Atari’s original prototype for the video game system Home Pong sold for $270,910, according to Boston-based RR Auction. It’s from the collection of Allan Alcorn, who created Pong, the first video arcade game to become popular in the 1970s.
The system mockup features two potentiometer paddle control knobs, a red ‘start game’ pushbutton, and a central metal grille for its built-in speaker. The general design cues seen here-from the three-part layout to the gently angled control panel surfaces-are reflected in the production models of ‘Home Pong,’ beginning with the Sears Tele-Games (1975) and subsequent Atari Pong Model C-100 (1976).
Accompanied by a letter of provenance signed by Alan Alcorn, the game’s designer discussing the initial success of the Pong arcade game and Atari’s efforts to create a commercial, consumer version of the game-which hinged upon the production of a small, affordable chip to replace the expensive hard-wired PCBs of the arcade version. As it turned out, the fabrication of a functional chip was “easy” – it was getting an injection-molded plastic case for the system that was the main challenge in putting Pong in homes across America.
“In 1975 Atari had managed to become dominant in the coin operated entertainment business and moved on to build video games for the home market. We had to get Pong running on a single chip of silicon so a product could be built at a price a consumer could afford. I had never designed a custom chip before but I had an engineer, Harold Lee, with me who did have the experience and we managed to get the chip to work. I mistakenly thought that designing the chip would be the hardest part of the project but to my surprise the plastic case wound up taking longer and costing more money than the chip. We eventually did get the plastic to finished but in order to demonstrate the product to potential customers like Sears we had to demo it with a handmade wooden mockup of what the finish case would look like. The wooden mockup was attached to a box that had the electronics in the base and did look and function pretty much like the finished Pong game.
There were two prototypes like this that we could take and show to potential customers; the first one had the wire wrap prototype for the chip in the base and was very heavy and delicate. It is now in the permanent collection of the Computer History Museum. This is the second prototype that was built and has finished Pong chip in a prototype circuit board in the base. At this point we had the chip but not the plastics.”