3

The first commercially successful arcade video game was Pong in 1972. According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arcade_video_game the number of units eventually sold was about 19,000. (A lower figure of 8,500 is also listed, but looking at the references linked from that page, that seems to be only the number sold in one year.)

A subsequent game, Tank, is said to have sold over 15,000 units in total: https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Tank_(video_game)

Those numbers look surprising when matched against recollections of the time. Pong was iconic; it was everywhere. Tank was... well, sure, it existed, it was reasonably popular in its day, but I had forgotten its existence until I looked it up; it certainly doesn't seem to have had anything like the iconic omnipresence of Pong. How does that square with the estimates of the two games selling roughly equal numbers?

One way to square the numbers is to note that both are specifically for the Atari versions. But Pong was very heavily cloned. In those days, patents didn't start applying until granted, and it took two or three years from application to grant; for that reason, Atari did not put the application at the top of its initial to-do list; this is discussed further at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pong

So maybe the Pong clones make up the general ubiquity that game seems to have had.

But that leads to another question: why did the same thing not happen with Tank? Why was the world not similarly flooded with Tank clones?

Conjectures:

  • Tank, being more complex, was harder to clone. But that doesn't really make sense; the reason they were able to make it more complex, was that the technology had moved forward, and it had also moved forward for the cloners.

  • It was indeed similarly cloned. But that doesn't square with the obscurity of that game relative to Pong.

  • Atari was quicker to file a patent for it. But the 2 to 3 years delay in granting the patent, should have left time for clones to appear.

  • Atari had become better at manufacturing, and was more capable of quickly supplying the market, leaving less unfilled demand for the cloners. I suspect that might be part of the explanation.

  • The industry was waking up to the fact that video games could be about other things than bats and balls. That led to companies pursuing a variety of different designs, so that a smaller percentage of the total effort went into cloning Atari's latest game. I suspect that might also be part of the explanation.

But there might also be other factors that I haven't thought of.

3
  • 6
    The article that you linked mentions a sequel, a cancelled Atari 2600 port, the 2600 game Combat which implemented several variations, a Coleco clone, and the inspiration for Battlezone. Sounds like there were clones after all.
    – DrSheldon
    Dec 29 '21 at 3:49
  • 1
    Combat was the pack-in title for the 2600 for at least the first five years — possibly that also had an effect? When one console is so dominant, and it comes with a particular game, is there much room for copies? I speculate wildly.
    – Tommy
    Dec 29 '21 at 9:38
  • 3
    This might be a bit off-topic: While original Atari Pong is a video game, it's only borderline a computer, but rather a whole bunch of thrown together TTL chips. It lacks a CPU, it lacks memory and its most important deficit is that of a program.
    – tofro
    Dec 29 '21 at 19:45
2

General Instruments produced a chip which would form the basis of a Pong-style video game with the addition of, if memory serves, one or two transistors, some resistors and capacitors, switches, two or four controller potentiometers, a trim pot to adjust RF output frequency, and an optional light gun. A secondary chip and 3.5797545MHz crystal could be added if desired to add color. Many video game machines were marketed using that chip, which included four game variations but unfortunately only supported two upward and downward ball angles as compared with the eight that were present in the original Pong(R) brand game.

Tank was a big enough increase in sophistication compared with Pong(R) that it would have been somewhat impractical to try to incorporate everything onto a single chip. It could probably have been done (the Atari 2600 has, IIRC, two big chips and a smaller one, plus typically one ROM chip in an installed cartridge) but using a somewhat larger number of separate chips made it much easier to support a variety of different games which could differentiate themselves from each other in the marketplace far better than machines based on the GI video game chip.

1
  • 7
    Actually, GI did clone Tank as well. Their implementation was called "Battle", and was part number AY-3-8710.
    – DrSheldon
    Dec 30 '21 at 3:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.