So sales were doing their job, which was to get a buyer to
sell this new product, meanwhile back in the engineering labs at Atari, the
product development continued. Harold Lee now had a working design, but
would now need more help. He would call on an old friend some Standard
Microsystems named Bob Brown. Bob would now take the new chip design and
run in through testing to make sure the I/O lines all worked and were within
spec by design exercise equipment and tests for this new custom IC.
Several road bumps would hit Atari along the way to
producing their first consumer product. Sears was not officially onboard,
signing the contract to purchase Atari's new product under a new Sears brand
called "Telegames." However before the pen's hit the contracts
negotiations would be rather interesting between the two parties. Sears wanted
an exclusive, only they could sell this new product, no one else. Nolan
and Co. didn't want to be cornered into this proposition and close the doors for
potential bigger sales if this product did well. So they countered... Atari
would give Sears Christmas 1975 sales exclusively, but Atari would want a few
things, one being that Atari's name had to be on the product. This was unheard
of by Sears on its own branded products, it never had a manufacturer name on
their brands. However Sears finally agreed and Atari's name would appear on the
Power Button on the Sears Telegames Pong consoles. Sears then had something to
shock Atari... they wanted 75,000 units for its first order instead of Atari's
offering of 50,000 units. Could they actually build that many to deliver to
Sears in time??? Atari's final really big problem... Money. No bank would
give Atari the needed financing to actually produce the product. Sears however
still owned its own bank in Chicago, a walk down the street and Atari now had
the financing needed. Now Atari just needed to actually build the thing.
So the next order on the agenda back in Sunnyvale...
getting the packaging done. Sears agreed to help Atari with its extensive
experience in consumer manufacturing and would help Atari get its new Consumer
assembly building up to speed for the task and Sears would also help get Atari's
submissions to the FCC to go through more smoothly by assisting Al Alcorn with
the submission process. The actual case for Home Pong however, that would
be entirely Atari's task to handle.
Al Alcorn felt that the hard work was behind them, the
chip was the hard part, plastics... that should be the easy part. That turned
out to be just the opposite. Atari hired a designer down in Los Angeles to
do the mold for the new Atari Home Pong. A competitor wanting Atari's business
wanted to fly Al Alcorn down to LA for a surprise visit as he knew that Atari
was being taken for a ride on the mold. When Al arrived, he found a garage with
a press and a lathe and no mold base completed, this would be a disaster in the
making. The new mold designer took what had been done and his lead
engineer, after numerous verbal complaints about the whole mold base not being
done right and having major amounts of corrective work, got the mold completed
and done... Atari could now stamp out plastics, another catastrophy
Once the first batches of chips starting to
roll off the fabrication line, it was time for FCC approval of the device to
pave the way for production. Sears would be instrumental to Atari in getting all
of the needed materials put together for the submission to the FCC for the Sears
version of Home Pong which would be manufactured and released first.
Home Pong was nearing reality as 4 chip fabricator firms were
hired to run off chips, Intel had been approached as well, but it was very busy
working on its new 8085 chip, no time for small potato firms like Atari...
Harold Lee had moved on from being involved in Home Pong chip design to now
working on Super Pong, but he was still getting engineering reports, it seems
that the fabricators were having problems with the new Home Pong chips, the
input lines were encounter leaky voltages and this was causing the paddles to
"jitter." The issue was soon ironed out and time was ticking...
shipments need to be made and made soon, the Christmas sales season was fast
approaching. Everything would come together and in the end Atari would
meet Sear's order of 75,000 Home Pong consoles. So impressed with sales,
Sears would order another 75,000 units right after New Years. Atari would
then begin to sell its own Atari Home Pong branded consoles and manufacturer
50,000 of those. Atari's new entry into the Consumer video market was now
combination of the Sears retail channel with its Print and TV advertising, Atari's name and well known "PONG"
label all came together to form a sales explosion of Home Pong. These
overshadow the Magnavox "Odyssey" console line in popularity seeing
the Atari Home Pong units sell 200,000 units in the first year alone. The "Odyssey" was
the first home video game console, yet poor marketing and sales pitches by sales persons
trying to give buyers the impression that the Odyssey would only work on
a Magnavox TV set to try and increase TV sales hindered its sales, yet
it still sold a respectable 320,000 units over its sales life. Atari's
Home Pong had full color graphics, score counter and excellent sound
effects, giving it a better advantage over the string of Magnavox "Odyssey"
series of consoles that followed.
To learn more about the History of
the Magnavox Odyssey and its creator Ralph Baer, please visit
The Pong Story website.
The Atari-Sears relationship would only grow
stronger over the years to follow with Atari manufacturing its other
Consumer products in Sears Telegames branding for many years to come.
Despite this strong new relationship, and profits for Sears, apparently
breaking company protocol as Tom Quinn had done -- by allowing an
outside firm to sell into a Sears department was not something that a
positive relationship or profits could ignore. Tom Quinn would be
fired for his "maverick" style and thinking...