(Bloomberg) -- On a recent afternoon in Los Angeles, Nolan Bushnell, co-founder of Atari and, perhaps importantly, the man who brought the world Chuck E. Cheese restaurants, is relaxing in a room he calls his “lab.”
Every conceivable square foot of open space is jammed with wires, soldering tools, and other knickknacks. “My lab,” he says, speaking via Zoom, “is a representation of the disorder of my mind.”
Since the burst of innovations in the 1970s that brought the world Pong and earned him the moniker “the father of electronic gaming,” Bushnell has used this disorder to found more than 20 companies. Now he’s applying it to NFTs, or nonfungible tokens.
“I’ve been interested in crypto for almost five years, but I’ve not been a heavy investor in it,” he says. “I wish five years ago I would have had the strength of my conviction.” Instead, he continues, he was mostly “fascinated by the math of it—I went through all the white papers.”
Then, he says, nonfungible smart contracts that use blockchain technology known as NFTs came along, “and my initial wash on NFTs was: Really?”
Only after he began to see the contracts as yet another part of a phenomenon he describes as “the transition,” where physical things like CDs are replaced by digital streaming services like Spotify, did the idea of collecting art and images digitally start to make a lot of sense to him.
Eventually, Bushnell began to consider making his own NFT. “I decided if I did it, I wanted it to be really cool and feel like my brand, which is about being an innovator,” he says. “I needed it to be something more than what was out there, not just slapping my name and image onto something.”
He contacted his longtime collaborator Zai Ortiz, who’d done visual effects for movies including Iron Man 2 and Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol, and together they began to conceive an NFT that would be an extension of Bushnell’s biography.
The result, Bushnell’s “genesis” collection, will be available for bidding on MakersPlace, an NFT marketplace, starting on Oct. 12.
In keeping with the desire to create something unique, the NFTs he’s releasing won’t be tied just to digital images or videos; they’ll include augmented reality (AR). “It’s beyond what anyone else has done,” Bushnell says, “and it satisfied my requirement that it be something that blows your socks off.”
When conceiving of the works, Bushnell quickly settled on Pong and his first arcade game machine, which he called Computer Space, “which became the first commercial video game in the world,” he says.
Computer Space was “designed by us, but we didn’t produce the machine,” he explains, “and it was definitively the very first one, and I thought it needed to be an NFT because it was historical.”
With Ortiz, Bushnell created 15-second videos of the arcade games playing on colorful consoles, set to music, that end in his signature. These arcade games will also be rendered through AR, so the objects can come with people wherever they go—all a buyer has to do is look through her phone and see it superimposed on the landscape in front of her.
“I would like people to think of it as interactive art,” Bushnell says.
The videos and AR are straightforward, at least from a consumer standpoint. Like many NFT “drops,” the pricing structure is less so— there are multiple versions of these videos and AR renditions that carry different price structures.
Two unique editions of the red Pong tabletop arcade game and yellow Computer Space arcade game videos, which also come with the AR component, will be auctioned to the highest bidder. But these digital one-offs come with IRL components, too. The red Pong NFT comes with a visit with Bushnell to the arcade/carnival Two Bit Circus in Los Angeles, and the yellow Computer Space NFT comes with an unopened, signed Atari 2600 console.
Next, there are separate, open editions that will be offered in various sizes, for various costs, all of which are detailed on the MakersPlace website.
“It’s part of the genesis story of the video game business, it’s interactive, and it’s playful,” Bushnell says of the NFT concept. “And I think it’s extremely well-crafted.”
This is Bushnell’s first NFT effort, but it’s not, he says, his last.
All he wants to do “is innovate as much as I can,” he says. “At this point in time there’s a lot of stuff we can do that just needs a little more thought and effort, and then I hope we can blow your socks off every six months with a new sock-blower-offer.”
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