari's game. Some copies are nearly
same, even so similar that the printed circuit board looks identical.
However, some other versions were designed from scratch, or at least from basic
elements of Atari PONG such as sync, paddle and ball generators.
The photos below show some arcade PONG cabinets (cocktail and uprights).
Above: flyer for Amutronics TV Ping Pong cabinet.
Very similar to Atari PONG: woodgrain finish, coin slot, diagonal cutting of the front panel...
|Above: a four-player cocktail made by Digital Games (model 474).
It even plays games against the machine, which is very rare.
|Above: another cocktail which plays four-player
games in color.
|Above: another four-player cocktail PONG clone.
Note the regular television set used as monitor and the main board directly inspired from Atari PONG...
Winner IV (4 players)
Bally Playtime (directly copied from
Atari PONG, but with joysticks !)