First generation of video game consoles

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Part of a series on the
History of video games

In the history of video games, the first-generation era refers to the computer game and video games, video game consoles, and video game handhelds available from 1972 to 1983. Notable consoles of the first generation included the Odyssey series released from 1972 to 1978,[1] the Atari Home Pong released in 1975,[2] the Coleco Telstar series released from 1976 to 1978[3] and the Color TV-Game series released from 1977 to 1980.[4][5] The generation ended with the Computer TV-Game in 1980 but many manufacturers had left the market prior to this due to the video game crash of 1977[6] and the start of the second generation.

Games developed during this generation were native components of the consoles and unlike other generations, they were not contained on removable media that the user could switch out.[7] There were a number of methods used to create variation in games such as the inclusion of external accessories and cartridges that could alter the way the game played.[8] Graphical capabilities consisted of simple geometry such as dots, lines or blocks[9] that would occupy only a single screen[10] and wouldn't be capable of more than two colours (usually black and white) until later in the generation. Audio capabilities were limited with some consoles having no audio at all.

The first generation of consoles did not feature a microprocessor, and were based on custom codeless state machine computers consisting of discrete logic circuits comprising each element of the game itself. Later consoles of this generation moved the bulk of the circuitry to custom "pong on a chip" integrated circuits such as Atari's custom Pong chips and General Instruments' AY-3-8500 series.[11]

Magnavox, an already established American electronics company released the first console of the generation and while limited in its capabilities, it introduced a number of features and ideas that would become standard in the industry.[1] In 1972, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney founded Atari[12] which would go on to be one of the most well known video game companies and play a vital role in the early generations of consoles. It was also late in this generation that Nintendo entered the video game console market for the first time.[13]


In 1951, Ralph Baer conceived the idea of an interactive television while building a television set from scratch for Loral in the Bronx, New York.[14] He continued to explore is ideas further in 1966 when he was the Chief Engineer and manager of the Equipment Design Division at Sanders Associates. He created a simple two-player video game that could be displayed on a standard television set called Chase, where two dots chased each other around the screen.[15] After a demonstration to the company's director of research and development Herbert Campman, some funding was allotted and the project was made official. In 1967 Bill Harrison was brought on board, and a light gun[16] was constructed from a toy rifle that was aimed at a target moved by another player.

Pong arcade version

Bill Rusch joined the project to speed up development and soon the addition of a third, machine-controlled, dot was used to create a ping-pong game.[17] With more funding additional games were created, and Baer had the idea of selling the product to cable TV companies, who could transmit static images as game backgrounds. A prototype was demonstrated in February 1968 to TelePrompTer Vice President Hubert Schlafly, who signed an agreement with Sanders. The Cable TV industry was in a slump during the late 1960s and early 1970s and a lack of funding meant other avenues had to be pursued. Development continued on the hardware and games resulting in the final "Brown Box" prototype,[16] which had two controllers, a light gun and sixteen switches on the console that selected the game to be played. Baer approached various U.S. Television manufacturers and an agreement was eventually signed with Magnavox in late 1969. Magnavox's main alterations to the Brown Box were to use plug-in circuits to change the games, and to remove the color graphics capabilities in favor of color overlays in order to reduce manufacturing costs. It was released in 1972 as the Magnavox Odyssey.[16][18]

This was also the first involvement of Nintendo in video games. According to Martin Picard in the International Journal of Computer Game Research: "in 1971, Nintendo had -- even before the marketing of the first home console in the United States -- an alliance with the American pioneer Magnavox to develop and produce optoelectronic guns for the Odyssey, since it was similar to what Nintendo was able to offer in the Japanese toy market in 1970s".[19]

In 1970, Nolan Bushnell saw the game Spacewar! for the first time at the University of Utah which was developed by a group of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1962 on a DEC PDP-1.[20] Deciding there was commercial potential in an arcade version, he hand-wired a custom computer capable of playing it on a black and white television but the resulting game, Computer Space, did not fare well commercially.[21] In early 1972 he saw a demonstration of the Magnavox Odyssey, and hired Al Alcorn to produce an arcade version of the Odyssey's ping-pong game using Transistor-transistor logic, called Pong.[1] which inspired the Atari Home Pong in 1975.

Home video game consoles[edit]

There were 684 home video game consoles known to have been released in the first generation of video games. This article lists the most popular.

Odyssey Series[edit]

In 1972 Magnavox released the worlds first home video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey.[12] It was released into a market that hadn't even heard of the term "video game" and was marketed as "the new electronic game of the future" and "closed-circuit electronic playground".[22] It had many features that became industry standard in subsequent generations such as detachable controllers, an alternative controller (light gun) and interchangeable game cartridges. The Odyssey wasn't considered a commercial success although other companies with similar products had to pay a licensing fee for some time. For a time it was Sanders' most profitable line, even though many in the company had not been supportive of game development.[citation needed]

In 1974 Philips purchased Magnavox and released a series of eight US Odyssey consoles from 1975-1977.[12] These consoles differed from the original Odyssey in that they were dedicated consoles. Each subsequent release was an improvement over the previous, adding features such as additional game variations, on-screen displays and player controlled handicaps. Three Odyssey series consoles were also released in Europe with similar features from 1976-1978.[12]

TV Tennis Electrotennis[edit]

On September 12, 1975, Epoch released Japan's first console, the TV Tennis Electrotennis, a home version of Pong, several months before the release of Home Pong in North America. A unique feature of the console was that it was wireless, functioning through a UHF antenna.[19]

Atari Home Pong[edit]

In November 1975 Atari released a home version of their popular arcade game Pong.[23] It was the first use of a microchip in an Atari product and was in development for two years under the lead of Allan Alcorn and Harold Lee.[9] By Christmas of 1975 Atari had become a major company in the home console market due to Home Pong.[1] Following Pong's success, Magnavox filed suit against Atari for infringement on its table tennis game for the Odyssey and ended up settling out of court with Atari becoming a licensee of Magnavox.[24]

Home video games achieved widespread popularity with the release of a home version of Pong and its success sparked hundreds of clones, including the Coleco Telstar, which went on to be a success in its own right with over a dozen models, and the Binatone TV Master by British company Binatone.

Coleco Telstar Series[edit]

Starting in 1976, Coleco released a series of 14 dedicated consoles up until 1978[9] where they suffered the effects of the 1977 crash and the start of the second generation causing near bankruptcy. The series featured a number of different styles of ball games and external accessories to enhance gameplay..The Telstar Arcade featured a unique triangular design that came with a light gun and steering wheel attached to the casing.[citation needed] The series was marketed at lower price than the competition and sold very well with over a million sales.[25]

Color TV-Game Series[edit]

The Color TV-Game series of five consoles were released towards the end of the decade in Japan and were the first consoles to be released by Nintendo.[26] The first, the Color TV-Game 6 was released in 1977[19] and the last, the Computer TV-Game, was released in 1980. The third console in the series, the Color TV-Game Racing 112 was the first project of Shigeru Miyamoto who went onto to become the creator of some of the best video games and franchises of all time.[citation needed] Despite only releasing in a single region, the series had the highest sales figures out of all the consoles in the first generation totalling around 3 million units sold.[27]

BSS 01[edit]

The BSS 01 is a home video game console that was marketed from 1980 to 1984 by the VEB Halbleiterwerk Frankfurt (Oder) only in East Germany for 500, 550 or 620 East German marks. The BSS 01 sold about 1,000 times.[citation needed]


Name Magnavox Odyssey Odyssey series*
(11 consoles)
TV Tennis Electrotennis Home Pong
Manufacturer Magnavox Magnavox, Philips Epoch Co. Atari, Sears Tele-Games
Image Magnavox-Odyssey-Console-Set.png Odyssey-300.png TV Tennis Electrotennis.jpg TeleGames-Atari-Pong.png
Launch price US$100 (equivalent to $599 in 2019) US$100–230 (equivalent to $466–1071 in 2019) ¥20,000[19] (equivalent to $352 in 2019) US$98.95 (equivalent to $461 in 2019)
Release date
  • NA: 1975—1978
  • NA: December 1975
Media Printed circuit board Various Inbuilt chip Inbuilt chip
Accessories (retail) Shooting Gallery None Wireless connection to a TV through an UHF antenna[19] None
Sales 350,000[28] Unknown 10,000[29] 150,000[30][31]

* = Does not include the separately-listed Magnavox Odyssey and the second-generation Magnavox Odyssey 2.

Name Binatone TV Master Coleco Telstar series
(14 models)
Color TV-Game series
(5 consoles)
Manufacturer Binatone Coleco Nintendo
Image Binatone TV Master Mk IV.jpg Coleco-Telstar-Colortron.jpg Nintendo-Color-TV-Game-Blockbreaker-FL.png
Launch price £35 (equivalent to £247, or $362, in 2019) US$50 (equivalent to $220 in 2019) ¥8300–48,000 (equivalent to $124–714 in 2019)[4]
Release date
  • NA: 1976—1978
Media Inbuilt chip Inbuilt chip (most models)
Cartridge (Telstar Arcade, 1977)
Inbuilt chip
Accessories (retail) Paddles and light gun Controller styles None
Sales Unknown 1 million[32] 3 million[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Barton, Matt; Loguidice, Bill (January 9, 2009). "The History Of Pong: Avoid Missing Game to Start Industry". Gamasutra. Archived from the original on January 19, 2019. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
  2. ^ Fulton, Steve (November 6, 2007). "The History of Atari: 1971-1977". Gamasutra. Archived from the original on September 12, 2018. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
  3. ^ Sfetcu, Nicolae (May 4, 2014). Game Preview. Nicolae Sfetcu. Archived from the original on February 27, 2019. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
  4. ^ a b "History of Consoles: Nintendo's Color TV Game Consoles (1977-1979) | Gamester 81". Archived from the original on March 20, 2018. Retrieved February 5, 2017.
  5. ^ a b DeMaria, Rusel; Wilson, Johnny L. (2003). High Score!: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games (2 ed.). McGraw-Hill. pp. 363, 378. ISBN 978-0-07-223172-4.
  6. ^ Wolf, Mark J.P. (2008). The Video Game Explosion. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. Page xviii. ISBN 0-313-33868-X. ISBN 9780313338687. Archived from the original on February 17, 2017. Retrieved October 1, 2016.
  7. ^ Hile, Kevin (October 26, 2009). Video Games. Greenhaven Publishing LLC. ISBN 9781420503067. Archived from the original on February 27, 2019. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
  8. ^ Wolf, Mark J. P. (June 15, 2012). Before the Crash: Early Video Game History. Wayne State University Press. p. 56. ISBN 9780814337226. Archived from the original on February 27, 2019. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
  9. ^ a b c Dillon, Roberto (April 19, 2016). The Golden Age of Video Games: The Birth of a Multibillion Dollar Industry. CRC Press. p. 21. ISBN 9781439873243. Archived from the original on March 2, 2019. Retrieved March 1, 2019.
  10. ^ Wall, David; Griffith, Arthur (1999). Graphics Programming with JFC. Wiley. ISBN 9780471283072. Archived from the original on February 27, 2019. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
  11. ^ Loguidice, Bill; Barton, Matt (February 24, 2014). Vintage Game Consoles: An Inside Look at Apple, Atari, Commodore, Nintendo, and the Greatest Gaming Platforms of All Time. CRC Press. ISBN 9781135006501.
  12. ^ a b c d Wolf, Mark J. P. (2008). The Video Game Explosion: A History from PONG to Playstation and Beyond. ABC-CLIO. p. 55. ISBN 9780313338687. Archived from the original on March 2, 2019. Retrieved March 1, 2019.
  13. ^ Fleming, Dan (1996). Powerplay. Manchester University Press ND. p. 180. ISBN 978-0-7190-4717-6. Archived from the original on May 11, 2019. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
  14. ^ Griffiths, Devin (2013). Virtual Ascendance: Video Games and the Remaking of Reality. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. pp. 14–15.
  15. ^ Baer, Ralph H. (April 26, 2005). Videogames: in the beginning. Rolenta Press. ISBN 9780964384811. Archived from the original on March 6, 2019. Retrieved March 3, 2019.
  16. ^ a b c Moore, Michael E.; Novak, Jeannie (2010). Game Industry Career Guide. Delmar: Cengage Learning. p. 7. ISBN 1-4283-7647-X. In 1966, Ralph H. Baer .. pitched an idea .. to create interactive games to be played on the television. Over the next two years, his team developed the first video game system—and in 1968, they demonstrated the "Brown Box," a device on which several games could be played and that used a light gun to shoot targets on the screen. After several more years of development, the system was licensed by Magnavox in 1970 and the first game console system, the Odyssey, was released in 1972 at the then high price of $100.
  17. ^ Swalwell, Melanie; Wilson, Jason (May 12, 2015). The Pleasures of Computer Gaming: Essays on Cultural History, Theory and Aesthetics. McFarland. p. 107. ISBN 9780786451203.
  18. ^ Willaert, Kate (January 10, 2018). "In Search of the First Video Game Commercial". Video Game History Foundation. Archived from the original on January 12, 2018. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  19. ^ a b c d e f Martin Picard, The Foundation of Geemu: A Brief History of Early Japanese video games Archived June 24, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, International Journal of Computer Game Research, 2013
  20. ^ Moschovitis, Christos J. P.; Poole (Christos), Hilary and Moshovitis (2005). The Internet: A Historical Encyclopedia. Chronology. Volume 3. ABC-CLIO. p. 27. ISBN 9781851096596. Archived from the original on March 6, 2019. Retrieved March 3, 2019.
  21. ^ Kowert, Rachel; Quandt, Thorsten (August 27, 2015). The Video Game Debate: Unravelling the Physical, Social, and Psychological Effects of Video Games. Routledge. p. 5. ISBN 9781317567172. Archived from the original on March 6, 2019. Retrieved March 3, 2019.
  22. ^ Magnavox (December 20, 2012), 1972 Magnavox Odyssey promotional film, archived from the original on February 14, 2019, retrieved March 1, 2019
  23. ^ Kent, Steven (2001). "Could You Repeat That Two More Times?". Ultimate History of Video Games. Three Rivers Press. pp. 80–83. ISBN 0-7615-3643-4.
  24. ^ "Magnavox Sues Firms Making Video Games, Charges Infringement". The Wall Street Journal. April 17, 1974.
  25. ^ Herman, Leonard (1997). Phoenix: the fall & rise of videogames (2nd ed.). Union, NJ: Rolenta Press. p. 20. ISBN 0-9643848-2-5. Archived from the original on December 31, 2013. Retrieved February 16, 2012. Like Pong, Telstar could only play video tennis but it retailed at an inexpensive $50 that made it attractive to most families that were on a budget. Coleco managed to sell over a million units that year.
  26. ^ Firestone, Mary (January 1, 2011). Nintendo: The Company and Its Founders. ABDO Publishing Company. p. 38. ISBN 9781617840951. Archived from the original on March 2, 2019. Retrieved March 1, 2019.
  27. ^ a b Sheff, David; Eddy, Andy (1999), Game Over: How Nintendo Conquered the World, GamePress, p. 27, ISBN 978-0-9669617-0-6, Nintendo entered the home market in Japan with the dramatic unveiling of Color TV Game 6, which played six versions of light tennis. It was followed by a more powerful sequel, Color TV Game 15. A million units of each were sold. The engineering team also came up with systems that played a more complex game, called "Blockbuster," as well as a racing game. Half a million units of these were sold.
  28. ^ Wolf, Mark J. P. (June 15, 2012). Before the Crash: Early Video Game History. Wayne State University Press. p. 58. ISBN 9780814337226.
  29. ^ toarcade (September 12, 2015). "Japan's 1st Video Game Console was released 40 Years ago!". Toarcade. Archived from the original on January 31, 2017. Retrieved January 18, 2017.
  30. ^ Ellis, David (2004). "Dedicated Consoles". Official Price Guide to Classic Video Games. Random House. pp. 33–36. ISBN 0-375-72038-3.
  31. ^ Kent, Steven (2001). "Strange Bedfellows". Ultimate History of Video Games. Three Rivers Press. pp. 94–95. ISBN 0-7615-3643-4.
  32. ^ Herman, Leonard (1997). Phoenix: the fall & rise of videogames (2nd ed.). Union, NJ: Rolenta Press. p. 20. ISBN 0-9643848-2-5. Archived from the original on October 25, 2013. Retrieved February 16, 2012. Like Pong, Telstar could only play video tennis but it retailed at an inexpensive $50 that made it attractive to most families that were on a budget. Coleco managed to sell over a million units that year.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]