Over the weekend, news that Atari co-founder Ted Dabney had died began to spread through social media, coming from the Facebook accounts of video game historian Leonard Herman and Atari Inc.: Business is Fun co-author Marty Goldberg.
"I just learned that my good friend, Ted Dabney, the co-founder of Atari, passed away at the age of 81," Herman wrote. "RIP dear friend. Your legacy will live on a long time!"
Goldberg's post called Dabney "one of the nicest, sweetest down to earth guys I knew" and gave cancer as the reason for his death.
Dabney's co-founder at Atari, Nolan Bushnell, offered his sentiments in a post on Twitter shortly thereafter, saying, "Ted was my partner, co-founder, fellow dreamer and friend. I'll always cherish the time we spent together. RIP"
As reported by Herman in his book Phoenix: The Fall and Rise of Videogames, Bushnell and Dabney met while working as researchers at data storage firm Ampex. The pair wanted to bring the mainframe computer game Spacewar to penny arcades, and began devoting their free time to developing cost-effective ways of achieving that. That project would be sold to Nutting Associates and become the early arcade game Computer Space.
While Computer Space was not a commercial success, Bushnell and Dabney used the royalties from the project to start their own company, Syzygy, which would quickly be renamed Atari when it was discovered Syzygy was already taken. Atari was founded in June of 1972, and shipped its first title, Pong in November the same year.
The game sparked a phenomenon, but the upside for Atari's financial picture was limited as arcade video tennis imitators soon flooded the market. The next year, Dabney sold his half of the company to Bushnell.