Celebrating the Man Who Invented


Published: Tuesday, 05 July 2022

Published: Tuesday, 05 July 2022

If video games were ever a part of your life, you have Ralph H. Baer to thank. Baer, an engineer by profession, was passionate about transforming TV sets into electronic fantasy lands. He invented and patented the first video game system.


Today, the average gamer spends eight hours a week feeding into a multi-billion dollar business that has reached around 70% of North American households. Even Baer could not have foreseen the colossus that his ingenuity and engineering prowess would unleash.


Level 1: Early Life

Born in Germany on March 8, 1922, Ralph Baer grew up in a hostile environment in dangerous times. Luckily, he was able to immigrate to the US with his family in 1938, where he had the freedom to choose his future. Baer gained a wide array of experience and knowledge by working in several technical capacities in the United States—initially as a factory worker, radio service technician, and intelligence expert on small arms in the US army, and later as an engineer for various technological research and development firms.


Level 2: The Genesis of Television Video Gaming 

Fast forward to a sultry summer day in 1966, Baer is sitting on a step outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan when a vision grips him—a vision that has been on his mind for quite some time now.

He picks up his writing pad and starts scribbling. By the next morning, he has a four-page memo ready to be showcased to his seniors at Sanders Associates, his employer. This four-page outline consists of the recipe to the success of video games as we know them today—a “game box” that would allow people to play board, action, and sports games on almost any television set.

His boss, intrigued by the idea, gave him funding and materials for research, and assigned a two-man team to work alongside him. The three men worked through prototypes and finally, in 1971, Sanders Associates and Ralph Baer filed for the first video game patent: the claim to a legal monopoly for any domestic television capable of producing and controlling dots on a screen.


This system was later licensed to Magnavox, a home electronics company that sold the official product as the first home video game console, called Odyssey. The product was a huge commercial success, selling over 130,000 units in the first year.


Often called the first home computing system, Odyssey had no software. The hardware consisted of 40 transistors and 40 diodes running everything.

The game itself consisted of a master unit with gear, including two-player controls, a set of electronic program cards (one for each game), and plastic overlays to supply colour.


The game was replicated by big names like Atari and Nintendo, with Atari launching the first arcade video game called “Pong.” While Pong was more popular with consumers and in many ways a better version of Odyssey, it was seen as an infringement of a patented product.


Atari settled the case by paying a hefty fee to become Odyssey’s second licensee. Over the years, Magnavox sued many more companies and won millions of dollars in the process.


Level 3: Side Quests

What started as a simple “Brown Box," a simple interactive square on a black-and-white screen that allowed you to believe you were volleying in tennis, eventually ended up inspiring products like the PlayStation, Xbox, Wii, and more.


In 1978, Ralph H. Baer, alongside game designer Howard J. Morrison, invented his most popular game—Simon—which went on to become a pop culture phenomenon that is still widely played to this day.


Over the years, Baer garnered more than 150 US and foreign patents to his name, with contributions ranging from talking doormats and greeting cards to submarine tracking systems. In 2006, he was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation by President George W. Bush and inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2010.


Ralph H. Baer is an iconic symbol of motivation for the technology inventors and game designers of today, and his collection of early game hardware can be found in museums across the world, including the Smithsonian Institution.


If Ralph H. Baer’s story inspired you to level up your knowledge of the gaming industry, or if you are a gaming enthusiast looking to get employed in the field, check out VCAD’s Game Development and Design program.

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