Monday, August 30, 2010

History of Personal Computers and Home Gaming Consoles How it Should Have Been (Or Not)

Crucial wrong decisions and doodling over how some things could have been or should have been.
While Stefan and I were lateley discussing the "Legend of Pong", we encountered some questions. Some of them were encountered because we simply had a lack of informations. Other questions and even some answers then resulted of some fooling around, which we enjoyed to carry on for a while. While we are still looking for Answers to the answerable questions, we would like to encourage your thinking with the other "findings"

The following discussion, which I will reproduce mutatis mutandis, is nothing for reality freaks and opponents of "should-haves" and "would-haves". Even if we also usually deny the latter, we just find it entertaining, to fool around a bit about it.

Before this lecture, we advise you to read our (soon to be found online) Pong overview. If you're all set: Have fun!


Yannick:
Did I get that correctly: Atari had to pay royalties to Magnavox for the Bat-and-Ball-concept, that in their company was called "Pong"... Why could they then also demand royalties for their Pong arcades? And why wasn't this set up until a year after the publishing of Pong, after which there already were about ten cloned devices on the market? That Atari was demanding royalties would be proven by this quote: "Universal Research Labs (URL) entered the video game market in 1973 when they were contracted by Allied Leisure to manufacture the circuit boards of their Paddle Battle game (an Atari PONG version licensed to Allied)." (found on www.Pong-Story.com).

Another thing I just realized is, that Atari wasn't even the first company (after Magnavox with its Odyssey) that brought the Bat-and-Ball concept home. In Great Britain, there existed already in 1974 a system, which displayed the Bat-and-Ball concept on screen… I thus ask myself when Atari came to Magnavox attention and was sued, which led to royalties having to be paid by all copiers… Was that still in the time of Pong arcades?

Stefan:
Yes, what can be said already is, that Magnavox kept al rights to this concept.

Yannick:
But the companies that explicitly wanted to build Pong arcade machines had to go to Atari, or so it seems… Was Magnavox also an instance to be checked by them after that? Why were the latter actually not as successful, if they could take in royalty money from all reproducers of the concept? They must have had a lot of money. Think about it: at the end of the 70s, there were the PC-50x cartridges. To whom did GI pay royalties? There must have been millions of chips made… Did the money just go to the host company Philips? Why does Philips then go on to build a system like the G7000 or Odyssey2, when Atari theoretically must have had a much smaller amount of money to build the VCS, which was a lot more successful, though? Or do you think Atari was on the same level as Philips through the revenue from the arcade area? I also ask myself, why the company Philips built competitors to Magnavox devices under their own name in Europe (Tele-Spiel)… Was the Odyssey not also marketed in Europe? The question that now seems most important is, if Magnavox already belonged to Philips in those days.

Speaking about Pong as a home version: "The system had an important feature that most others didn't have in 1975: the use of a single chip that provided games with digital on-screen scoring and attractive sound. As a matter of fact, other systems were still using analog or digital circuits using discrete components. Digital on-screen scoring would have required more components in the circuits, hence an increase of the retail price. Because Atari designed a special PONG chip, the system could sell at normal price with advanced features." (found on www.Pong-Story.com: short description of Atari Pong). What do they mean by "others were still using…"? That would mean, that before Atari Pong, there must have already existed a lot of home systems. Why are we then often still told, that Atari was first? Seems to me that they were only one of many. They actually did not accomplish a lot. Magnavox had the rights and even brought their own system (Odyssey 100) to market before Atari. Was the use of an IC by Atari the essential advantage? If one looks at the following course of history, one asks himself, why Atari did not sell its Pong chip. General Instrument did that a few years later with their chip and made millions. If Atari had made the money instead, they would maybe not have been bought by Warner… And Bushnell would not have been fired… And Atari would not be bankrupt today. It would have maybe even ended with Atari accepting Steve Jobs' offer to buy a part of Apple. Then Atari would today be THE company and Microsoft would probably not be as huge as it is today… To sum it up: Pong was the crucial point.

***

Stefan:
How about "The Article About the History of Computers and Consoles, how it should have been"?

Yannick:
Great idea! It would end with Xerox competing against Atari/Apple…

Stefan:
What do you mean by competing? Atari would demolish Xerox!

Yannick:
Well, no, I do not think so. Xerox had a computer on the technological level of an Apple Macintosh of 1984 in 1972. That's 12 years before. The Mac just won over all other computers, because Apple copied Xerox. Microsoft later copied Apple. I think those are the crucial points in history. If something had gone another way back then, everything would be different today.

Stefan:
…Or there is the possibility that Xerox sues Atari/Apple for copying their ideas.

Yannick:
That's really what they should have done instead of concentrating on the manufacture of printers.

Stefan:
Imagine Xerox then wins, Atari/Apple then has to pay millions of Dollars of royalties, based on the number of Macs sold, and is then bought by Xerox.

Yannick:
…And those will form a giant company? What about the competition? What about Microsoft?

Stefan:
Well, they were demolished by the Amiga

Yannick:
…Because the company Amiga got a few million Dollars from somewhere and was not bought by Commodore, which was actually why nearly all their good ideas were destroyed in the past, in reality.

Stefan:
…Xerox then demolishes everybody and also does not give away rights, so that only they can produce hardware.

Yannick:
What about IBM? Another variant, that would be more plausible: Atari/Apple buys Amiga, just how it almost happened in the past (purchased by Atari), if Tramiel had not been fired from Commodore and then offered a bad price with his new company Atari. Let's say, Tramiel had stayed with Commodore and someone else at Atari had made a better offer… Commodore would not have had an ongoing supply of new products/ideas and Atari/Apple would have had the Mac, the Amiga, all consoles and, because they would be led by Bushnell/Jobs, good and innovative ideas. This could result in Commodore under Tramiel being "life-long second", with the Commodore ST (superTramiel) :D… Other possibility: Atari/Apple breaks down like Commodore did in reality, because they cannot decide between PC and Mac… I mean PC and Amiga of course… No, wait, Mac and Amiga. Damn, this is getting so complex that I am losing track… There are a lot of possibilities, which all end in one of the big companies, Atari, Commodore, Apple or Xerox going either bankrupt or getting extremely rich.

Stefan:
That's right… A coexistence cannot exist in the idealized picture.

Yannick:
The important points in history were: Apple's offer to sell 1/3 of the company to Atari (led by Bushnell); Atari's chance to buy Amiga; Bushnell's chance, to push through in front of Warner and replace his VCS after only two years… Then there are those versions which just require MORE MONEY at miscellaneous places: Amiga stays independent; Atari stays independent (these two ideas would have been the case if some people hadn't had such a lack of talent when it came to leading a company ;-)); the general public has enough money to afford Xerox computers… And then we still have the wrong decisions: Xerox should have sold the Alto and should not have concentrated on printers; Atari should have sold Pong chips as early as 1975; Sega should not have kept the Mega Drive/Genesis on the market for unnecessarily long; Commodore should have had better managers, that react more to the customers' wishes (the same goes for Atari); Leaders should have recognized the potential of Bushnell and the "antipotential" of Tramiel ;-).

***

So, those were our thoughts… What do you think? Which were the most crucial points in computer and console history? What would have changed if they had happened differently? We are looking forward to comments!

Yannick G., Stefan B.

2 comments:

  1. Atari RULES!!!
    I used to play Slime World...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yeah it does! Did you have the Atari 2600 (aka Atari VCS)? I also have one of those... They are a hit at parties and stuff like that. I like Missile Command, Outlaw and Summer Games.

    ReplyDelete