The history of WMS – Williams Interactive
The company behind these slots, WMS Industries, was formally founded in 1974 as Williams Electronics Inc, but the companys history dates all the way back to 1943 when Harry E. Williams founded Williams Manufacturing Company who then manufactured pinball machines.
In 1943, Harry Williams founded Williams Manufacturing Company at 161 West Huron Street in Chicago, Illinois. The first seven products were a fortune-telling machine called Selector Scope (1/44), two electro-mechanical games, Periscope (5/44) and Liberator (8/44), a novelty called Zingo (10/44), a pinball conversion called Flat-Top (1/45), another EM arcade game, Circus Romance (7/45) and, lastly, a second pinball conversion called Laura (10/45).
The two pinball conversions (Flat-Top & Laura) were built by purchasing older pinball machines 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 all original amusement device made by Williams was a flipperless pinball machine called Suspense (2/46).
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 machine 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, Harry Williams designed his last pinball machine as a full-time designer, the horse racing-themed Nags. The last game he designed for Williams was also one of the last electromechanical games, Rancho (1977).
In 1962, 3 Coin became the first Williams machine 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. Its 1966 pinball machine A-Go-Go, with its avant-garde 60s theme, sold a record 5,100 units.
Early Williams pinball machines 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), Beat Time (1967), Smart Set (1969), Gold Rush (1971), and Space Mission (1976).
Golden age of arcade games
Taking note of Atari’s success with Pong in 1972, Williams decided to enter the fledgling coin-operated arcade videogame industry. Its first arcade videogame was Paddle-Ball. 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.
Williams developed its own breakthrough hit with the release of 1980’s Defender, whose gameplay, horizontal scrolling, and dynamic color influenced many subsequent games. It was followed by a sequel in 1981, Stargate, and a group of popular and influential titles: Joust, Robotron: 2084, Sinistar, and the licensed Moon Patrol. With the exception of Sinistar, these were widely ported to home systems by external developers and publishers including Atari, Inc.
After Dragon’s Lair popularized LaserDisc video games in 1983, Williams created the LaserDisc/computer graphics hybrid racing game Star Rider, which lost or contributed to a loss of 50 million US dollars for the company.
Solid state pinball
Williams’ first solid-state machines produced in 1976 were prototype runs based on electromechanical games; Aztec (1976) and Grand Prix. Williams continued to release new electromechanical pinball machines through October 1977, when they released their last, Wild Card. From November 1977, Williams released solid-state pinball games exclusively, beginning with their first solid state production model Hot Tip (1977), which sold 4,903 units (the electromechanical version previously released in June sold 1,300 units).
From the late 1970s through the 1980s, Williams released numerous innovative pinball games, such as Gorgar (1979, the first pinball featuring a synthetic voice), Firepower (1980), Black Knight (1980), Jungle Lord (1981), Space Shuttle (1984), Comet (1985), High Speed (1986), Pin*Bot (1986), F-14 Tomcat (1987), Cyclone (1988) and Taxi (1988).
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 1992, the company produced the licensed The Addams Family pinball game based on the The Addams Family movie (1991). The 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. After 1993, though still the market leader, Williams never came close to matching the sales numbers of Twilight Zone and The Addams Family.
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, as the manufacturing expenses exceeded the prices that the market would bear, and that same year, WMS left pinball to focus on slot machine development.
Focus on gambling machines
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 Games, enjoyed rising fortunes in the early 1990s with a number of successful arcade games, including Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam.
First slot machines
WMS entered the reel-spinning slot machine market in 1994, and its products have helped to move the industry trend away from generic mechanical slot machines and toward games that incorporate familiar intellectual properties. For more than a century beginning in the late 1800s, mechanical slot machine reels employed limited themes: card suits, horseshoes, bells and stars, varieties of fruit, black bars and the Liberty Bell.
WMS’s video gaming roots 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 focused entirely on the gaming machine industry. During the 1990s, that industry grew as additional states permitted casino gambling and video lottery games and as Native American tribes built gaming casinos.
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 well-known entertainment-related brands as Men in Black, Match Game, Hollywood Squares, Clint Eastwood, Powerball, Green Acres, The Dukes of Hazzard, Top Gun, The Wizard of Oz, Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings and Clue.
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 proved popular with players and profitable for WMS, as the net licensing revenues and lease fees generated by each game have exceeded the profit margins of its games for sale. Other recent games include Brazilian Beauty and Hot Hot Super Jackpot. WMS Industries acquired a second subsidiary, Netherlands-based gaming company Orion Financement Company B.V., in July 2006.
From fiscal year 2006 to 2011 the company’s revenues grew from $451 million to $783 million, respectively, and its net income reached $113 million in 2010. The company’s revenues decreased to $690 million in 2012.
Later products, technology, business
WMS continued to produce video gaming machines and, to a smaller extent, reel-spinning slots, for sale and for lease to casinos in the U.S., selected foreign markets and state lotteries. Some of WMS’s product designs reflected the changing demographics of its industry. Younger players raised on video games often seek more challenging experiences, both physical and mental, than do women age 55 to 65 – the traditional audience for slot machines. Accordingly, some of the company’s machines incorporate surround sound, flat-panel display screens and animated, full-color images.
WMS also manufactured the G+ series of video reel slots, the Community Gaming family of interconnected slots, as well as mechanical reels, poker games, and video lottery terminals. WMS began to offer online gaming in 2010 to persons over 18 years old in the UK and in 2011 in the US at www.jackpotparty.com. In 2012, WMS partnered with Large Animal Games to incorporate several of WMS’s slot machine games into a cruise ship-themed Facebook game application titled “Lucky Cruise”.
By playing games and enlisting Facebook friends’ help, players can accumulate “lucky charms” (instead of money). The game play is similar to playing a slot machine but includes a “light strategy component”. In 2012, the company introduced gaming on mobile devices and focused its efforts on expanding its online game offerings. For casinos, it introduced My Poker video poker games.
WMS technologies included:
- Transmissive Reels gaming platform, which employs video animation that is displayed around, over and seemingly interactively with mechanical reels. The technology is based on the CPU-NXT2 operating platform.
- Operating Platforms: CPU-NXT2 incorporates an Intel Pentium IV class processor, up to 2 gigabytes of random access memory, an ATI 3-D graphics chip-set, and a 40 gigabyte hard disk drive. The CPU-NXT3 operating platform was introduced in 2012 for participation games and new cabinets.
- Cabinets: The Bluebird2 gaming cabinet, which includes a dual 22-inch wide screen, high-definition displays, Bose speakers, and an illuminated printer and bill acceptor, was introduced in 2008. The Blade and Gamefield xD cabinets were introduced in 2013.
Approximately 70% of WMS’s revenues in 2010 were derived from U.S. customers. Its design facilities at the time were Chicago, Illinois. It had other facilities and offices across the United States and international development and distribution facilities located in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, China, India, Mexico, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain and the United Kingdom and an online gaming center in Belgium.
Acquisition by Scientific Games
WMS merged with Scientific Games in October 2013, becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of Scientific Games. Scientific Games paid $1.5 billion for WMS, and WMS shareholders received $26.00 per share. At the time of the merger, the company’s stock ceased trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
In 2016, WMS was reorganized and fully merged into Scientific Games. Today, WMS is retained as a brand of Scientific Games, along with SG, Bally and Shuffle Master.
In the first half of 2012, WMS Industries acquired Stockholm, Sweden-based Jadestone Group AB and then Cedar Falls, Iowa-based Phantom EFX which would later become part of the announced subsidiary Williams Interactive.
In July 2012, WMS Industries announced the formation of Williams Interactive to serve the global online gaming industry. Its aims was “to focus on the growth, development and operational execution of the company’s worldwide online wagering, social, casual and mobile gaming initiatives. In the same month they announced the launch of its Facebook social casino game Jackpot Party Casino.
In October 2012 both Betsson and Unibet online casinos entered multi-year agreements with Williams Interactive to provide “such premium video slot games as Jackpot Party, Zeus or Reel ‘Em In which they can offer to their registered players (more than 12 million customers).
Williams Interactive produce the Fire Queen slot game which is available at a large number of physical and online casinos.
In June 2014 EveryMatrix, an iGaming software provider which offers white label and turnkey solutions, partnered with Williams Interactive. This partnership will allow EveryMatrix to offer slot content from Williams Interactive.