Interview: Nolan Bushnell

While managing the games department at Lagoon Amusement Park in the 60s, a young college student named Nolan Bushnell had an idea. Instead of managing and maintaining other vendor’s games, why not start a company and produce his own? It wasn’t that easy of course, but out of this idea, a newly-born industry was taken from a small niche hobby to a booming industry worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

That’s only the beginning of his storied career in technology.

Nolan Bushnell is an admitted serial entrepreneur. From starting Atari in 1972 to launching ExoDexa Holdings in 2023, Bushnell has never been one to slow down. To say he’s not afraid to be a “beginner,” would be a gross understatement.

We recently had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Bushnell about his career outside of Atari, and the inspiration behind some of his ideas.

You and Ted Dabney famously founded Atari, yet that was not the original name of the company. How
did the name Syzygy come about? How long was the company named Syzygy before being changed to

Ted saw it in a dictionary. We were Syzygy for about a year and a half but had to change it because
there was a candlemaker in Mendocino who had previously incorporated in California.

You’re well known for things that are considered to be favorites of millions, but what are your favorite
games/devices and what type of games did you play growing up that inspired you?

I’m a longtime Go player and a longtime Chess player. I played Monopoly and Clue as a kid. I primarily play on a PC, also mobile, and occasionally on a Switch. I still love Advance Wars, Minecraft, and short-form games.

Do you believe the creative, collaborative, and relaxed culture that you instilled at Atari in the early days still has a place in today’s corporate America?

You’ve started a multitude of companies over your lifetime. One of which was a venture capital group
called Catalyst Technologies. During this time, what companies excited you the most, or the least, and
what characteristics were you looking for in a business?

I loved Etak because dynamic mapping wasn’t a thing at that time, but I saw a huge amount of potential.
I wish I’d kept working on ByVideo because it could have been Amazon. Androbot, of course, was my
biggest disappointment. I still believe home robots will play an important role in the future, but we
were far too early.

What are some business ideas you’ve had that after fleshing out, you decided not to continue to pursue and why?
Too many to name. I always, though, look at market size, ways that applied tech can be disruptive, and
whether the technologies fit within my skill set.

What keeps you hungry and inspired to continue your entrepreneurial work?
I want to live in the future.

In 2000, you started uWink which was then later changed to uWink Bistro Concept. Did this idea spawn from Chuck E. Cheese? The concept seems like an adult-oriented version of it. If not, where did the idea come from?
Somewhat. I wanted to do an entertainment concept that included young adults and teens.

In 2019, you launched St. Noire, an Amazon Alexa-based game. Where did this idea come from?
I’m always looking at new technologies that have not been gamified yet, and the Echo infrastructure
seemed like a good candidate.

You’re now involved with ExoDexa Holdings and are working in the educational gaming space. How did this opportunity arise?
I’ve always felt that technology and games could be pivotal to education. COVID opened the door to
people realizing that our educational structure is somewhat broken, and I feel like I can help fix it.

Of all your creations and ventures, do you have one that sticks out as being the most fulfilling? The least fulfilling?
I think Atari was the most fulfilling because in some ways it was the hardest. Overcoming difficult
problems is always fulfilling.

You helped nurture an immense amount of talent over the years. Are there any hiring, training, or other personnel strategies you’ve used in the past that you find no longer work in today’s culture?
I always look for passion, creativity, and curiosity. I think those characteristics are timeless.

What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs who wish to follow in your footsteps or create new
paths like you’ve done so many times?

Make sure your idea can work financially and understand that you have to be massively resilient.

Any parting advice you’d like to provide?
Make sure that when you go to a park you like the roller coaster more than the merry-go-round if you
decide to be an entrepreneur.

GamesRelated would like to thank Mr. Bushnell for taking time from his schedule to chat with us and we look forward to seeing his next adventures!

  • Richard Booth

    Rich has been involved in the gaming industry for over ten years, working with such companies as Jace Hall ShowTwin Galaxies and Nintendojo. He began GamesRelated in order to bring positivity to gaming journalism. Much of what is out today is completely negative, and GR aims to be the place where that stops and the news is simply reported.

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