The Night Thread sets out on a Magnavox Odyssey

This September marks a notable anniversary for the Video Game Industry — the 50th Birthday of the original home gaming console. The Magnavox Odyssey was released in North America in September 1972, billed as “the electronic game of the future.” Its lead designer was Ralph Baer, who began the project’s development with a series of prototypes starting in 1966.

Of course, The Odyssey’s capabilities were limited, having to make do with moving white dots and lines. It was packaged with screen overlays and other physical items necessary to flesh out its “library” of games. But no overlay was required for its most notable game, Table Tennis, which bears an obvious resemblance to Atari’s smash hit Pong of the same release year. It’s rumored Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell saw an early demonstration of the Odyssey before he tasked Designer Allan Alcorn with creating a ping pong style game.

The Odyssey sold around 350,000 units before its discontinuation in 1975, having been released at an initial sale price of $100 (adjusted for inflation, the same price as some PS5’s on Ebay), and sold exclusively by Magnavox dealers. While the console was not a grand success, it would have a line of successors, and Magnavox got to make lots of money suing competitors thanks to Baer’s early video game patents. (Nintendo tried and failed to invalidate said patents in advance of the NES’s 1985 North American debut).