What was the First Arcade Video Game?
Computer Space became the first mass produced arcade video game in 1971. It was released the year before it’s creators formed Atari and created Pong. Two months before Computer Space, the first non-mass produced arcade video game, Galaxy Game was installed at the Tresidder Union at Stanford University. Both were coin-op arcade versions of MIT’s Spacewar!.
The first arcade video games may have come out in the 70’s, but the first video games came out much earlier.
The history of Atari. While Steve and Woz were building the future of computing, Nolan and Ted were building the future of gaming.
What was the First Video Game?
The first video game wasn’t Pong (nor was the first arcade game). The first game is arguably Bertie the Brain, and the first arcade game arguably Computer Space.
Bertie the Brain was an arcade game of tic-tac-toe, built by Dr. Josef Kates for the 1950 for the Canadian National Exhibition.  In October 1958 by physicist William Higinbotham, created a version of computer tennis similar to Pong called Table Tennis. This was arguably the first game created for entertainment purposes. Generally, the games created in labs the 50’s can be considered the firsts video games.
The first arcade game’s of the 70’s are variations of the “spacewar!” style games created in the 60’s. Below we focus on the history of the first arcade games, see our page on the first video games for more information on the very first games.
The History of Arcade Video Games and Atari
Atari wasn’t the first company to create an arcade game, games like pinball had taken the world by storm before before anyone knew what a computer was. Atari, despite popular belief, wasn’t even the first to invent video arcade games at all.
Before Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney founded Atari, they founded an engineering firm called Syzygy Engineering. Under Syzygy they created one of the world’s first arcade video games Computer Space. Computer space was manufactured by by Nutting Associates and sold between 500 – 1000 copies.
The First Space Shooter Computer Game: Spacewar!
Since the early 50’s engineers been trying to create videos games using computers. In 1961 a team at MIT poured hundreds of hours into creating the first space shooter computer game Spacewar!.
Ten years later Spacewar! would go on to form the basis of Computer Space and Galaxy Game, the first ever video arcade machines.
A review of Computer Space.
The First Arcade Video Games: Computer Space and Galaxy Game
Silicon Valley isn’t just the home to computer companies, it’s also the birthplace of arcade video games. In 1971 Stanford and Syzygy were both independently creating the first ever coin-op arcade video game.
Stanford’s Galaxy Game was the first to be installed (at Stanford only) a full two months before Computer Space was released to the public.
Both games used unique hardware to turn MIT’s then ten year old software Spacewar! into a full fledged coin-op arcade game (it had failed as a home computer game). College kids liked the complex game-play of both games, but the arcade game failed to draw audiences at bars.
- Computer Space doesn’t use RAM, a processor, or ROM. According to endgadget.com “ROM chips were expensive at the start of the ’70s, so creator Bushnell substituted in diodes on the circuit board, laid out in the shape of the spaceship on the circuit board itself. Interestingly, the highest score possible is 15 — once you go over that, the machine resets.”
- Stanford and Syzygy are both in Silicon Valley (a relatively small area between San Jose and San Fran), so the chances that they knew about each other projects would have to be high. They used the same program as a basis for the machines. It isn’t clear if this is a case of multiple discovery theory, collaboration, or borrowed ideas.
Did you know?: The first video game competition was held for “Spacewar!” at Stanford University. First prize was a year subscription to Rolling Stone. This was the very first “eSports” competition.
Pong: The First Successful Arcade Game
Pong wasn’t the first arcade video game, but it was the first popular one and the first one that used unique software.
Pong was created a full year after Computer Wars and was the first launch title of the new Silicon Valley company Atari. Pong would become one of the most well known games of all time. Eventually Pong would become the first home console game as well. All of this made possible with a little help from venture capital.
A quick visual history of video games from 1947 – 1979.
FACT: Pong based one of the very first video games ever 1958’s “Tennis for Two”. Thus, the first two Arcade video games by Atari’s founders were re-envisioning existing computer games.