2 Schools......

Posted On: 6/14/2005

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There are two schools of thought about this industry's progress. Some say, "Conditions have changed dramatically in the past 20 years." Advocates of this school point to such innovations as AAMA, IALEI, digital downloading jukeboxes and Internet-connected tournaments - none of which existed in 1985. They also point to the drastic shrinkage in the number of manufacturers, distributors and operators today compared to 20 years ago.

Others claim, "Nothing ever changes in this industry." They point to the persistence of deeply ingrained, characteristic patterns of behavior by operators, distributors and manufacturers. Admittedly, the basic roles of all three sectors have changed very little since 1985'or, for that matter, since 1945.

Both sides are right in this debate over constancy versus change. Both sides always are right in this debate, whether the subject on the table is the amusement machine business, national politics or world history. As the French say, "The more things change, the more they remain the same." Every change only brings into greater relief those elements that remain constant.

The most progressive and successful members of our industry acknowledge, directly or indirectly, that this industry has not changed in many fundamental respects. Far too many, in fact. These thoughtful professionals believe that in order to ensure its own future health and survival, the amusements business "should" change a great deal more than it has. They also believe the industry "will" change a great deal in the coming years, whether we like it or not.

For example, two of the shrewdest operators in the United States are preparing for the day when some national outfit buys their businesses and they take on a consultant's role. No deal has been struck, and none is on the immediate horizon; but both operators believe such a development is inevitable sooner or later. They believe this change will be driven not merely by the sheer momentum of size, but more so by the inexorable progress of technology.

Leading distributors from Betson to Brady acknowledge that the basic equipment bought, sold and operated in this industry has changed little in 20 years. A fancier jukebox is still a jukebox, and a computer-controlled pool table is still a pool table. They rise to rare heights of passion in calling for product innovation and creativity.

Among manufacturers, the most visionary are thinking deeply and broadly about the very nature of fun itself, and consequently about the kind of fun our industry could , and should , offer. There is profound wisdom in the jukebox factory president who says that just because a digital platform "can" do everything, doesn't mean it "should" do everything. There is equally profound wisdom in the video game designer who foresees the day when arcade games, home games, cell phone games and others will function as roughly equal "portals" into a single, seamless, cooperative virtual playfield.

Association leaders privately acknowledge that one national trade show makes a heck of a lot more sense than two or three shows under current circumstances. And forward-thinking members in all these sectors believe that the amusements industry needs to do much, much more in terms of marketing, strategic alliances with national and global brand-name giants and integration with the larger entertainment community.

As it happens, I hit my 20th anniversary as a trade journalist in May. I look around and see that many members of this industry, on all three levels, remain a fiercely independent bunch, cautious with the conservatism that comes of long experience. As the king's old advisor regretfully admits in Hamlet: "By heaven, it is as proper to our age to cast beyond ourselves in our opinions, as it is common for the younger sort to lack discretion."

Today we hear many calls for new blood to enliven the industry, but what's needed most are new ideas , and the willingness to embrace them. That can come at any age.