Ted Dabney, theman who helped create Pong and co-founded Atari, has died aged 81.
The news was announced by Dabney’s friend Leonard Herman, author of Phoenix, one of the leading histories of the video game industry.
Dabney had worked at several tech companies including tape manufacturer Ampex where he met colleague Nolan Bushnell. Bushnell had previously seen Spacewar!, the first computer game that could be installed on multiple machines and that was recently inducted to the Video Game Hall of Fame.
The pair worked on a similar title, Computer Space, as a dedicated machine that could be plugged into a computer, with the idea of marketing it to bars as a coin-operated attraction. Although it didn’t take off, the pair started their own company called Syzygy, and created a tennis-like game named Pong (though they later had to pay a licensing fee to Magnavox which had used a similar idea.)
The pair then tried to incorporate Syzygy but the name was already taken. They settled instead on Atari, taken from a term in board game Go indicating that a piece is in imminent danger of being captured. Bushnell later described the pair’s division of work as him primarily looking after the digital side and Dabney working on the analog (physical) side.
Dabney left the company in 1973, selling his interest to Bushnell for $250,000, later claiming he’d effectively been forced to do so. While Pong was originally an arcade cabinet, in 1975 Bushnell’s Atari released it as a standalone home game to plug into a TV.
In 1977 that led to the Atari 2600, the first widely successful home games console that allowed for new games to be played via a cartridge. To help fund the mass-marketing of the console, Bushnell had sold Atari to Warner Communications for $28 million.
Dabney went on to work at engineering companies before running a grocery store with his wife.