Reviews, Demos, and Facts about Vintage Games, and Computers
The Magnavox Odyssey is the first commercial home video game console. It was developed by a small team led by Ralph H. Baer at Sanders Associates and released by Magnavox in the United States in September 1972 and overseas the following year. The Odyssey consists of a white, black, and brown box which connects to a television set and two rectangular controllers attached by wires. It is capable of displaying three square dots on the screen in monochrome black and white, with differing behavior for the dots depending on the game played, and with no sound capabilities. Players place plastic overlays on the screen to create visuals, and the one or two players for each game control their dots with the three knobs and one button on the controller in accordance with the rules given for the game. The Odyssey console came packaged with dice, paper money, and other board game paraphernalia to go along with the games, and a peripheral controller—the first video game light gun—was sold separately.
The idea for a video game console was thought up by Baer in August 1966, and over the next three years he, along with Bill Harrison and Bill Rusch, created seven successive prototype consoles. The seventh, known as the Brown Box, was shown to several manufacturers before Magnavox agreed to produce it in January 1971. After releasing the console in September 1972 through their dealerships, Magnavox sold between 69,000 and 100,000 units by the end of the year, and 350,000 by the time the console was discontinued in 1975. The console spawned the Magnavox Odyssey series of dedicated consoles, as well as the 1978 Magnavox Odyssey². One of the 28 games made for the system, a ping pong game, was an inspiration for Atari’s successful Pong arcade game, in turn driving sales of the console. Baer’s patents for the system and the games, including what was termed by a judge as “the pioneering patent of the video game art”, formed the basis of a series of lawsuits over 20 years, earning Sanders and Magnavox over US$100 million. The release of the Odyssey marked the end of the early history of video games, and the rise of the commercial video game industry along with the start of the first generation of video game consoles.