WMS Industries: Wikis


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WMS Industries, Inc. (NYSEWMS) is an American electronic gaming and amusement company based in Waukegan, Illinois. WMS traces its roots as far back as 1943, the Williams Manufacturing Company, founded by Harry E. Williams. However, the company known today as WMS Industries was formally founded in 1974 as Williams Electronics, Inc. The company's main operating subsidiaries are WMS Gaming and Orion Gaming.

Williams initially was a manufacturer of pinball tables. In 1964 Williams was acquired by jukebox manufacturer Seeburg Corp. and reorganized as Williams Electronics Manufacturing Division. In 1973, the company branched out into the coin-operated arcade video game market with its Pong clone Paddle Ball. In 1974, Williams Electronics, Inc. was incorporated in Delaware as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Seeburg and replaced the previous entity. In 1987, Williams changed its parent name to WMS Industries, Inc. when it made its public offering. WMS is a shortening of Williams, which it also selected for its NYSE ticker symbol. In 1988, it acquired competitor Bally/Midway, which it spun off in 1998, together with its video game business.

WMS entered the reel-spinning slot machine market in 1994, and in 1996, it introduced its first hit casino slot machine, Reel ‘em In, a "multi-line, multi-coin secondary bonus" video slot machine. It followed this with a number of similar games like Jackpot Party, Boom and Filthy Rich. By 2001, it introduced its Monopoly-themed series of "participation" slots. WMS Gaming continued to obtain licenses to manufacture gaming machines using several additional famous brands, including "Top Gun", "The Wizard of Oz" and "Star Trek".

The WMS corporate office is in Waukegan, Illinois, and its primary development campus is in Chicago, Illinois. It has other development, sales and field services offices across the United States. Its international development offices are in Uxbridge, England and Australia, and international sales are based in Barcelona, Spain.


Early history

In 1943, Harry Williams founded Williams Manufacturing Company at 161 West Huron Street in Chicago, Illinois. The first five products were a fortune-telling machine called Superscope, another electro-mechanical game called Periscope, a novelty called Zingo, and two pinball conversions, Flat-Top and Laura. These pinball machines were made by purchasing older pinballs made by other companies and changing artwork and other elements on the playfield. The lack of raw materials during World War II made the manufacture of new machines difficult and expensive.

A Stanford engineering graduate, Williams devised the “tilt” mechanism for pinball machines. The first known original amusement device made by Williams was an early-era pinball machine called Suspense in 1946. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Williams continued to make pinball machines and the occasional bat-and-ball game. In 1950, Williams produced Lucky Inning, their first pinball table to have its bottom flippers facing inward in the modern manner. In late 1958, Williams Manufacturing became known as Williams Electronic Manufacturing Company. In 1960, company founder Harry Williams designed his last pinball table as a full-time designer, the horse racing-themed Nags.

In 1962, 3 Coin became the first Williams table to sell over 1,000 units (1,100, specifically). One year later, Skill Pool sold 2,250 units. In 1964 Williams was purchased by the Seeburg Corporation.[1] Its 1966 pinball table A-Go-Go, with its avant-garde 60s theme, sold a staggering 5,100 units. Early Williams pinball tables often included innovative features and pinball firsts, such as mechanical reel scoring and the "add-a-ball" feature for locations that didn't allow game replays. By 1967, pinball was in the middle of its so-called "golden age", and the number of pinball units that sold began to increase dramatically. Popular Williams pinballs included Shangri-La (1967), Apollo (1967), Smart Set (1969), Gold Rush (1971), and Space Mission (1976).

In 1974, Williams Electronics, Inc. was formed to acquire the company. In 1980, Seeburg (which had since been renamed XCOR International) sold Williams to Louis Nicastro, who, with his son Neil, would take the company public and run it for over two decades.

Arcade videogaming and solid-state pinball

Williams was one of the major forces in arcade amusement history. In 1973, Williams decided to enter the fledgling coin-operated arcade videogame industry. Its first arcade videogame was Paddle-Ball.[2] Williams was moderately successful in this new arena but their big breakthrough was the release of 1980's Defender, whose space alien theme and scrolling feature made it an instant classic. Williams' other notable arcade hits were 1982's Joust and Robotron: 2084.

At the same time, Williams entered the solid-state electronic pinball market and would come to dominate the pinball industry. Williams' first solid-state machine was Hot Tip (1976), which had originally been released with electromechanical reel scoring. The updated machine outsold its predecessor by nearly four to one. In the late 1970s and 1980s, Williams released numerous innovative pinball games, such as Firepower (1980), Black Knight (1980), Space Shuttle (1984), Comet (1985), Pin*Bot (1986), F-14 Tomcat (1987) and Cyclone (1988).

By 1983, the entire arcade amusement industry went into a major decline. In spite of this, Williams managed to weather the poor economic conditions better than most. In 1985, Williams once again changed its name, this time to Williams Electronics Games, Inc. Williams became a publicly traded company in 1987, and the parent company's name became WMS Industries, Inc. trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol WMS.

In 1988, WMS acquired Bally Midway Manufacturing Company, which was the result of a 1981 merger between Bally's pinball division and Bally's video game company Midway Manufacturing. For over a decade, the company was known to the industry collectively as Williams-Bally-Midway. Williams also continued to manufacture pinball machines (under the Williams and Bally brand names), while Midway concentrated on video games (thus ending the Williams brand in video games in 1991). WMS also created a new division in 1991, Williams Gaming (now WMS Gaming), to enter the gaming and state video lottery markets, developing its first video lottery terminals for the Oregon market in 1992.

In 1992, the company produced the licensed Addams Family pinball game based on the 1991 Addams Family movie. Addams Family sold 20,270 units, a record that still stands today. In 1993, the company produced Twilight Zone, which sold an impressive 15,235 units as well. But the pinball and arcade game industries continued to decline. After 1993, Williams, though still the market leader, never came close to matching the sales numbers of Twilight Zone. In 1999, Williams made one last attempt to revitalize pinball sales with its Pinball 2000 machines that integrated pinball with computer graphics on embedded raster-scan displays. The innovation didn't pay off, and that same year, WMS left the pinball industry to focus on slot machine development. Over the years, however, the list of the company's video games is extensive.

During the "Golden Age" of pinball, Williams was one of the three major manufacturers (Bally and Gottlieb being the other two). For much of the later history of pinball, Williams dominated the industry even as pinball declined in popularity. In 2005, Pinball News.com reported that WMS had exclusively licensed the intellectual properties and the rights to re-manufacture former Bally/Williams games in the field of mechanical pinball (including traditional pinball and Pinball 2000-style machines) to Australian Wayne Gillard of The Pinball Factory. In 2008, Crave Entertainment released a video game called Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection. It features virtual representations of "classic Williams pinball tables from the 70s, 80s, and the 90s". The game also features Table Art for each pinball game, including original promotional flyers. The games included are Black Knight, Firepower, Funhouse, Gorgar, Jive Time, Medieval Madness, Pin*Bot, Space Shuttle, The Tales of the Arabian Nights, Taxi, Whirlwind and Sorcerer.

Focus on gaming machine industry

As the pinball industry declined, WMS invested in the hotel industry, successfully taking public and then spinning off its hotel subsidiary, WHG Resorts, in 1996 (which was later taken private and acquired by Wyndham International). Its video game subsidiary, Midway, enjoyed rising fortunes in the early 1990s but later experienced poor financial results as its arcade video game business began to decline and it struggled to compete in the home video game market.

WMS entered the reel-spinning slot machine market in 1994, but the company's video gaming roots ultimately would prove to be its strength when, in 1996, it introduced its first hit casino slot machine, Reel ‘em In, a "multi-line, multi-coin secondary bonus" video slot machine. WMS followed this with a number of similar successful games like Jackpot Party, Boom and Filthy Rich. Meanwhile, by 1996, WMS had transferred all of the copyrights and trademarks in its video game library to Midway, including Defender, Stargate, Robotron: 2084, Joust and Smash TV, as it took Midway public and finally spun it off in 1998. With the closing of its pinball division in 1999, WMS was focused entirely on the gaming machine industry. During the 1990s, that industry grew as additional states permitted casino gambling and video lottery games.

By 2001, WMS introduced its very successful Monopoly-themed series of "participation" slots, which the company licenses or leases to casinos, instead of selling the games to the casinos. The company's participation games have included machines based on such brands as "Men in Black", "Match Game", "Hollywood Squares", "Clint Eastwood", "Powerball", "Green Acres", "Dukes of Hazzard", "Top Gun", "The Wizard of Oz" and "Star Trek". Some of these games are networked within casinos and even between multiple casinos so that players have a chance to win large jackpots based on the number of machines in the network. These branded games have proved popular with players and very profitable for WMS, as the net licensing revenues and lease fees have exceeded the price of its games for sale and therefore have had a higher profit margin. For fiscal years 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008, the company's revenues have been $451 million, $540 million, $650 million and 706 million, respectively, and its net income has been $33.3 million, $48.9 million, $67.5 million and 92.2 million, respectively.[3][4]

WMS continues to produce video gaming machines and, to a smaller extent, reel-spinning slots, for sale and for lease to casinos and state lotteries. Almost 80% of its revenues are from U.S. customers.[4]


  1. ^ WMS Industries, Inc. - Company History
  2. ^ VintageComputer.net - Williams 1973 Paddle Ball
  3. ^ WMS Annual Report for Fiscal 2008 filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on August 28, 2008
  4. ^ a b WMS Annual Report for Fiscal 2009 filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on August 27, 2009

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