Williams Inc. Arcade Marketing Materials

In the early 80s, the obvious direction for arcade manufacturers to market their product, was towards arcade operators. When we as players, look back at this time – the boom years of arcade production – most of us will recall going to a traditional arcade to play the latest titles.

This was the line of least resistance for companies like Atari, Williams and Taito. Arcade operators bought up pretty much every new release, as they knew players were hungry for new titles, and they would of course go to arcades to play them. Done deal.

But as the phenomenon of arcade gaming became more mainstream, manufacturers explored other markets to sell new cabinets to. I’ve documented before how Atari approached this idea: “Special Markets” was a division within Atari marketing, that looked to develop new cabinet sales to the likes of convenience stores, restaurants, airports and shopping malls – the idea being that anywhere where large amounts of footfall would be prevalent, meant an opportunity to make money by placing arcade machines in those locations.

Why limit your market to arcades? Finding new customers to buy your arcade machines would require some work – creating a brand new distribution market for your product wouldn’t be easy – but with some creativity, and a constant reference to profit to appeal to a wide variety of business types, it was a plausible route to take.

Williams Electronics were riding high in 1981 following the huge success of Defender:

Williams Number 1
According to RePlay Magazine, during April 1981, Black Knight and Defender were the top pinball and video games being played respectively

They too looked to capitalise on the interest in their games, and began a concerted marketing effort to expand their sales. The basis of the campaigns were to support distributors of arcade games (the guys who bought the machines from Williams). And no doubt, there was some chest-beating going on here as Williams looked to plant their name firmly alongside Atari:

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These full colour, full-page ads were placed in national publications that served what they called “Specialized Market Segments”. Basically markets other than “arcades” that they thought might benefit from placing arcade cabinets in their real-estate locations. And it’s really interesting to see how companies like Williams Electronics started to envision just how large the coin operated video game market could be. They saw opportunities to sell arcade machines literally everywhere:

“Bed and Bored”: see how Williams developed the idea that their games could easily provide hotel guests with entertainment during their stay.
I’d love to know if this idea took off in America. Schools and colleges housing arcade games in their corridors? Was this a thing?
Atari also worked hard to get arcade machines placed in Supermarkets. Williams too ran with that idea by placing their own ads along similar themes
This is great – comparing a night out with, and without, an arcade game. No need to actually talk to your date. Let him watch you play Stargate!
Addressing the concern of space, Williams showcase here their cabaret models. Showing Grocers that they can get in on the video game profit bandwagon without compromising valuable footprint space on shop floors

Williams sought to reassure distributors that they were there to help them with their business objectives. This was classic B2B marketing, positioning Williams as “on side” with their customers:

Focusing on the business side of gaming. Williams reinforcing the profitability of its machines and a positive industry outlook

The message was very much “stick with us, we know what we are doing”. It was a bold and confident statement, and one which continued throughout 1982:

Williams’ commitment to the industry, to our distributors, our operators and players alike, is to bring to market only the most reliable and spectacular games with the strongest play appeal for long-term profitability. The Williams portfolio of innovative pinball games, and our perfect record of big-dividend video games clearly demonstrate our determination to fulfill that committment.

Their reference to “reliability” was perhaps a sideswipe at their competitors – Atari especially was pursuing vector games at the time, which were notorious for reliability issues. All of Williams’ arcade games up to that point were released using traditional raster technology, which was demonstrably more reliable. If an arcade game is working, it can take money.

Their bullish outlook is demonstrated by this full colour monster flyer, distributed at the AMOA show in 1982:

Note the use of stock market floor imagery here. Williams meant business
Defender, Stargate, Make Trax, Robotron and Moon Patrol. All solid games on reflection…
New releases for 1982 showcased here – Joust and Sinistar

Continuing the theme of planting additional money-making ideas into the heads of convenience store owners, some really creative promotions were developed around the same time:

Williams Supermarket
This full-page ad was placed in the September 1981 issue of “C-Store Business”, a trade magazine for American convenience store owners

And here, Williams suggests that operating pinball machines in convenience stores results in repeat customers:

Williams Supermarket 2
From the March 1981 issue of “Convenience Store News” magazine

Another here from “C-Store Business” magazine. Again, putting out the idea that video games and pinball machines could be another revenue stream for convenience store owners:

Williams Supermarket 3
“Think of them as souped-up cash registers”. The puns were flying out of Williams’ marketing department!

And this was the pitch to hotel owners. Drive room bookings with the promise of a suite of arcade games for guests to play:

Williams Hotels
“No Vacancy”. Family entertainment to occupy hotel guests

No doubt Williams were riding high, and looking to capitalise on their new-found success. But it wasn’t all plain sailing. Venturing into the world of Laser Disc games in 1983 with Star Rider proved to be a financial disaster, and of course, just around the corner in 1984/5 was to be a huge market crash that would consume Williams and its competitors…

As consumers, it is unlikely that we would have seen these advertisements – hope you found this week’s post interesting.

See you next week. I sense another Arcade Raid story coming….


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12 Comments Add yours

  1. Faust says:

    Arcade games had pretty much phased out by the time I entered college, so I don’t recall seeing them. We did have an arcade in a local mall, which had Street Fighter II! Was pretty blown away by the game. Arcade machines in malls, grocery stores, laundromats, tabletop machines in bars, all part of America. Don’t ask me how I knew there were tabletop machines in bars. 😉

    I love how the ad pictures have older people in them, but they are all just looking on while the kids play. Makes me wonder if they had any idea what the machine was.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Definitely a college thing in the 70s and 80s. My dad was a coin-op operator and we had two local colleges on the route. While both had a proper gameroom at some point, there were also periods of time where it was just a line of vids and pinballs in a hallway or dining hall. Good times. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Bob says:

    Of course he doesn’t have to talk to his date. He’d have to explain why he stole her drink. He’s two fisting beverages to get through it all.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Tony says:

    Cool stuff!


  5. ringadingding says:

    this is a great perspective on a couple fronts for me: as a graphic designer… wow. how things have changed. but also, i can offer this small story:

    i know someone whose dorm (this was a small college in california in the mid- to late-1980s) had a Tempest machine in the common area of their dorm. i don’t know who originally bought it, but i’m fairly certain it wasn’t the students. anyway, that machine made enough money WEEKLY that every friday the dorm paid for a keg of beer that they put out, and everyone could have at it.

    every. WEEK.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Tony says:

    Oh man I love that. Hahaha.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. BDD says:

    Hello to Mr. Brian Peek up above. It’s been many years, but it’s great to see that you’re still “around” the hobby!

    These ads definitely worked, as you could find games in some of the most unlikely places here in Grand Rapids. I once saw a Defender in a funeral home!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Matthew Bryant says:

    Remembering the schools I attended or visited in the late 80’s and early 90’s, there were coin-ops in the student unions. I remember seeing Mortal Kombat for the first time at the union at UCLA, and getting pretty hooked on Ataxx at the union at CSU Northridge.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. fm31970 says:

    In the early ’80s, there were video games (I recall Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga and Timber for sure) at the front of our Sheboygan, WI (population 44k) KMart store. While not Williams games, their marketing ideas were sound, as I dropped many a quarter inside those games.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. cjthearcadeguy says:

    I’ve been playing arcade games since 1976 and have seen all sorts of games from simple Vector and raster games to high resolution games we have now in 2020. Williams has been a stand out all along until 1999 when Midway closed up shop. I still think hundreds of coin-op companies were chasing Williams tail and only made luke warm titles. From the 40’s to their demise or transition into WMS a gambling title game maker. Williams holds true to my heart with their 20 some arcade video coin-op games, and hundreds of pinball machines that also stand out. I really miss Williams and wish they would notice the current spike in the provision and play time with classic and new games we now have on the horizon. At least Eugene Jarvis and his small team are making fantastic titles. The only flame in the fire I am excited for.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. DWH says:

    It should have been the game Exidy’s Death Race in the funeral home…The good old days of arcade game being put everywhere.


  12. Flinnster says:

    I swear I’m going to get the “Bed and Bored” advert printed, framed, and hung in our guest bedroom!

    Liked by 1 person

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