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Meet The Hero Who Helped Create The Video Game Industry That Keeps The Boys & Men Alive

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“Jerry was clearly creative/inventive, and knew how stuff worked, which this is a great example of…his role was kind of “minister without portfolio”. He just helped out on tons of different things. He was very nice, pretty humble. I worked around him a few months before I heard the cartridge story…this was the testament of his friend” – Bourekas.

In 1970, Jerry Lawson joined Fairchild Semiconductor in San Francisco as an applications engineering consultant within their sales division. While there, he created the early arcade game Demolition Derby out of his garage. In the mid-1970s, Lawson was made Chief Hardware Engineer and director of engineering and marketing for Fairchild’s video game division.

There, he led the development of the Fairchild Channel F console, released in 1976 and specifically designed to use swappable game cartridges. At the time, most game systems had the game programming stored on ROM storage soldered onto the game hardware, which could not be removed.

Lawson and his team figured out how to move the ROM to a cartridge that could be inserted and removed from a console unit repeatedly, and without electrically shocking the user. This would allow users to buy into a library of games, and provided a new revenue stream for the console manufacturers through sales of these games.

In 1980, Lawson left Fairchild and founded Videosoft, a video game development company which made software for the Atari 2600 in the early 1980s, as 2600 had displaced the Channel F as the top system in the market. Videosoft closed about five years later, and Lawson started to take on consulting work.

Create The Video Game

Photo: Wikimedia

Unfortunately, Jerry passed on due to diabetes but we can’t just forget the 1980’s too soon. Why not? When he was with Signetics (which was bought by Philips which then spun out their chip business as NXP), he had already invented the video game cartridge by then.

Where things get cooler is that the whole game industry and many of its modern conventions came from the cartridge model. I can still remember playing “Ending Man” in 1999 or early 2000s. Being able to develop games for a platform long after the hardware release (after there is a proven audience for your game) was critical to the business model of early developers.

Also, this allowed the developer to be separate from the hardware manufacturer in terms of business strategy, branding, target audience, etc.

Remember this was pre-internet. Everything needed to be on removable recordable media in order to have new content on an unconnected in-home device.

Really, Jerry Lawson was a great developer of early video game history. Thanks, Jerry for keeping most folks busy from depression and loneliness. Surely, the Boys & Men are grateful but not thanks to Laziness.

Tips: Stolichnayaaa | Bourekas | WikiPedia.com

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