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Nolan Bushnell graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Utah. It was there he played Spacewar!, one of the earliest known computer games that could only be played on a mainframe computer, something only a university could afford. It was the combination of this and his work at a nearby amusement park that sparked his interest in coin-operated arcade games. With his colleague Ted Dabney, he created a Spacewar! clone called Computer Space. Unfortunately, it was a commercial failure but it led Bushnell and Dabney to form Atari. Inc in 1972.
Atari hired its first employee in engineer Allan Alcorn, a cornerstone of the company moving forward. Dabney, citing worries over the the volatile video game market, was later bought out by Bushnell. He then directed Alcorn to create a coin-op version of the Magnavox tennis game as a test project. The test project would eventually evolve into Pong, which went on to become a huge boon for Atari.
Bushnell refused to rest on the laurels of Pong and entered the consumer electronics market with the idea to bring Pong to the American household. The unit was released in 1975 in an exclusive marketing and distribution agreement with Sears and was met rousing success. Again, Bushnell set out to innovate with the Atari Video Computer System, later renamed the Atari 2600, but he needed the capital fund the project and launch the new home console. He sold Atari to Warner Communications for $28 million. However, in a dispute over the direction of Atari, Bushnell was forced out and Atari was split up and sold off.
Despite the bitter departure from Atari, Bushnell is considered one of the founding fathers of the video game industry, having invented and innovated the very first video games, providing the foundation for the games we know today. Oh, and he created Chuck E. Cheese's, too!
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