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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
And here, Williams suggests that operating pinball machines in convenience stores results in repeat customers:
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:
And this was the pitch to hotel owners. Drive room bookings with the promise of a suite of arcade games for guests to play:
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….