One of the most enjoyable aspects of a career in the video arcade industry in the 1980s was attending the industry’s trade shows. These events (not open to the general public) were like video arcades on steroids. Game manufacturers brought dozens of their newest machines to the show floor, all set on free play and set inside theme park- like spaces (called “booths”, although they were usually large and without walls) designed to entice you to come in and play. The phrase “kid in a candy store” comes to mind.

Video arcade games were considered part of the coin-op (for coin-operated) industry, which covered machines that generally sat in a public place and took in money (like pay phones and the washers and dryers you’d find in laundromats). A subset of those machines delivered some form of entertainment, and these were called coin-operated amusements. Before video games, that meant jukeboxes, kiddie rides, pinball machines, air hockey tables, skee-ball and the like. But as videogames swept the nation throughout the 1970s, they basically took over the trade shows. Everything else got much less floor space.

There were two major annual coin-op trade shows in the US when I joined the industry – the AOE (Amusement Operators Expo) in the spring and the AMOA show (Amusement and Music Operators Association) in the fall. And although the word “Amusement” appears in the names of both trade shows, I swear I remember seeing vending machines and other “non-amuse- ments” hidden in the edges of the show floor on occasion.

Both shows were frequently in Chicago, which was con- venient for me since that’s where I lived and worked. And since the shows were local, it was cheaper for companies like Gottlieb, Williams, Bally/Midway and Stern to send their employees. The AMOA had been around since 1948 (known then as the MOA or Music Operators of America). The AOE was a relatively new (and smaller) show started in 1980 by Ralph Lally, publisher of Play Meter, one of the industry’s trade magazines. It merged with another show, the Amusement Showcase International (ASI) in 1986 and became ACME (American Coin Machine Exposition).

 

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