Atari co-founder and video game pioneer ‘Ted’ Dabney dies at 81

ted dabney atari died teddabneyatari
Ted Dabney, from left, Nolan Bushnell, Fred Marincic, and Allan Alcorn Allan Acorn/CompuerHistory

Samuel “Ted” Dabney, one of the earliest pioneers of the gaming industry and a co-founder of Atari, passed away May 26 after a battle with cancer. He was 81.

The news has many of his contemporaries and veterans of the video game industry mourning the loss of such an important player in the early development of the first arcade games.

Dabney had a varied career throughout his working life. He was a U.S. marine, an electrician with Bank of America, a grocery store owner, and deli operator. But it is his time at Atari, and his second company, Syzygy Game Company, that he is best known and remembered for.

Dabney co-founded Atari alongside friend and fellow Ampex employee Nolan Bushnell. Inspired by computers they had seen at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the friends founded Atari in 1972 and produced their first game, Computer Space. Dabney was responsible for the game’s physical function — he used affordable components from standard television sets, rather than computer parts, which were far more expensive.

Although not a commercial success, Atari would go on to use the concept created by Dabney with that first game to create its second, a far more popular and impactful arcade release: Pong.

After a falling out with Bushnell in 1973, Dabney left Atari but remained linked with the company through the creation of new games that Atari would use for its own physical arcade outlets. He also spent time working at companies like Raytheon and Fujitsu, before leaving the video game industry and opening a grocery store with his wife.

Dabney was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in late 2017, and as Eurogamer reports, chose not to receive treatment.

Since the news of his death came to light, a number of Dabney’s peers have released statements praising him. Historian Leonard Herman said that his legacy will live on a long time as he mourned the loss of his “dear friend. The official Atari Facebook account took a moment away from promoting its own cryptocurrency to send out a post announcing the sad news and wishing he’d had a little more time.

Whatever bad blood there was between Dabney and Bushnell appears to have dissipated now, too, as Bushnell tweeted that he would always cherish the time he and Dabney spent together.


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