When I was a young buck starting out as your cub coin-op reporter at the old Cash Box magazine in the early ’60s, the number one “political” subject on the industry’s table wasn’t jukebox record royalties, anti-pinball laws, gray equipment or counterfeit circuit boards. It was raising play-prices on the machines. Back then, you still had some jukeboxes charging a dime a tune, and the same for shuffleboard and some other novelties. Wurlitzer had a “Ten Top Tunes” feature that allowed for ten plays for two quarters! Good deal for the folks. No so hot for the operators.
Then came the push for 2-for-25-cent play as personified by Sega pioneer Dave Rosen, often pictured in the magazines holding two fingers up like Churchill to push for this price on his shooting novelty Periscope. Straight quarter play on pool was introduced in 1957 and later on pinball and then early videos like Pong and Breakout. Anything higher than that was verboten among many operators who were terrified of getting screamed at by locations.
Competition, as far as I can tell, was much keener among operators back then. Location jumping by means of offering juicy loans and bonuses to the bar owners to change over was pretty much the daily fear. So, how could the rank and file route guys dream of raising the price per play in the face of all that? Grudgingly or not, and with considerable push by game factories that pre-set prices to 50-cent play, the campaign rolled along (although some jacked the play price back down to a quarter anyway). And so it went…and so it goes.
And now for something completely different…raising the prices too high (and the sister problem, making the percentaging too strict). There’s an article inside this issue written by a bright young man named Dustin Wilcox you need to read. It’ll make some people angry, but it’s really food for thought. Dustin, who not only loves coin-operated games but has the talent to write about them intelligently, mentions some games he’s met that he’s taken a pass on because the play price was so high.
There are many skills put to work in this business. Selling a machine, landing a new location, setting a game room, fixing breakdowns, arranging financing, ad nauseum. Now, we add play pricing along with ticket throw and auto-prize percentaging to the mix. (By the way, the guys at Stars and Strikes set most of their cranes to reward a prize once out of every three plays.) I know it’s almost an art form trying the please the player while making a decent living. But you’re in the entertainment field, and you have to please both sides of the issue. Just don’t think about what the market will bear, always remember that winners make players!