IT was 50 years ago this weekend that the world’s first commercial video game was demonstrated in the US.

People (mostly biased Russians and Americans) often argue that John Logie Baird did not invent television – but the fact is that he gets the credit, because he was the first scientist to demonstrate a working television device. The Helensburgh-born inventor did so on January 16, 1926, and so gets the name Father of Television.

Following that logic, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney must be given the credit for developing the world’s first arcade video game as well as the first commercially available video game.

The game was called Computer Space, and though most people have probably never heard of it and far less played it, it was the progenitor of an industry that is today estimated to be worth $160 billion a year.

The National:


FROM October 15 to 17, 1971, at the Music Operators of America (MOA) Music and Entertainment Machines Exposition in Chicago, Bushnell and Dabney exhibited Computer Space.

Housed in a striking futuristic fibreglass cabinet, Computer Space was not actually the world’s first computer video game. That title has long been claimed by Spacewar! developed in 1962 by computing genius Steve Russell and his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

There had been earlier video games such as Ferranti’s Nimrod and during the 1950s many computing experts devised games to show off the growing capabilities of their computers, though none were commercial or for entertainment, unlike Spacewar! which really was just a game.

The trouble with Spacewar! was that it could only be played by people with leading edge computer technology which cost the equivalent of a six figure sum in today’s money. For want of a better word, it was therefore confined to the small community of computing geeks, and was certainly not commercial.


A FEW people had seen the potential of selling computer video games and indeed some computer programmers even sold a few copies of their games in the late 1960s. The genius of programmers Bushnell and Dabney was to realise the potential of video games in an arcade setting.

Arcade games were an established industry, with pinball by far the leading game. Other electro-mechanical games such as Periscope by Japanese firm Sega had become very popular, and the race was on to link computer video technology and the arcade machines.

Developers Nutting Associates sold plenty editions of their analogue arcade game Computer Quiz, but by 1970 its sales were collapsing and Nutting were looking for a new product to take them forward.

Enter: a dentist. Bushnell told his dentist about the game he and Dabney were working on and the man promptly introduced him to another patient, Dave Ralstin of Nutting. He and his team were so impressed with Bushnell that he was hired as chief engineer for the company, with Dabney following him to Nutting a few months later. Bushell and Dabney kept their own firm, Syzygy.

Their first product together was Computer Space, so called to keep the link with Computer Quiz. It was indeed the world’s first proper arcade video game.


IT did not use expensive computer technology, and had no microprocessor. Its integrated circuits allowed the gameplay on a black and white screen incorporated into the fibreglass cabinet. Coin-operated, it was easy to play with rudimentary controls and though the gameplay was also rudimentary – basically the players ‘flew’ a rocket and fired at circling flying saucers – that meant it was also easy to master.

It was an immediate hit at the MOA show, and though orders were slow to come in, Nutting eventually sold 1500 Computer Space units. Again, the problem was that while computer geeks loved it, Joe and Jane Public didn’t really “get it”.

As Bushnell once said: “Sure, I loved it, and all my friends loved it, but all my friends were engineers. It was a little too complicated for the guy with the beer in the bar.”


NUTTING made over a million dollars with the game, but Bushnell and Dabney were not happy. They went off to found a new business that would build on the principles of Computer Space.

They named that company Atari and in 1972 released arcade video game Pong to huge success. In a few short years arcade video games became playable on home computers and the whole video game industry was born.

Scotland has enjoyed huge success with games developed here like Grand Theft Auto by Rockstar.