Via Slate: Excerpted from The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson. Out now from Simon & Schuster.
Innovation requires having at least three things: a great idea, the engineering talent to execute it, and the business savvy (plus deal-making moxie) to turn it into a successful product. Nolan Bushnell scored a trifecta when he was 29, which is why he became the innovator who launched the video game industry.
Like many computer science students in the 1960s, Nolan Bushnell was a Spacewar fanatic. “The game was seminal to anyone who loved computers, and for me it was transforming,” he recalled. “Steve Russell was like a god to me.” What set Bushnell apart from other computer bums who got their kicks by maneuvering blips on a screen was that he was also enthralled by amusement parks. While studying at the University of Utah, he took a job on the midway at the Lagoon Amusement Park. “I learned all the various tricks for getting people to put up their quarters, and that sure served me well.” He was soon promoted to the pinball and game arcade, where animated driving games such as Speedway, made by Chicago Coin Machine Manufacturing Company, were the new rage.