Williams-Bally-Midway the “Roman Empire” of Gaming

When I look back in my childhood and the games I played growing up, it’s hard to ignore the companies Bally, Midway, and Williams. They started off as individual companies and merged together to dominate the markets for pinballs, arcade games, and home console games.  During their peak the Williams-Bally-Midway empire expanded to multiple industries and appeared unstoppable.  Today the once mighty empire has fallen, and this is their story.

Bally Manufacturing Corporation

Bally Manufacturing Corporation was founded on January 10th, 1932 by Raymond Moloney, and was created as a pinball division from a parent company called Lion Manufacturing.  The name “Bally” actually derives from the original name of the first pinball machine that Moloney created called “Bally Hoo”.  Bally was based in Chicago,IL and earned a reputation for manufacturing quality pinball machines and games.


Early Bally Slot Machine

In the mid to late 30′s Moloney decided to get into the gambling equipment industry, and Bally introduced it’s first slot machine called the “Bally Baby” in 1936.  The “Bally Baby” was very small at only 5″x7″ and weighed only 8 pounds.  As the years went on Bally manufactured bigger and better slot machines.  

During World War II Bally took a hiatus from manufacturing pinballs and slots, and focused on manufacturing ammunition and parts for planes.

Ray Moloney

In the 1950′s Bally further diversified and began manufacturing vending machines, a coffee vending service, and briefly ventured into the music business with their own record label.

By 1958 Ray Moloney passed away and Bally was financially unstable.  Fortunately Bally was purchased by a group of investors, including one of Moloney’s former business associates in 1963.

Also in 1963 Bally invented the revolutionary electromechanical system and introduced it in a slot machine called “Money Honey”.  This new technology would set the standard for modern day slot machines today, and by 1968 94% of all slots machines in Nevada casinos were manufactured by Bally.  In the late 1960′s Bally would become publicly traded, and Bally made several key acquisitions in 1969 including German company Guenter Wulff-Apparatebau (renamed Bally Wulff) and Midway Manufacturing (later renamed Midway Games).  Midway Manufacturing was an amusement game company from Schiller Park, IL.  The videogame segment of Bally would later be renamed Bally/Midway.

Bally continued to grow in the 70′s.  They entered the casino business once Atlantic City legalized gambling, and opened up their first casino Park Place Casino and Hotel on December 29th 1979.  During this time company head William O’Donnell was forced to resign do to alleged links to organized crime.

Bally Professional Arcade System

Also in the 1970′s Bally made an entry into the growing home computer market by releasing the Bally Home Library Computer in 1977.  The Bally Home Library Computer quickly was renamed the Bally Professional Arcade, and eventually renamed again to the Bally Astrocade.   The Bally Astrocade had BASIC programing and featured 256 colors, and was released to compete with the very popular Atari 2600 console.  Unfortunately the Bally Astrocade suffered the fate of many gaming systems in the mid 80′s do to the video game crash in 1983, and the Bally Astrocade was discontinued by 1985. This was Bally’s only attempt to make a home console.

Bally Total Fitness Logo

Bally’s fortunes continued through the early 1980′s and Bally began venturing into more industries. In 1983 Bally purchased the Six Flags amusement park chain, and started Bally Total Fitness which still operates locations throughout the US and Canada today. In addition the casino business continued to thrive, and Bally purchased MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas and rebranded it as Bally’s Las Vegas.  They also purchased The Golden Nugget Casino and Hotel in Atlantic City and rebranded it as The Grand-A Bally’s Casino Resort.  With the quick expansion Bally’s financials were starting to take a toll.  In 1988 Williams Electronics purchased the pinball division along with Midway Games, and would eventually sell Six Flags to Time Warner.

Midway Games

Midway Manufacturing Co began in 1958 as an independent manufacturer of amusement equipment. Once Midway was acquired by Bally in 1969 Midway began making mechanical amusement games including a simulated western shootout, and a puck bowling game.  It was in 1973 that Midway began to make arcade games after seeing the success of Pong in the arcades by Atari.

Throughout the 1970′s Midway began to form a close working relationship with Japanese videogame publisher Taito.  Both Midway and Taito agreed to distribute and license each other’s games in their respective countries. This turned out to be a key move for Midway because in 1978 Taito through Midway released Space Invaders which would end up being one of the top grossing arcade games ever. So much so that there were quarter shortages when it was released.

In the 1980′s Midway would also team up with another Japanese videogame publisher Namco, and in 1980 Pac-Man would become another huge hit for Midway.  By this time Midway was becoming a household name for arcade goers, and Midway decided to release Ms. Pac-Man arcade in 1981 (Ms. Pac-Man was an unauthorized game by Namco). Today Ms. Pac-Man is considered one of the greatest arcade games of all time. Also in 1981 Bally decide to merge their pinball division with Midway and rebrand it as Bally/Midway.

Once Bally/Midway was acquired by Williams Electronics in 1988, Bally/Midway would continue in the 90′s on releasing some top arcade games including the Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam franchises.

Williams Electronics

Williams Electronics was founded by Harry Williams in 1943 in Chicago, IL.  Williams Electronics’ first couple of games included some pinball games, and a fortune teller machine. Do to World War II the cost to manufacturing machines became difficult and expensive. Williams was an engineer and devised the “tilt” mechanism for pinball machines. The very first pinball machine by Williams Electronics was Suspense, and was released in 1946.

Williams' first pinball machine

Williams would continue manufacturing pinball machines as well as a baseball game machine. In 1950 Lucky Inning was the first pinball machine to have two bottom flippers facing inwards in the modern manner. Later in 1958 Williams Electronics was renamed Williams Electronics Manufacturing Company.

Throughout the 60′s Williams continued to produce and manufacture pinball machines.  In 1962 3 Coin became the first 1,000 table seller for Williams, and in 1966 A-Go-Go sold a staggering 5,100 tables. Early Williams pinball tables included a lot of first features including a mechanical reel scoring and the “add-a-ball” feature.

Paddle-Ball-Williams' Pong clone

Atari had released Pong in the arcades in 1973, and Williams took notice of Atari’s success.  Later that year in 1973 Williams released Paddle-Ball in the arcades which was essentially a Pong clone. This marked Williams first move into the coin operated videogame industry. Williams would continue manufacturing arcade games and would release such classics as Joust, Defender, and Robotron 2084.

Williams also entered the solid state electronic pinball market with their first prototype Aztech (1976), and Grand Prix. Williams would continue to focus heavily on manufacturing electronic pinball tables including Firepower (1980), Black Knight (1980), Space Shuttle (1984), Comet (1985), Pin*Bot (1986), F-14 Tomcat (1987) and Cyclone (1988).

The videogame crash of 1983 occurred, and Williams Electronics Manufacturing Company managed to weather the storm. By 1985 Williams again changed their name to Williams Electronics Inc, and in 1987 became publicly traded, and the company’s parent name was WMS (short for Williams) Industries, Inc.

In 1988 WMS acquired Bally/Midway and for nearly a decade the company was known as Williams-Bally-Midway.  For years WMS would continue to manufacture pinball tables under both the Bally and Williams names, while Midway would concentrate on videogames and arcades. Thus ending Williams videogame brand in 1991.  Also in 1991 WMS created a new division called WMS Gaming which developed video lottery terminals (the first to bring them to Oregon in 1992).

Addams Family Pinball Machine

Also in 1992 WMS produced the Addams Family pinball table based off of the 1991 movie.  The Addams Family pinball table would go on to sell 20,270 machines, making it the best selling pinball table of all time.

Unfortunately by the late 1990′s public interest in pinball tables were declining. WMS gave it one more shot by producing the Pinball 2000 series of pinball tables.  The Pinball 2000 series would introduce video images that would interact with the table, and would bring a special videogame aspect to the machine.  Only two Pinball 2000 machines were produced (Revenge from Mars and Star Wars Episode I), neither of which sold well, so WMS decided to pull out of the pinball market leaving Stern as the remaining manufacturer today.

The 1990′s were difficult for WMS, so they decided in 1994 to enter reel-spinning slot machine market.  This move proved successful for WMS, and in 1996 WMS produced their first casino slot machine hit Reel ‘em In, a “multi-line, multi-coin secondary bonus” video slot machine.  Meanwhile by 1996, WMS had transferred all of the copyrights and trademarks in its video game library to Midway, including Defender, Robotron:2084, Joust, and SmashTV, as it took Midway public and finally spun it off in 1998.

As more and more states permitted gambling on Indian land, the more and more WMS Gaming grew.  Today WMS Gaming continues to produce and manufacture gambling game equipment and slot machines.

As for Bally, now known as Bally Technologies, they produce and manufacture gambling game equipment as well, and are ironically considered a competitor to WMS Gaming. Bally Technologies also continues to operate casinos and hotels all over the world.

Sadly Midway Games’ fate wasn’t so kind.  After WMS spun off Midway Games in 1998, Midway Games continued producing both arcades and games for the home consoles.  In 2009 Midway Games filed bankruptcy, and on May 21st, 2009 Warner Bros took over many of Midway Games properties including Mortal Kombat.  Midway Games has closed its doors, and is no longer around.

Together William-Bally-Midway was a true “Roman Empire” for video games.  They produced and introduced some huge hits including Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Addams Family Pinball, Mortal Kombat and more.  They have influenced how pinball games and gambling machines work today, and it’s sad to see that they are no longer involved in the videogame and arcade markets.

 

About Gamester81

John "Gamester81" Lester started playing video games at a very young age. His first ever console that he played was a Colecovision, quickly followed by an Atari 2600, and his passion for video games hasn't stopped. In 2008 John decided to start a video game review show on YouTube called Gamester81 by reviewing rare and retro video game systems and games. His show quickly grew in popularity, and he became friends with many other gamers in the YouTube community. He is also one of the hosts of the All Gen Gamers Podcast which is a weekly podcast for for people and video games of all generations. Some of John's other hobbies includes collecting Star Wars memorabilia (YouTube channel Starwarsnut77), playing classic arcade games (YouTube channel Gamester81Arcade), watching sports, and listening to music. John is a big fan of the 80's and 90's and in 2009 started a YouTube channel called NEStalgiaholic where he talks about nostalgic items and memories from his childhood. To see some of John's video's in 3D visit his YouTube channel Gamester81in3D. Favorite Systems: Colecovision, Commodore 64, NES, & SNES. Favorite Games: Donkey Kong Arcade, Atari Star Wars Arcade, Super Mario 3, Final Fantasy II, & Goldeneye 007
  • Ssilversgs

    The reason that WMS’s slot machine business thrived while the pinball business did not is because the margins were/are much higher on the slot machines. The pinball games could not be sold for as much.