The coin-op industry is known for sharing staff across various companies, from engineers to presidents there’s always been a shift from one opportunity to the next within the collegiate industry. Salesman in particular often have rather diverse careers in a short period and a couple permeate the pages of the coin-op magazines. These six stories I present today were men who were so ubiquitous that you could have barely picked up an issue of Cash Box, Play Meter, Vending Times, or Replay and not seen one of their names. These folks provide some of the best insight into arcade video game companies of the 70s and 80s and deserve recognition for their contributions to the field.
Mr. Bhutani got his start right at the origin of arcade video games. Of Indian descent and fresh out of college from Texas University, he joined Atari in 1973 to be their export administrator to both Europe and the soon-important market of Japan (Replay 06/1984). Through the latter efforts he got involved with the infamous Atari Japan operation, forming a lifelong relationship with eventual Atari Games president Hideyuki Nakajima (Bhutani 2016).
While the international ventures did not work out well for Atari financially, Satish gained immense perspective and respect within the coin-op business. Feeling stymied by the new management brought into Atari in 1974, Bhutani joined with Atari sales manager Pat Karns, Atari engineer Larry Leppert, and Cuban businessman Oberto Alvarez to form a new California-based coin-op company called Fun Games. Legal action by Atari swiftly followed, but this actually caused the national profile of Fun Games to increase, resulting in – Bhutani claims – him becoming the highest paid sales executive in the industry at the time (Cash Box 04/03/1976; Bhutani 2016).
Fun Games never had the infrastructure to ascend to greater heights, and Bhutani jumped ship in mid 1976 to lead another California-based house called Project Support Engineering as director of international marketing, most famous for it’s Maneater cabinet (Replay 06/1976; Play Meter 07/1976). He had nothing to do with that, but Satish did come up with the idea for the cabinet for PSE’s next biggest hit Bazooka. Having seen the game, he thought it would be a good marketing ploy to add a Bazooka controller to the front to allow for greater visceral control (Bhutani 2016).
While Bhutani eventually rose to become vice president of PSE, there really was no way forwards for the types of products they were producing. Then his old friend Hideyuki Nakajima proposed that he help establish the American branch office of Masaya Nakamura’s company, Namco (Bhutani 2016). He left his job at PSE on May 27th, 1978 and set about building the new office from scratch after assuming the position of marketing staff on June 1st, opening officially on September 1st of the same year (Replay 06/1978; Replay 09/1978).
Namco’s first major US hit was actually not a video game, but instead a skeet shooting game called Shoot Away (designed by the man who would later create Galaxian). This game was immensely popular in its day, with Bhutani unable to supply the demand. Shoot Away remained popular for many years after its introduction, still being sold into at least 1986 (Bhutani 2016; Joanne Anderson 2017).
While working with people he respected and traveling the world was a definite plus, it quickly became clear that Namco was in no rush to set up it’s own manufacturing operation in the US. With no real clear path forward, Bhutani decided to leave the company for the time being. However one of the last things he did was take a look at one of Namco’s newest products, encouraging them to change it’s name to prevent vandalism. This is, of course, the famous legend of how Puck Man became Pac-Man, and Bhutani still keeps a Puck Man cocktail cabinet in his garage to this day (Bhutani 2016).
Bhutani decided to shoot for a more ambitious Japanese company getting it’s start, the not-well-established Data East. He joined in as executive vice president in June of 1980, spearheading their introduction of the first system hardware, the DECO Cassette System (Replay 06/1980). While paving the way for the later Nintendo VS System and Neo Geo, the DECO system never managed to get off the ground because none of the games were particularly good earners, and the hits they did have (Burgertime and Bump ‘n Jump) they licensed to Midway as full cabinets (Bhutani 2016).
Taking a short break through the middle of 1982, Bhutani found a new international partnership, but this time not from Japan (Play Meter 05/15/1982). Major Italian coin-op amusement company Zaccaria was interested in establishing its pinball line stateside, approaching Bhutani because of his expertise (Replay 01/1983). Together they formed a joint sales venture called Bhuzac International in 1983 to revitalize the American pinball market (Play Meter 04/15/1983; Replay 06/1984; Bhutani 2016).
This went great… Until Zaccaria filed for bankruptcy in 1985. While the Italian company would ultimately survive for a few years longer, Bhutani’s operation was crippled by the reputation. With operators afraid that they wouldn’t be able to get their machines repaired because of the collapse of Zaccaria, he was left with warehouses full of pinball machines. He managed to expunge his inventory by selling it in Germany for 70 cents on the dollar (Bhutani 2016).
Another extended break followed this collapse with Bhutani exploring other career options and briefly joining a company ironically named All American Amusements. He was pulled back into the fold once again by his cohort Nakajima-san who wanted Bhutani to return to the company where he started, Atari, now under the Atari Games banner after being split in 1985 (Bhutani 2016). Namco had briefly maintained a controlling interest in the company which put Nakajima at the head, but he had accrued a lot of loyalty, even from the old-timers (Caruso 2015).
On the first day of the new year in 1988, Bhutani assumed the head sales position at Atari Games. Once again it was a return to form, but it was an uneasy one. The coin-op industry was anything but stable, which while exciting for some can be rather difficult as people get older. He decided that after just under a year of dutiful service that he would become a housing developer instead, leaving the crazy coin business behind him (Replay 12/1988; Bhutani 2016).
Bhutani retains friendliness with the coin-op industry to this day, having known Nakajima literally up until his dying hour and presenting his daughter at her wedding (Bhutani 2016). He was the import king of the late 1980s and managed to maintain a chipper spirit despite the many dead ends he came across.
Chuck Arnold Jr.
While the oldest of this lot, Chuck Arnold was not a coin-man by trade like some of the others in his position. Prior to getting into the industry he had been a salesman of medical cabinets, but got tapped by manufacturer Chicago Dynamic Industries (under the label of Chicago Coin) to become a sales manager in 1971. The 45 year old Arnold quickly started creating excitement around their new products, spearheading their hectic 1971 MOA show (Chuck Arnold 2017).
The following year, Arnold purchased a Magnavox Odyssey for his household. He claims that this technology was what inspired Chicago Coin to enter the Pong market, not the second-hand introduction of Pong to the table tennis concept. Regardless of how they first came into video games though, Arnold had long been promoting the idea of using solid-state electronics in arcade machines, an idea he claims to have picked up from his son (Cash Box 07/14/1973; Chuck Arnold 2017).
No forward looking could stall the inevitable fate of Chicago Coin, by far the least of the Chicago manufacturers by this time, and so Arnold gladly jumped ship when the opportunity was presented by Allied Leisure in Florida to be their vice president of marketing (Cash Box 01/26/1974). The successful manufacturer had made a name for itself with Pong clones, but also had a bad reputation (not at all helped by the factory burning down a few weeks after he started his tenure). He did what he could to minimize manufacturing difficulties and prop up the company name, but ultimately he got the same uneasy feeling from the heads of the company as many of the employees did (Chuck Arnold 2017).
In 1975 Arnold decided to be more entrepreneurial, moving his family out to California to head up the sales of an insignificant company called Major Manufacturers as vice president of marketing (Play Meter 09/1975). While ultimately a company no more scrupulous than most of the cocktail table manufacturers, they may have produced some of the first microprocessor-based video games (though Arnold didn’t recall). He was barely there for a few months before escaping as the company vanished (Chuck Arnold 2017).
Ramtek gave Chuck a chance at redemption the following year by offering him the vice president of marketing position for their firm (Replay 01/1976). Ramtek’s main business had always been mostly in computer monitors, which meant the sideline of the arcade business was never given the support to grow into something greater despite their impressive technology (All in Color for a Quarter; Chuck Arnold 2017).
During this time, Arnold got to see the friendly relationship between Ramtek head Chuck McEwan and Atari head Nolan Bushnell. Not only does Arnold claim that some of Atari’s pinball technology came from Ramtek, but he recalls physical competitions between the tall and fit peas-in-a-pod, jumping over the signs outside the Ramtek factory (Chuck Arnold 2017).
Left without support from the parent company at Ramtek, Arnold moved over to a larger and more stable player, Rowe International. Specifically he became more involved with distribution as a field sales manager, selling both Rowe’s own jukebox line as well as several other game lines (Replay 04/1977). He maintained this steady position until he was roped into becoming the president of Bally Northeast, one of the many distributing branches of the amusement manufacturer (Cash Box 03/13/1982).
Bally underwent major changes during Arnold’s tenure, moving far away from amusements and into the gambling sector. While this didn’t bother Arnold all that much, he did find the work far less exciting, so when a company in Redmond, Washington called him he was ready for a change. Nintendo was that company of course, well past it’s arcade heyday but desiring an experienced salesman to keep things humming along through the days of PlayChoice-10 and the Supersystem (Chuck Arnold 2017).
Unfortunately as the home business came to dominate the company’s focus, there would have to be an eventual break of the arcade segment of Nintendo. Late head of the American arcade branch, Al Stone, wrapped things up in June of 1992, leaving Chuck to find new minor work in the industry (Replay 07/1992; Cash Box 07/18/1992).
While Arnold never worked for a major manufacturer following this enterprise, he has remained in the coin-op industry in consulting positions up until the present day at the ripe young age of 91. He and his son command a great deal of respect within the industry with the elder Arnold maintaining a reputation of legendary salesman such that the coin-op industry has rarely seen (Chuck Arnold 2017).
The traditional way of getting into the coin-op industry from the olden days of yore was usually serving as an operator of locations, moving up to a distribution position in the industry itself, then landing an in-house position at a manufacturer or starting your own company. The next four we’ll be looking at all entered the industry in a similar manner, and Ken Anderson managed to find himself at the top of the heap through sheer perseverance.
Anderson started out operating and distributing jukeboxes in California with fellow future all-star Bill Cravens (to be discussed later). They went together to Wurlitzer in the mid-60s, with Anderson rising up in sales positions in the Western sales office (Cash Box 10/06/1973; Replay 05/1982). He broke off in 1974 to become the domestic sales manager for Chicago Coin, filling in the gaps left by Chuck Arnold even as the company struggled to maintain it’s footing (Cash Box 04/27/1974).
Anderson’s bid at more interesting pastures was actually Fun Games, taking on a marketing executive role alongside Pat Karns (Replay 03/1976; Replay 04/1976). The Chicago Coin expat did what he could to prop up the company with impressive promotion, but he quickly discovered that no amount of marketing can prop up a terrible game (All in Color for a Quarter).
Fun Games was acquired by another small California-based manufacturer called Meadows Games in 1977, and so Anderson moved up the vice president of marketing role (Cash Box 03/02/1977). Parent company escapades from Holosonics quickly squashed any hopes of it’s growth for Meadows though.
Leaping out of that mess, Anderson found himself back in Chicago when he was asked to help found a new firm called Game Plan in Elk Grove Village, Illinois as the marketing vice president (Cash Box 07/15/1978). The amusement producer was well-run with luminaries of the industry like Troy Livingston and Roger Sharpe heading up the pinball product, but a couple bad licensing deals for other products put some holes in their boat. One of these bad deals, claims Anderson, put the decision for taking Pac-man down to a coin flip which Game Plan won, not choosing to take the weird game over Namco’s other offerings (All in Color for a Quarter).
Following his destiny, Anderson left with fellow Game Plan executive Stan Levin to found Model Racing USA, the exclusive importer for Italian manufacturer Model Racing (Replay 05/1982). Not able to make a dent with largely electro-mechanical games, Anderson went solo by founding his own kit company called Ken Anderson Associates (Replay 01/1983; Cash Box 05/21/1983). He would primarily do business with a company called Destron, which would also fail to weather the industry crash (Tony 2017).
Regardless, this expertise in conversion kits allowed him to take a sales manager position with the gambling company Viking Sales Group for their own excursions into interchangeable slots (Replay 03/1984). The amusement industry would need his expertise back though, so he took up the mantle of marketing vice president for the floundering but floating Cinematronics (Replay 08/1985). He oversaw the release of World Series Baseball, Cinematronics’ first major hit after Dragon’s Lair which allowed them to keep their heads afloat for a while.
With the company damaged the way it was though, Anderson saw that they needed an influx of cash to stay alive. He used his connections to get in touch with the Cook family, Byron and Leland, who were wealthy folks involved rather heavily in the coin-op industry to that point. His desperation play worked, resulting in Cinematronics being acquired by Tradewest on March 30, 1987 and subsequently renamed Leland Corporation (Replay 04/1987; Replay 07/1987; All in Color for a Quarter).
Leland Corp continued the rest of it’s natural life at some manner of respectability, but Anderson took leave as they began down-sizing to follow the whims of his next courtier: Data East (Replay 1992/02; Replay 1992/03). However, shortly after announcing his appointment there, he immediately pivoted to join Sega instead due (Replay 1992/04). One way or another he was clearly chasing a better opportunity, though it’s hard to imagine this didn’t affect his reputation within the industry itself.
Anderson enjoyed a long an illustrious career at Sega as their vice president of sales and marketing, lasting all the way until 2002. Under the head direction of Al Stone he maintained Sega’s predominant position within the coin-op business even in the midst of their great consumer troubles. Like others he has continued operating in minor roles, such as at BMI Gaming, and stands as one of the real reliable old-timers that still walks the Earth today.
Representing the link between the old and new, Paul Jacobs entered the industry by lineage. He had planned to be a dentist, but his father Harry Jacobs was the founder and president of United Inc., a relatively minor distributor in the 1960s. It was a good start for Paul who ascended to vice president of sales and marketing in 1969 and eventually president in 1970 after his father died of a heart attack (Cash Box 03/08/1969). Wurlitzer tapped Jacobs to head up their Milwaukee branch office, bringing him on a line with many of the other to-be luminaries discussed here (Cash Box 12/05/1970; Cognevich).
Striking out on his own in late 1973, Jacobs established his own distributor office called Universal Music and acquired his former office’s inventory to boost his profile (Cash Box 05/24/1974). Despite the name, this was a distributor of a wide array of products, including video games like Kee Games’ Elimination (Cash Box 01/12/1974; Cognevich). Rowe International scooped up Jacobs to move him down to their offices in New Orleans, but word of his prowess was starting to get around (Cash Box 06/21/1975).
Ken Anderson – friend from the Wurlitzer days – offered Jacobs a job at Chicago Coin, which he initially turned down, but came around and assumed the role of the director of European sales for Chicago Coin on November 1st, 1975 (Cash Box 11/22/1975). Jacobs was there for Chicago Coin’s last ever MOA show, in which they showcased a game called Demolition Derby (Replay 03/1976). This game had been licensed from California-based Exidy and he soon got an offer from President Pete Kauffman to join the company as the director of marketing (Cash Box 05/15/1976; Cognevich).
When he arrived at Exidy, Jacobs would find that he was selling the same game he had been hawking at Chicago Coin but with a small twist. As a result of Chicago Coin having garnered exclusive rights to produce Destruction/Demolition Derby and their impending demise, Exidy decided to modify the game so they could use it as an interim product for income. Engineer Howell Ivy made small modifications to the game by changing the enemy cars into little “gremlins” and calling the game “Death Race” (Keith Smith 2013 ; Cognevich).
Jacobs would find himself wielding a double-edged sword as Death Race took off. On the one hand, he had a major hit that distributors couldn’t get enough of. On the other, he was being accused of facilitating all sorts of morally bankrupt acts. As these panics fade though, the memory left was only that of a monster hit that rocketed Exidy up to being the third biggest arcade video game manufacturer in the industry in 1977 (Keith Smith 2013; Cognevich).
He received equal parts praise and criticism for his handling of the situation at Exidy, but he steered the ship for two more years without any major successes keeping Exidy in their hopeful position. Instead, he decided to take an opportunity to move up the ranks by coming into the role of Meadows Games as President in September 1978. Meadows having just been purchased by hologram company Holosonics, they ousted the current president Harry Kurek to bring in Jacobs to settle their debts (Play Meter 09/15/1978).
The period at Meadows apparently ended rather unhappily. Jacobs openly spoke out against Holosonics’ actions to the coin-op press, which was very uncustomary for such a close together industry, basically dooming the company’s reputation (Replay 03/1979). His next move was to try and save the floundering Vectorbeam by assuming the president’s role (Cash Box 04/07/1979). It was apparently outside of his knowledge that Larry Rosenthal made the move to sell the company to Cinematronics, though he took the purchase in thoughtful stride even as he didn’t wish to continue with the operation (Cash Box 06/30/1979; Play Meter 07/15/1979).
Apparently now under the full spell of California despite the difficulties, Jacobs joined with Rainbow Games, a manufacturer formed out of the ashes of Ramtek’s defunct amusement division (Replay 11/1979; Replay 12/1979). As the allure of the East started coming in though, he once again had to pivot. A fellow named George Nakayama propositioned Jacobs to come staff the American office of Japanese amusement company Universal after the President had departed. He assumed the role of executive vice president in January 1980 and hastily ascended to President and COO (Replay 02/1980; Replay 09/1980; Cognevich).
Universal definitely had some interesting product for the time, and Jacobs created an environment for it’s future success. With all the product being imported from Japan on giant shipping freights, Jacobs proposed the idea of only sending over the boards mainly to offset the cost of having to dump games that performed poorly (Cognevich). Since, like so many of the Japanese companies, Universal did not have any manufacturing capability, Jacobs made a deal with early kit company Venture Line to produce kit versions of their game Lady Bug (Replay 03/1982).
The risk-taking spirit was calling again though, prompting Jacobs to take the reins of Thomas Automatics in June 1982 (Replay 04/1982; Replay 06/1982). This was an especially strange change because Thomas Automatics was barely above board in terms of it’s dealings. It licensed legitimate games from legitimate companies mostly, but it’s largest disaster came from a bootleg bundle called Ten Spot produced by a scrupulous licensee. Jacobs saw himself out in February 1983 (Cash Box 1983/02/26).
Dropping out of sight briefly, Jacobs shacked up with Ken Anderson with his Ken Anderson Associates company as a consultant (Replay 06/1983). Probably through Jacobs’ impetus they released a stand-alone interchangeable cabinet, a growing trend at the time which was unusual for those not actually manufacturing games (Replay 08/1983).
The next big move was the triumphant return to Exidy in September 1983, taking on the executive vice president role right alongside Pete Kauffman (Replay 09/1983). In this position, Jacobs brokered the highly unusual deal of converting computer games from First Star Software into arcade games under the Max-a-Flex system, namely Boulder Dash and Astro Chase (Keith Smith 08/2013). However, these attempts were not highly successful, though he left the company in April feeling good about his progress (Replay 05/1984).
Anderson and Jacobs once again met up, this time at Viking, though Jacobs actually went to the factory side, Viking Manufacturing whilst Anderson remained in sales (Replay 08/1984; Replay 09/1984). Deciding to turn that way himself, Jacobs started Coin Sports out of Scottsdale, Arizona to become a coin-op sales rep for imports and exports (Replay 01/1985). Restless with such easy tasks though, he jumped in with a familiar manufacturer, Mel McEwan formerly of Ramtek who had established a company called Meltec which persisted well into the 90s (Replay 03/1985; Replay 04/1985).
In a so-called “reunion” of the staff at Universal, Jacobs received a literal knock on the door from George Nakayama, who had been propositioned by Kenzo Tsujimoto to build up an American office for Capcom. Jacobs became the director of sales and marketing at Capcom USA, soon joined by Bill Cravens and Joe Morici which had also been at Universal (Play Meter 10/15/1985). For a time Jacobs assumed the role of sales for the home games division, but they stuck to one of his successful strategies by offseting a lot of their initial arcade game manufacturing to the kit company Romstar for the first few years (Replay 12/1985; Cognevich).
Capcom was always trying to expand beyond the coin business in interesting ways even in the early period, and for a time Jacobs was positioned to explore some of these new areas (Replay 06/1986). Ultimately though he was a coin man and one of many manufacturer fancies. After receiving reccomendation from two prime men in the industry, he left Capcom for what would become one of their main rivals, SNK, setting up their new factory as the executive vice president and general manager (Replay 12/1986; Cognevich). Once again, he became president within months (Replay 03/1987).
At SNK, Jacobs finally found some stability in his winding career, reluctant or not. He introduced the Neo Geo to North America and propped the company up from little shooter manufacturer to a premiere company with some of the most interesting product through the early 1990s (Replay 03/1990). He put the Neo Geo’s success down to the fact that SNK did not back down putting their hit product on their system hardware, unlike companies like Data East. However, a move of corporate offices for consolidation of home and coin-op made Jacobs decide to depart from his long-term benefactors, leaving him to find yet more un-grazed pastures (Replay 03/1992; Cognevich).
Data East was the new stomping grounds, becoming the vice president of sales and marketing for both coin and consumer games (Replay 08/1992). They had several big licensing successes under his tenure like Jurassic Park pinball and he eventually rose to become an executive VP, yet again (Replay 07/1993). As they moved up to Chicago in 1994, Jacobs decided to head the opposite way down to Scottsdale, Arizona and get out of the manufacturing business (Cognevich).
Just like many of his cohorts, Jacobs continues in the coin-op industry in various minor roles. He headed up Americoin which was the exclusive importer for Taito after they stopped their operations in the US (Replay 1997/02). Following that he bought a coin route in Milwaukee, bringing his career full circle (Cognevich). He was last seen as a billiards company, Gold Standard/Shelti. I have been looking to get in touch, so if you know this extraordinary executive, send him my way!
By far the most legendary and well-known salesman in the whole coin-op industry, Bill Cravens is credited at being at the forefront of trends well before anybody else. In many ways though, he had a lot of luck in catching those waves. As mentioned previously he was partners with Ken Anderson in operation of jukeboxes on the West Coast, then assumed a sales position with Wurlitzer alongside his partner (Cash Box 11/16/1968).
Instead of advancing up the ranks in Wurlitzer though, Cravens took a job Portale Automatic, a major West Coast distributor (Cash Box 05/06/1972). Here he got lucky at getting one of the earliest looks at Pong from Atari, vividly recalling Nolan Bushnell’s sleek attitude as the new era of the coin-op business was ushered in (All in Color for a Quarter). For a time he moved his family out to Colorado to continue his operating business, but moved back into California in 1977 just in time to get his first break (Todd Cravens 2017; Ryan Cravens 2017).
Cravens arrived at Cinematronics as director of marketing right about the time that Larry Rosenthal had convinced them to manufacture his suitcase vector Space War into a full blown product. With his assertive attitude and various connections, he managed to raise money for development and manufacturing the game Space Wars through a staggered but ultimately successful production schedule (Replay 02/1978; All in Color for a Quarter).
Larry Rosenthal however was not happy with his deal with Cinematronics and felt he could create his own company dedicated to pushing the vector technology forwards. For this he went to Cravens and proposed partnering together to start a firm. From this came Vectorbeam, initially named Sunrise Research, eventually located in Union City, California (Replay 05/1978; Play Meter 7/15/1978; All in Color for a Quarter).
Having two people who had only barely worked for amusement manufacturers before was perhaps not the best plan for management, so the pair brought in Gil Levine as the primary manager. As Joanne Anderson remembers it, Cravens was a tough guy with a set attitude, but could accrue respect from others through his way of doing things (Joanne Anderson 2017). He pushed what he could at Vectorbeam, but bowed out well before the sale.
In mid-to-late 1978 Cravens assumed the mantle of the president of Holosonics, the parent company of Meadows Games, but the reasons are rather unclear (Replay 11/1978). It may have just been a hold over for when Paul Jacobs resigned early the following year, leaving the mess in Cravens’ hands while Jacobs had to deal with Vectorbeam (Play Meter 3/15/1979). Both of them would fail to clean up the others’ mess and with the collapse of Holosonics, Cravens disappeared for a time.
Pacific Novelty, a California-based company, brought Cravens out of the shadows as marketing director (Replay 01/1982). He arrived ready to try and sort out the company’s woes of slow growth, and according to him he tried to proposition Pacific Novelty into offering their name Mr. F Lea a kit game. They had created a character with the game to be marketable, perhaps prompting Cravens to see the connection to ubiquity at this very early point. They denied his ambitions though, and he presumably went scowering for a company that would let him have his way. That company would be Universal (Cash Box 02/05/1983; All in Color for a Quarter).
At least, that’s the story that’s normally told. As will be mentioned in a post later this year, there’s a lot of timeline difficulties with Cravens’ version of events. Not the least of which of it is that Paul Jacobs had already introduced Universal to kit games as mentioned in the prior section. According to the well-known story though, Bill Cravens convinced Universal to offer their latest game Mr. Do as a kit game.
One of his masterful early marketing strokes was convincing Gary Stern of Stern Electronics to convert a Scramble cabinet into a Mr. Do cabinet at an event called the “San Diego Conversion Expo” in order to showcase the ease of conversion for operators (Replay 04/1983). There was a great deal of resistance from standard operators and distributors to kit games, so many of the manufacturers started working together to dispel the notion of kits as a disposable product.
To acclimate the industry into accepting an interchangeable board game, Cravens set up kit service centers in the United States to allow operators to send in their old games to be converted into Mr. Do cabinets by Universal’s technician’s handiwork (Replay 02/1984). This was an incredibly important – and risky – step to the acceptance of the kit game. At one early point the dedicated cabinets were 10% next to the conversions’ 90% (Replay 06/1983).
Now decidedly a superstar in the coin-op world and with no really outstanding product coming from Universal, Cravens had many courtiers at his doorstep. Two Japanese companies that had his ear were Nintendo and Konami, who both wanted to rope in his expertise. After long negotiations, he decided to sign with Konami, but when he was at a coin meeting out in Hawaii he was cornered by Minoru Arakawa and Howard Lincoln of Nintendo. They told him that he was coming along with them, so Cravens was fenangled to Washington to join Nintendo (Replay 08/1984; Ryan Cravens).
Nintendo was beginning to experience success with it’s own convertible-esque system, the VS System arcade set-up which incorporated two monitors into one sit-down cabinet. While the direction of the product was pretty much already set by that point, Cravens brought the system to a new level, over the long-lasted life of the system managing to sell tens of thousands of units (Replay 06/1986).
It was of course at this time that Nintendo was beginning to shift it’s focus into the home, which the VS System itself was a part of. Jeff Walker recalls receiving the offer to join this eventually more lucrative operations, but he turned it down because he didn’t see the potential (Jeff Walker 2017). Whether or not Cravens was ever offered this position, he unlike Walker never expressed any regret about his choice to remain in coin-op (Todd Cravens 2017).
With the arcade business at Nintendo just beginning to decline, Cravens lept to a company that was more serious about maintaining a leadership position: Capcom. There he joined the cast of the Universal reunion as vice president of sales and made a commitment to visiting operators and distributors as much as possible (Replay 06/1986).
He also started pushing Capcom to adopt the same strategy that had been used at Nintendo with an upgrade. They should make a cartridge-based system that they could control the games on, but also make it friendly to operators by adapting it to the quickly-rising JAMMA standard for arcade wiring. This became the CPS arcade board, which would power many of Capcom’s later hits.
There is also of note a recognition he was given by the actual game creators in Japan. In the background of a stage on the game Street Fighter, Birdie’s stage, there is a graffiti rendering of a poofy haired cravens with “Bill Cravens” written beneath. Specifics as to why this was included have not come forward, but presumably this was requested by somebody more involved with the business rather than just one of the artists on the Street Fighter team. It has immortalized Cravens as one of the few salesman given a positive pride of place in a video game.
However, even with his positive affect on the company, there was a certain bent of unprofessionalism to him. Everybody in the industry in the 70s and 80s has a Bill Cravens story, usually one of outrageous attitude or excess. Jeff Walker says that this sort of behavior caused Kenzo Tsujimoto to think twice about leaving Cravens as the face of the company before going public on the stock market. Tsujimoto decided to oust Cravens and put Walker at the head of Capcom just in time for Street Fighter II (Play Meter 02/1991; Jeff Walker 2017).
Freed from the obligations of a Japanese parent company, Cravens started his own manufacturer called Leprechaun (apparently his son Ryan’s nickname) later called Bulldog Amusements (Play Meter 02/1991). His sons both got their starts in the business with this company, which imported products from smaller Japanese firms for manufacturing (Todd Cravens 2017; Ryan Cravens 2017).
While still operating Bulldog, Cravens was contacted by Richard Ditton of Incredible Technologies, a company whom Cravens had testified against in a lawsuit some years earlier. The company was desperate for a hit and needed a sales consultant to drive some of their new business. Cravens came in and had a look at their latest addition of the Golden Tee Golf series, which had not yet grown into a major hit, and made a bold declaration to his sons that he would sell 10,000 of them. They sold more than that (Todd Cravens 2017; Ryan Cravens 2017).
Having introduced what would be one of the industry’s last major video game hits, Cravens settled down into consulting for companies like Nolan Bushnell’s uWink as his sons became involved with distribution. He never left the coin industry; literally. During the ASI coin show on March 29th, 2007 Cravens was showing signs of ill-health. His sons both saw it as him taking one last chance at seeing his old friends, and he passed away that day. His memorial party was absolutely crowded, with every surviving luminary still involved in the business making their way out to sing his praises (Replay 09/2007; Todd Cravens 2017; Ryan Cravens 2017).
Whether or not every story about Cravens is true or not (and there are a lot of stories), the impact he had on the arcade video game industry was gigantic. He represented an attitude which was core to the relationship-driven ecosystem he was a part of. He soldiered the sales end of companies with good games into a new realm, building the field in times of trouble. He is the Patron Saint of Kits (coined by Alex Smith).
For our last of the Sensational Six, we have Marty Glazman, who entered the industry as an operator in the 1970s, running over a dozen arcades (Vending times 11/1984). Following that, he spent a relatively long initial career with Empire Distributing, a Chicago-based distributor initially co-owned by legendary business figure Joe Robbins ( Cash Box 07/03/1976). Under this tutelage Glazman learned the trade from the best before joining with a smaller distributor S. L. London Music to make his mark (Play Meter 01/15/1979).
Williams Electronics started courting Glazman as early as 1980 for a sales position, eventually getting him to work in September of 1981 as the sales manager under Joseph Dillon (Replay 01/1981). His first job was to properly streamline Williams’ order process so that they could meet the new explosive demand for games like Defender which were still trending well into 1982 (Vending Times 09/1981). His efforts earned him a special award by Williams as well as a gold watch (Replay 10/1982).
As to be expected, this explosive growth had it’s downsides, and Williams cut Glazman in November of 1983 to save costs. He was swiftly picked up as vice president of sales and marketing by Nolan Bushnell’s new manufacturer, Sente Technologies, to help try and introduce their cartridge-based system, the SAC-1 (Play Meter 01/15/1984). His marketing slogan, the “Sente Solution”, was ultimately unsuccessful in spurring operators and distributors into ignoring the lack of software for their SAC hardware (Replay 04/1984; All in Color for a Quarter).
He quietly left Sente later in 1984 and started doing some consulting for Taito Corporation, who was then dealing with the death of their patriarch Michael Kogan (Replay 08/1984). Presumably through this, possibly with the connection of consultant Jack Mittel, he was offered the role of vice president of sales and marketing by Atlanta, Georgia company Digital Controls (Vending Times 11/1984; Vending Times 12/1984). He was quickly promoted to executive vice president (Cash Box 1985/01/26).
Digital operated largely as a kit company, though started getting into uprights by importing Irem’s version of Lode Runner fairly soon after Glazman’s appointment (Vending Times 12/1984). They had a relatively good business, but they were largely partaking in video gambling games.
Marty was called back into the fold by Joe Dillon, still at Williams, and so took a step up in position by becoming the vice president of sales for Williams Electronics for another long, healthy stint (Replay 04/1984). He oversaw Williams’ revitalization in the amusement sector with games like Black Knight, Narc, and Smash TV.
In July of 1990 it was reported that Glazman and fellow Willimas man Steve Blattspieler had left to pursue “personal interests” (Cash Box 07/28/1990). It’s quite possible that like many of the others we discussed that Glazman was interested on striking out with his own new company, but he was roped into the Japanese fold by Kaneko who brought him in as president to set up their new American branch from scratch in Buffalo Grove, Illinois (Cash Box 09/29/1990; Cash Box 10/20/1990).
Fitting with Kaneko’s unusual style, Glazman’s first sales task was an uneviable one. He had to sell an adult-oriented Qix-like game called Gals Panic to American operators who looked on any such nudity as perverse. While they experienced some modicum of success with the game, they also were licensing games for Sega’s arcade systems, lessening their impact as a self-sustained manufacturer (Replay 02/1991; Play Meter 02/1991).
The middling success saw Glazman finally go establish his own operation called Gizmo Enterprises, focusing on redemption games, at the tail end of 1993 (Cash Box 12/31/1993). With little reach for his sole product though, Glazman decided to rejoin Williams with a specific focus in redemption games as an operations manager (Cash Box 07/08/1995).
Williams never became a large player in redemption and exited the amusement business by spinning out it’s Midway Games division, which Marty kept with until 1999. The downfall of American coin-op ultimately drove Glazman away, but he has brought his project management ability to new roles at new companies like Hontech. He shone as the last entrepreneurial light in the American arcade business, having run the gamut of companies and games in his exciting career.
These were the tales of the Super Sales Six. Hopefully this allows everybody some perspective on the coin-op industry, not just in terms of its instability, but of the people who chose to remain in it through that. Being in the coin-op industry shapes one’s life in many ways, some positive some negative, but proves that even the most minor of operators have a chance to make a larger impact. Meritocracy at it’s finest.
All in Color for a Quarter – Written by Keith Smith, 2016. Preview copy.
Arnold, Chuck – Personal Interview, 2017.
Bhutani, Satish – Personal Interview, 2016.
Cognevich, Valarie – Undated Interview with Paul Jacobs. Coinman: Paul Jacobs, Milwaukee Coin Machine.
4 thoughts on “Super Sales Six”
My name is Nick Dwyer and I am a documentary film maker from NZ based in Tokyo.
A few years back I made a documentary series about the history of Japanese video game music called Diggin’ In The Carts.
I am currently working on a feature film and I had a question for you!
What’s the best email address to get you on?
I very much liked your documentary series back when I saw it and would be glad to talk. Send in a message on the Contact page and I will respond right away.