“Atari Was Very, Very Hard” Nolan Bushnell on Atari, 50 Years Later

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It’s been 50 years since Nolan Bushnell co-founded Atari, which brought video games to the mainstream. To celebrate, we asked Bushnell what he learned during the early years—and what we’ve lost sight of since then.

When you hear the name “Atari,” if you’re of a certain generation, you might think back to a period in the very late 1970s and early 1980s when the Atari 2600 home video game console seemed unstoppable. But prior to Warner Communications purchasing Atari in 1976, the young company experienced four wild years of uncertainty and success while its employees relentlessly innovated a brand new class of electronic entertainment.

The guiding creative force at Atari during that time was Nolan Bushnell, who co-founded the company with Ted Dabney on June 27, 1972 in Sunnyvale, CA. Bushnell and Dabney had already worked together on the world’s first arcade video game, Computer Space, at Nutting Associates, and they were ready to take the business more fully into their own hands. They soon had a monster hit with the arcade game Pong in late 1972, which spawned copycats that spread video games all over the world. But Atari still faced an uphill fight as big names jumped into the market.

With that in mind—and the 50th anniversary of Atari at hand—we thought it would be fun to talk about lessons from Bushnell’s early years at the pioneering company. Bushnell spoke over the telephone, and his answers have been edited for formatting.
 
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