When I first started reporting on this industry 53 years ago, it was called the “jukebox business,” and apart from a minority of arcade operators on the Jersey Shore, the San Francisco piers and points in between, it was mostly populated by route operators. The “anchor” location was the bar and the game of the moment was the puck shuffle alley. Pinballs were illegal to operate in my hometown of New York, and cranes, residing in a gray legal limbo similar to video card games, could only be found if you looked real hard for them.
The industry has morphed over my half-century in many ways. Skee-Ball is still here, but not a whole lot else. A huge number of distributing companies are gone. . .actually, most of them along with the guys that ran them when I first came aboard. (Anyone remember Trimount, Gulf Coast, Advance Automatic, Eli Ross and my bestie, Johnny Bilotta?)
Venerable manufacturers like Bally, Gottlieb, Chicago Coin, Williams and Midway –– companies I thought would be making machines forever –– are all gone. And the people who stood out on the route side like AMOA founders George Miller and Al Denver, local NYC operators who taught me the trade like Sam Morrison, and my Florida mentor Sol Tabb, are gone as well. “Coin-op,” a name that didn’t even exist back then, has itself become a misnomer, considering all the cashless systems, tokens and bill validators now in place.
Years back, a veteran who’d once taken a hiatus for a couple of years, called me when he came back in with a job at one of the factories. He said he was all confused about who was who and what was what. “You leave for a little bit and when you come back, you’re out of the loop,” he told me. I guess he got that right. Things had changed kind of fast, and if you didn’t keep marching with the rest of the troops, you could end up out of step.
RePlay, of course, has morphed right along with the business. Although the publication’s roots continue to run deep on the street route side, the transformation of the neighborhood arcade into the full-blown family entertainment center (FEC) was probably the biggest change in the nature of our coverage, along with the kind of the games being made for the business. I think we’ve done a decent job keeping up with events while continuing to produce a Directory Yearbook every January to help everyone keep score.
So, here’s our new one for 2018. It’s looks simple to make, but as always, it was a bear to build because we work very, very hard to make sure the listing information is accurate, and that sometimes requires multiple calls, emails and faxes to more companies than you’d believe. But, we did it, and now present it to our loyal subscribers as one more tool in the kit. Here’s to a great 2018 for everyone!