Today’s post is about Video Action, a line of consumer/arcade video games made by URL
from 1974-76. Normally this blog covers arcade games and does not veer into
consumer (part of the reason I started the blog was because there are already
so many sites, blogs, and books dedicated to home games). Occasionally,
however, the two overlap, primarily when a coin-op company also makes consumer
games, as was the case here.
Not only was Video
Action made by a coin-op company but it was one of the earliest, if not THE
earliest consumer video games to hit the US market after the Odyssey (though consumer Pong games had
appeared on the European market earlier).
I actually thought I’d already posted on this, but I
couldn’t find the post, so sorry if this is a repeat.
Usually, the go-to
source for consumer Pong games is David Winter’s excellent Pong Story website.
With Video Action, however, the Pong Story’s story seems a bit muddled. Let’s look at what the site has to say about
Here’s what is says about Video Action and Video Action
“They [URL] also produced their first Video Action arcade
game, model VA-I, housed into an octagonal table. A few thousands were
produced. After the Allied Leisure fire and other financial problems, URL found
itself with millions of dollars of electronic components. URL had to do
something with this inventory, so one of its co-founders quickly decided to get
into the consumer market. Thus was born the second Video Action game, model
VA-II. It was first announced in 1974, and released later in 1975 in two forms:
one with a TV set and a coin box for use in bars, and a home version which
could use any TV set. The former was more successful as it was designed to make
money. The latter didn't sell as well as the former because of its high retail
price of almost $500 (the circuit board itself cost around $200 to
The site then shows a photo of Video Action II and goes
on to talk about Video Action III and Indy 500 (aka Video Action IV).
There is no photo of the initial game (Video Action).
Is this information accurate? Much of it appears to be,
but some (particularly the info on the first unit) seems to be off. In
researching my book and the game, I tried to verify this info but was unable to
find anything definitive. I did find some things, however, that seem to
indicate that URL’s first consumer game came out sometime earlier than Winter’s
The first time I heard anything about a URL consumer
video game was several years ago when I interviewed URL cofounder Bill Olliges.
At the time (circa 1999) I barely knew who URL was, much less that they had
produced a consumer video game. Here’s what Olliges told me when I asked how
URL started in video games.
Olliges] We saw a game from Nutting called Computer
Space and decided we could do
the digital logic that was necessary to do that kind of game…So we started on a
game called Paddle Battle and that
graduated into a 4-player called Tennis
Tourney. Paddle Battle really
seemed to take off…and we were shipping boards down to Allied Leisure in
Florida like there was no tomorrow. Suddenly we couldn’t find enough ICs to
continue at the pace we were at so we began to buy much, much bigger lots.
Somewhere along the way, Allied had a major fire that shut down their
manufacturing operations and we had inventories of ICs coming out of our ears
so I decided “As long as we have the parts we might as well build a consumer
game” So that’s what we did. We built a board and chassis in a kind of a
pedestal – a flat tabletop that you could put a small black-and-white
television on and you had your own arcade game. . .It was a 2 or 4 player
Olliges’ story seems to comport with Winter’s account
except for a couple of things. First, he makes no mention of a cocktail game or
any other video game made by URL before the Allied fire, other than the ones
they did for Allied itself. He also mentions that “you could put” a TV on their
game, indicating that it could be attached to a standard TV. This does not
appear to be the case, however, at least not at first.
One of the first sources I always check when researching
a game is TAFA (The Arcade Flyer Archive). TAFA has two flyers for Video Action. The first is dated 1975.
Normally, I would suspect that this was the source of
Winter’s claim that the cocktail arcade version came first. The cabinet doesn’t
exactly seem “octagonal” to me but I could see where some might say it was. The
flyer, however, includes no model number, “VA-I” or otherwise.
The second flyer (also dated 1975) is a four-page flyer
with much more info.
It lists five models:
VA-II: their basic home or “waiting room”
VA-IIC: the same model, but with a coin box
VA-T: the cocktail game from the first flyer
VA-TC: coin-op version of same
All four of the above include three games: Tennis, Soccer, and Hockey
VA-MP: A second cocktail model with different
games (Volleyball and 4-Court Tennis) plus a “robot” option
Note that there is no model “VA-I” listed (though if
there was a VA-II, you’d think there would have been a VA-I). Also note that
the VA-MP model does indeed come in an unarguably octagonal cabinet.
Of course, we still don’t know when these games were
released. The flyers are listed as being from 1975 but a) that isn’t very
precise, b) this flyer was likely produced some time after the first game was
available, and c) TAFA flyer dates (especially in the 1973-75 period) are often
off by a year.
My next source for games is usually the trade mags. Unfortunately,
they are probably not going to give us the full story here since Play Meter
didn’t start until December, 1974 and RePlay until October, 1975. Vending Times
and Cash Box were around earlier in 1974 but I don’t have the full issues with me
right now. I do, however, have some scattered issues as well as my notes (which
include all the release dates I could find). A bigger issue is that those
magazines covered the coin-op market so they might not have listed a game that
was available only as a consumer unit (though they generally did so if it was
made by a coin-op company).
The February, 1975 issue of RePlay contains an
announcement that Control Sales (more on them later) “introduced” Video Action
II at the winter CES in January (the same show, by the way, where Atari was
showing Home Pong).
Essentially the same article appeared in the February,
1975 issue of Vending Times.
The most interesting line for purposes of this article
“Video Action II, which carries a suggested retail tag of
$299, is priced considerably under its predecessor model which included a
television receiver. The customer can now buy the electronic game and connect
it to his television receiver at home.”
The “predecessor model” had a built-in 12” TV and, it was
built-in – not an option – a seemingly fatal decision for a consumer product. Especially given that over 90% of homes
already had TVs.
The Pong Story claims that Video Action II cost “almost $500” (I read somewhere that the exact figure was $499)
even without the television and indicates that the $200 board was the main
reason. No mention is made of the consumer version being available with a built-in TV.
Reading the RePlay article, I’d guess that the “predecessor
model” (presumably Video Action) was basically the same as Video Action II
except with a built-in TV and a $500 price tag (the article does mention that
the Video Action II was priced “considerably under” its predecessor).
The May, 1975 RePlay had the following:
So it looks like the arcade cocktail table version
(VA-TC) was introduced around May (Cash Box reported the same thing), not prior
to the Allied fire. Unless, of course, there was a previous cocktail version. The
only other cocktails mentioned in the 4-page flyer are VA-T, which was a
consumer cabinet and VA-MP, which I’d guess came out later given that it had 2
different games, plus a “robot” feature (a feature URL included on its Video
Action III home unit in 1976).
These articles indicate to me that the original game was
not a cocktail game, but instead was a version of VA II with a built in TV. The
evidence, however, is far from conclusive, so we have to dig further.
One good source for info on consumer games is newspapers.
While searchable, online newspaper archives are becoming more and more common
and comprehensive, however, they still only have a fraction of total amount of
data that’s out there in print form, so I didn’t have high hopes when I started
Nonetheless, I did manage to find some good (if scant)
The first mention I found was this ad from the September
2, 1974 St. Charles (Missouri) Journal.
The photo isn’t the best, but that seems to be the same
game as Video Action II and clearly includes the TV set (note how they try to
make this a selling point). Too bad they didn’t list an SRP (though if it was
$499, you can see why they might not want to).
The most interesting thing here is the date. September 2,
1974 was over a year before Atari introduced Home Pong and over four months
before they showed it at the CES. And given that this was the only 1974 ad I
could find, it may well have shipped even earlier.
Could this have been the first US home video game after the Odyssey?
The Pong Story doesn't seem to list an earlier one (at least not in the US, it does list ome 1974 models from Europe). Vendel and Goldberg state flatly that it was the first home tennis game on the market after Odyssey.
Of course, consumer games aren't my specialty so I may well be forgetting some obvious early home games.
The next ads I found for any version of the game weren’t
until November, 1975 when I found a number of ads for Video Action II.
Here's one from the 11/2/75 Omaha World Herald
And here's a photo that was part of an article on the game in the 11/18/75 Galveston paper.
Given the above, it looks to me like the original Video
Action came out sometime around the fall of 1974, included a built-in monitor,
and had an SRP of around $499. They may have produced a coin version as well.
Video Action II looks to me like the same game but
without the TV and at a lower price (probably created after URL realized how
silly it was to produce a consumer game that couldn’t be connected to a TV).
In late 2014 (long after the original post), I came across some new information that pushes back the dates for Video Action even further. On June 14, 1974 Allied Leisure head honcho David Braun gave a deposition in the Magnavox v Bally case. During the deposition, plaintiff's lawyers presented a two-page brochure for Video Action by Control Sales. The first page included a photo, description, and technical specifications while the second included more specifications and a warranty. It is uncertain if the game was actually
on sale at this point. If it wasn't, it was likely close to being sold.
– Control Sales and Venture Technology
OK, so what about Control Sales. Control Sales handled
the marketing of the games (which were manufactured at URL). Control Sales was a manufacturer’s
representative organization founded in 1968 by Ron Rutkowski.
TAFA actually has another flyer that touches on this topic.
It's from a company called Venture Technology. This one is a 6-page flyer but I’m only showing the most relevant page.
The game here
appears to be the same as URL/Control Sales model VA-MP. Note the claim that
they sold “over 3,000” units, which comports with Winter’s claim of an octagonal cocktail
game that sold “a few thousands”. (As I said, I suspect the flyers were the
main source of some of Winter’s info).
But who is Venture Technology?
First, if you look at the rest of the flyer, you’ll not
only see photos of the original Video Action but of a number of coin-op titles
made by Electra Games. Electra was the coin-op division of URL, set up in
Look a little closer and you’ll see that Venture
Technology and Control Sales were both in Des Plaines and in fact had the same
address. A search through Replay reveals that both were headed by Ron
Rutkowski, so I suspect that there were basically the same company.
I plan on trying to contact Rutkowski sometime soon and may even try to recontact William Olliges. If so, I'll report back what I hear.