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The Magnavox Odyssey: The first video game system that was available for the consumer market

David Goran

When most people think about the first video game, they think of Pong – the ping-pong arcade game released in 1972 by Atari.

However, months earlier, Ralph H. Baer, known as “the father of video games,“ led a small team at Sanders Associates and they together developed The Magnavox Odyssey, which was released by Magnavox in the United States in September 1972 and overseas the following year.

In 1951, when he worked with designing and building television sets at Loral Electronics, Baer first thought of the idea of building an “interactive game” displayed on a TV, but no one at Loral showed any interest.

The Magnavox Odyssey, the very first video game console, released in 1972. Source

The Magnavox Odyssey, the very first video game console, released in 1972. Source

After almost 15 years Baer started to design prototypes, together with Bill Harrison they started building the project. By May 1967, the first game was developed – a two-player game where the players repeatedly press a button in competition to fill or empty a bucket of water.

And by June, multiple games were completed for what was then a second prototype box – games where players controlled dots chasing each other and a light gun shooter game with a plastic rifle.

Patent drawing for the Magnavox Odyssey. Source

Patent drawing for the Magnavox Odyssey. Source

Baer and Bill build about three or four different prototype boxes and in November 1967 they put the ‘Brown Box’ prototype and with this prototype they released the Magnavox Odyssey.

Prototype version of the Magnavox Odyssey, dubbed the Brown Box at the time. Source

A prototype version of the Magnavox Odyssey dubbed the “Brown Box“ at the time. Source

The Odyssey was packed in a large two-level styrofoam box and inside there were board game accessories like dice and play money, as well as game cards. The accessories were possibly included to make the Odyssey more like the physical games that existed at the time.

The Magnavox Odyssey at the 2010 Festival du Jeu Vidéo. Source

The Magnavox Odyssey at the 2010 Festival du Jeu Vidéo. Source

The lower level contained the system , the two hand controls, the RF cable, the switch box in its own black Magnavox box. Magnavox named the console first as the Skill-O-Vision while testing, and then released it as the Odyssey. The Odyssey was released by Magnavox in September 1972.

After initially ordering a production run of 50, 000 units, prior to release Magnavox increased its production capabilities and build up a large stock of the systems, as market testing had shown an enthusiastic response to the console.

The Magnavox Odyssey in the Computer History Museum. Source

The Magnavox Odyssey in the Computer History Museum. Source

The Odyssey was sold only trough Magnavox dealers and not trough general retailers; Magnavox felt that as the first video game console it would draw consumers into its stores. Odyssey originally sold in the USA only,but was later exported in small amounts to several countries, and has even been cloned. Magnavox Odyssey made its mark by starting the video game console industry.