Played a Video Game Lately? Thank Jerry Lawson

Jennifer R. Povey
3 min readFeb 9, 2022
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

…and if you’ve never heard of him, you’re far from alone. He should be a household name in the gaming community. Sadly, although he is a hall of famer, he’s still not exactly well known. Not the way he should be.

So, what did he do?

Fairchild Semiconductor

In 1970, the young electrical engineer took a job at Fairchild Semiconductor. It didn’t quite fulfill all of his creative needs, though.

He started a side project…he built an arcade machine from scratch in his garage. The first reaction of his boss was annoyance.

The second reaction boiled down to “Wait a minute.” Fairchild secretly moved Lawson to a new division…

…their new gaming division. They didn’t want anyone to know they were doing it, but in six months, Lawson had designed the Channel F console.

It flopped. It was overpriced, few were sold, and few survived.

Yet, it was the most significant of the early consoles. See, until then, when you bought a console it came with games programmed into it.

And that was it.

Lawson invented the video game cartridge. Suddenly, you could keep buying new games. And to do so he had to solve problems including the fire risk.

Fairchild got out of the video game industry in 1979, selling the technology to Zircon.

But in 1977, Atari released an interchangeable cartridge console, having reverse engineered Lawson’s work.

Lawson didn’t stay at Fairchild long after they sold the gaming division. He was hooked on game design and…

Video Soft

…founded his own company, Video Soft. There was, at the time, an explosion of small game companies, but their time wasn’t yet. Console design was still expensive, the field had become crowded, and the company did not last long.

It did produce one popular game, Atom Smasher, for the Atari 2600.

Then production costs exceeded retail costs and, simultaneously, the first PCs were showing up on the market. In the mid 1980s, Video Soft folded and Lawson became a consultant.

Jennifer R. Povey

I write about fantasy, science fiction and horror, LGBT issues, travel, and social issues.