Ralph Baer, the inventor and patent-holder of the first video game, has died aged 92. Baer, by popular acclaim described as the “father” of the video games industry, patented his prototype in 1972 and the idea was eventually marketed in 1971 as the Magnavox Odyssey – but at $100 for the unit. Magnavox subsequently sued Atari for patent infringement, but Atari went on to enjoy commercial and critical success with its version, a breakthrough game called ‘Pong’.
Baer qualified as a radio technician in 1940 and worked during World War 2 in military intelligence for the USA based in the UK. In 1966, he wrote a four-page paper outlining how shapes, bars, dots and rectangles could be used within video-based games that could be plugged into a TV set. He created what he called his ‘brown box’ and which contained 12 different games including table tennis. Baer’s invention, and patents, made his backers an estimated $100 million in sales and patent licensing fees.
His ‘brown box’ is on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. Baer held more than 150 patents in his own name.
In 2006, he was awarded the USA’s National Medal of Technology by President George W Bush, and the IEEE Edison Medal earlier in 2014. Steve Wozniak, Apple’s co-founder, said: “I can never thank Ralph enough for what he gave to me and everyone else.” He died on December 6.