By 1978, the videogame market had proven to be profitable, and thanks to efforts by Fairchild and Atari, programmable consoles were all the rage. Single-game "pong" consoles were on their way out. Magnavox, the large electronics and television company, had been responsible for the birth of videogames with the original Odyssey console, but was quickly losing valuable market share to companies like Atari.
So Magnavox decided to come out with a programmable machine of its own. Decking it out in sleek (for the '70s) silver trim and a full-function membrane keyboard, Magnavox called it the Odyssey², the videogame system of the future. Odyssey² experienced moderate success for a time, but soon fell victim to the wild popularity of the Atari 2600 and later the Mattel Intellivision. At best, Odyssey² was a third-place contender in the videogame boom of the late 1970s and early '80s.
In Europe however, things were a different story. There, Odyssey² was known as the "Videopac G7000 Computer" and marketed by N.V. Philips, the Dutch electronics conglomerate that owned Magnavox. Competition from Atari and Mattel was less pronounced overseas, and the G7000 enjoyed far more popularity than its American counterpart. Some Odyssey²-compatible games and peripherals were sold in Europe that never made their way to the United States. Philips' "next-generation" console, the Odyssey3 Command Center, was even sold in Europe as the Videopac G7400, despite its release being cancelled in America.
Some time ago, I was fortunate enough to be contacted by "Digital Jon" Shuttleworth, the Philips employee largely responsible for the distribution, design, and even the name of the G7000. In this interview, he reveals a bit about how this underrated console came to be.
ClassicGaming (CG): You mentioned you were largely responsible for the launch of the G7000 in Europe. Can you tell me more about that?
Jon Shuttleworth (JS): I was working on TV receivers way back in 1975 and had this crazy idea that maybe you could use microprocessors in consumer electronics. Everybody thought I was mad (they were very conventional) so I set about proving it... on my boss's time, but unknown to him, I developed a control system for a TV using the Fairchild F8 [microprocessor] and a game for the TV (Four in a Row) also using the F8 (1K memory). I demonstrated this all to the big-wigs at Philips in 1976 and suddenly became the super expert on microprocessor applications. They called me "digital Jon." I then developed the first commercially available microprocessor-controlled TV, using TMS1000, the GOYA 780.
About this time, I gave a presentation on alternative uses of the TV, like games and education, and suddenly got transferred to the commercial dept. to start up video games in Europe. I did this with someone else called Dolf van de Paauw (I don't know where he is now) and worked together with Magnavox in Fort Wayne [Indiana] designing the PAL version of Odyssey². We were aiming to launch this in Europe for the Christmas season of '78; we had 300 women working in Greenville making 75,000 of the things, but at the last moment, after launching and selling 7,500 of the G7000, we had to stop because we had goofed up with the power plug, which could cause a short if you stuck it in in the wrong way.
We re-launched in 1979 with great success. Dolf and I thought up the name G7000 and Videopac one evening in a bar in San Francisco.
CG: Please describe the process by which new G7000 games were created, tested, and marketed. What was your role in this process?
JS: We used a few of the designs that came from Magnavox but thought that the "peaceful" Europeans would like things more slanted to their "delicate" taste, so we either thought them up ourselves and had somebody make mock-ups, or we used a Swedish company in Vittslo (I've forgotten the name) to design the game, and then we had it programmed by a contract program company called GST, which was already doing a lot of serious program work for Philips. That's why they called it GST Video so as to distinguish it from the "real" program work.
CG: By all accounts, the G7000 was much more popular in Europe than the Odyssey² was in the United States. Do you have any thoughts on why this was?
JS: No idea. Maybe the pricing. We had at that time a cheque system in Europe in which cheques were guaranteed to a certain maximum (about $150 then). Everybody used these cheques, credit cards were virtually unknown. We priced the console at under the maximum for one cheque (and made a loss) so that nobody would have the pain of writing out two cheques. We made all the money on the Videopac's cartridges.
CG: One of the most popular aspects of the Odyssey² in the United States was the Voice synthesis module. Do you know of any plans to produce a Voice unit in Europe?
JS: Not during my time. I moved on to other, non-game, pastures in 1980.
CG: One of the most important issues to fans of classic systems involves prototypes of games that were never commercially released. Over the past few years, several G7000 games have been found that were never released. These include INTERPOL, PLANTAGE [Play Tag], ROBOT CITY, and "JAKE" [Martian Threat]. Do you know anything about these games?
JS: I can't help you on this. We released every game we made. We generally tested them out on colleagues, family and friends. I used to bring EPROM versions all wrapped up in black insulating tape, home to my kids to try them out together with their buddies. We soon found the bugs and why some games were more fun for the kids than others. When I left this business I think there were about 25 games in the catalog.
CG: Is there anything you can tell us about the G7200, the Videopac G7000 with a built-in black-and-white monitor?
JS: I remember this being suggested about the time I was leaving. By this time we had transferred the production and design facility to Surenes, Paris, so ideas were coming from there too.
CG: Can you tell us about how the Videopac+ G7400 console came into being?
JS: Around 1980, when the G7000 was showing good results, I began on defining the next version which would have higher resolution, faster graphics and realistic sound. This was taken over by my successor, Mark Grossman (don't know where he is either).
CG: Did you have a particular favorite G7000 game?
JS: Music Maker. I designed this together with Peter van Twist, a software programmer with a musical interest. I gave him an old grand piano for his efforts. [Editor's note: This game is more commonly known as Musician.]
CG: You told me that you thought Philips got out of the videogame business too early. What do you think Philips should have done differently?
JS: Built them in to the TV sets at no extra cost to the customer. This may have warded off the PC onslaught.
CG: What are you doing now? Are you active in the videogame industry in any way?
JS: I'm not connected to the game industry at all (except having to fork out for Playstation stuff for my 10 year-old son). I buy and sell companies right now... I'm looking for companies of up to $M50 revenues, in the electronics sector, in trouble and needing some turnaround to get them on their feet again.
CG: Do you have any other anecdotes or comments you would like to share?
JS: You know... we did this whole pioneer stuff in a very amateuristic way. I guess more out of fun than a real business approach. Not much marketing, loads of enthusiasm. Philips never really thought that it fit their image so we didn't get much attention (which was probably good, avoided interference). We did it with very few people; the maximum team I can remember was no more than ten of us. I bet Philips made a bomb out of this gang.
Looking back on it now, how we struggled with the 4048, eking out every byte of memory, using every trick we could think of to get the maximum performance, I regret the passing of that intimacy with the machine. These days, groping through the fog of some OS like Windows, I can't get the same feeling as then. I used to know exactly the consequences, in ALU and registers, of every instruction. That was fun.
ClassicGaming would like to thank Mr. Shuttleworth for the fascinating look back in time. For more Odyssey² and G7000 goodness, check out The Odyssey² Homepage! or our Odyssey Museum entry.