On this day in economic and business history…
The era of video games began rather quietly one day in August of 1972, when the first Magnavox Odyssey consoles began to show up in Magnavox stores across the United States. These primitive systems, which sold for $99 each (equal to about $550 today), soon became a hit with fun-seeking consumers. By the end of the year more than 130,000 systems had been sold — a number that might have been higher had Magnavox not deceptively promoted the systems as compatible only with Magnavox televisions. The Video Game Console Library offers some interesting detail on the technology behind the Odyssey:
The Odyssey has no real specs. It contained no processor or memory. The box was made up of transistors, resistors and capacitors. Odyssey used cards that contained pin outs to change game settings. Plastic overlays that could be placed over the TV screen created graphics and color, but the actual display consisted of white squares (paddle and ball) on an all-black background. The Odyssey originally came with six game cards and a 36-page user manual for the 12 additional games offered for the system.
Imagine that — you had to put plastic sheets on your TV screen just to have a background! Despite these limitations, the Odyssey continued to sell respectably well. By the end of its initial production run in 1975, Magnavox had sold about 330,000 Odyssey systems.
The video game era was only getting started, though. Shortly before Magnavox released its Odyssey to the public, the company distributed a few units for demonstrations. It was in May of 1972 that Nolan Bushnell happened across one of these demonstrations in Burlingame, Calif.
That chance occurrence led to the creation of Atari a month later — and to the first lawsuit in video game history, which Magnavox filed against Atari and its partners in 1974 after discovering similarities between its patented table-tennis Odyssey game and Atari’s Pong, which had become the video game industry’s first true hit. Atari avoided legal damages by signing a licensing agreement, but Magnavox would sue many other early video game developers over table-tennis game infringements. Between awards and patent-licensing fees, Magnavox eventually earned nearly $100 million from the table-tennis game — much more than it ever made from sales of the original Odyssey.
More fun than you can fit in a ten-gallon hat
The first Six Flags Entertainment Corp (NYSE:SIX) amusement park opened its gates to a few lucky Texans in Arlington (west of Dallas) on Aug. 1, 1961. The park had been built at a breakneck pace under the guidance of oilman and real-estate investor Angus Wynne, Jr. It cost $10 million and took up a 212-acre tract, and it was initially planned to only be a temporary development before the land could be converted into an industrial park. However, things didn’t quite work out that way, and Six Flags Over Texas not only became the genesis of the Six Flags Entertainment Corp (NYSE:SIX) franchise but also helped develop the very concept of a modern amusement park.
Six Flags Entertainment Corp (NYSE:SIX)’s $2.75 admission price ($2.25 for children) was all-inclusive, allowing access to any ride in the park. Until this was first tried in Arlington, amusement parks had charged on an a la carte basis, with separate admissions fees for each ride. The park also introduced log flumes, mine train rides, loop-the-loop coasters, and river rapid rides to the amusement-park lexicon. Its six historically and ethnically themed areas, represented by the six sovereign flags that had at various times flown in the state, also provided a unifying concept for the park, and the idea of themed areas also caught on in the industry. Within a year and a half, Wynne made back his personal investment in the park and decided to keep it around for the long term. Six Flags Over Texas attracted more than 17 million visitors in its first decade of operation and established itself as the state’s top for-profit attraction.