Ralph Baer (1922-2014): The Prophet Of Online Shopping And Gaming

The gaming community is saddened with the recent passing of video game pioneer and creator Ralph Baer. Baer was a key developer in both the Brown Box and subsequently the Magnavox Odyssey (1972) home gaming system. To this day people consider him the father of home video games.

His development of a table tennis game on the Magnavox Odyssey would be later stolen (in a douche bag move) by Nolan Bushnell for the development of his 1972 title, Pong. Though the Atari/Nolan Bushnell iteration of table tennis was more refined, Atari was still sued by Magnavox over patent violations. Ultimately Bushnell and Magnavox settled out of court for a licensing arrangement of $0.7 million dollars.

One of Baer’s lesser known projects though, which nobody invested in at the time, was a recorder/transmitter audio system that would allow people to purchase content on their TV from the push of a button. It’s 2014 and I still can’t do that. Sure, I can see something on TV, google it, and then buy it from Amazon but even back in 1973 Baer was dreaming of a more direct connection between media and the consumer.

Baer’s device relied on a subscriber based interactive cable network. This network would feature custom commercials embedded with essential product data. As the commercial would play, the consumer would hit a button on a wireless remote that would trigger an audio recording device to record the playing commercial and it’s embedded purchasing data from the televisions’ speaker. Once the consumer’s night was done they would simply dial a purchasing number on their phone, attach the receiver to the recording device, and then transmit their recorded purchasing data to a distant shopping network that would initiate the purchase order.

In this 1973 film clip, Ralph Baer is promoting this concept for his “quasi-interactive” gaming and shopping system that communicates via terrestrial cable and phone lines. The workflow for the system is antiquated and more complex than an amazon app on a smart phone, but his vision for a direct connection to the consumer is evident and still ahead of it’s time today. Keep in mind, home shopping shows wouldn’t even become an element of the marketplace until 1982 when The Home Shopping Club (later renamed to the Home Shopping Network) was founded. Nobody was even thinking like this back in 1973.

Stay tuned to the clip to see his insane pitch for the “Sweet Tooth Scrubber” aka electric toothbrush.

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