Video Game Firsts: Computer Space - The First Coin Operated Video Game - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Video Game Firsts: Computer Space - The First Coin Operated Video Game

Grab a bag of quarters...

Computer Space, the first coin-operated video game, arrived 50 years ago in 1971. But we'll start a decade earlier than that with a game called Spacewar!

Spacewar! was the first multiplayer game known to have been produced, and is the basis of two arcade machines we're looking at here. Essentially, both units were hybrids of Spacewar! with the same basic gameplay and theme, and, as they arrived so close to one another, we felt it was worth mentioning them both - especially as, across the years, both have claimed the title of first coin operated video game.
Developed in 1962, Spacewar! was a two-player game that saw the players engage in a dogfight between two spaceships while maneuvering on a two-dimensional plane in the gravity well of a star, set against the backdrop of a starfield. Spacewar! holds several notable Video Game Firsts titles, including first multiplayer game, and as it was copied to several of the early computer installations in American academic institutions after its initial release, making it probably the first video game to be available outside a single research institute

Flashforward to 1970, Nolan Bushnell, a student at the University of Utah, joined up with Jim Stein, a Stanford University researcher, to make a game. They were both avid players of Spacewar!, which was being run in their respective university labs. Nolan had previously of worked at an amusement park and had long pondered the possibility of making an arcade version of a video game. In 1971, they joined forces with Nutting Associates, an arcade company, with their finished game, Computer Space, released for the first time for their first location test in August 1971. The first coin-operated games machine had arrived.
In September 1971, Galaxy Game was installed at Stanford University California. Created by Bill Pitts and Hugh Tuck, they were said to be unaware of Computer Space at the time, and likely were, so believed they had developed the first coin-operated video game. History has shown that they were just pipped to the post, but it didn't matter to the students at Stanford who queued ten-deep for their turn.

At 10 cents per game or 25 cents for three, Galaxy Game was a huge hit. Only one unit was built initially, costing around $20,000 ($116,466.72 today), but in June 1972 the hardware was improved to allow the processor to power four to eight consoles, and additional units were added allowing users to play against each other.

Galaxy Game continued to remain popular on campus, with wait times for players as long as an hour, until it was removed in May 1979 due to the display processor becoming unreliable. Just think how much technology had moved on in those 8 years, and yet still people queued to play it!

Back in October 1971, two months after that single test unit was installed and had proved to be a success, 1500 units of Computer Space were manufactured, making it the first commercially available coin-operated arcade machine.

The first 1000 units sold pretty quickly. Fiberglass cabinets were produced for single-player games in the colors blue metalflake, red metalflake, white, and yellow.

The two-player cabinet was only available in a slightly different green metalflake fiberglass cabinet with a wider control panel.

There had been nothing like it, and although Computer Space performed well on University campus', in bars it was not a success. For many, the gameplay was just too complicated to grasp, and sales slowed down so no further units were produced.

But Computer Space has a mighty legacy. It was made by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, the same two guys who went on to found the Atari Company in 1972 and release the arcade classic Pong.

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