Whether it\'s the simplicity of the game or the attraction of the teetering coins that draws people in, pusher machines have remained a staple favourite in arcades the world over, as David Snook finds out
Does anyone remember the Film Stars machine? Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, and Marilyn Monroe were all on it. You played a penny against your favourite who was worth twopence, threepence, fourpence, sixpence or a shilling in the old UK currency.
Lights flash around the machine’s photographs of the stars; you get paid if it stops on one of them. Simple. And old. And if anyone remembers it then they are as old as I am - or older.
The machine was a winner in every arcade in the UK and even in other countries. It was made by Alfred Crompton and his brother Jim, and it was to launch a dynasty… and a new type of game that was to become better known simply as the pusher. The Film Star was made in conjunction with the Bates Company, but after that, the Crompton brothers were on their own.
That actually stemmed from a game called Wheel A Win (no, not Wheel \‘em In), a circular game with sweeping arms that pushed coins down holes in the playfield. The 1962 development was actually first built around 1964 but the Crompton brothers took out the holes and the pusher was born.
It was Jim who actually took Alfred Crompton and Co to its ultimate successes following the death of his brother. Penny Falls is often quoted as the first pusher, but it was in fact the Wheel A Win.
Immaterial, for the pusher went on to make major successes in arcades around the world. In the case of Crompton, it was games like Double Falls and Splash Down - some of those are still going on the New Jersey coastline in the US, 25 years after they were made.
Today, Jim\‘s son, Gordon, still makes pushers under his Game Concepts name - the latest is Deep Sea Treasure, an update of the Galaxy launched last year.
Going back to the early years, the pusher was to become a staple favourite all over the world. In Japan, where it was used with \‘medals\’ or tokens, it remains a familiar feature of games rooms, just as it did in the old Crompton days.
It seems it was Mr Manabwe at Sigma who first spied the Crompton product and persuaded Jim to let him license it for manufacture in Japan. That set the ball rolling there.
Back in Europe, companies like Harry Levy were to add breadth to the original concept. Levy himself learned the business from working with Jim Crompton in those early days. Whittaker Brothers in the north of England also made successful pushers.
Over in Belgium, Vincent Van de Wege found that it was the only payout machine permitted in travelling funfairs in France and Belgium and found a niche for himself, which he was later to expand into arcades too. The pusher to showmen remains 85 per cent of the Van de Wege business.
For Harry Levy, the pusher business goes back to Quicksilver in 1984 and now he regards it as the backbone of his business. Although the pusher has evolved considerably since the Quicksilver, it remains essentially the same game.
"Let\‘s be honest, whatever features we put into our pushers, such as coin cascades, the basic principle is the same. The aim is to push the teetering coins over the edge. I defy anyone not to be drawn in."
Vincent Van de Wege\‘s son, Laurent, does much of the frontline representation of the Belgian company these days. "The pusher player is one of a kind.
"Normally they will stick to that type of game only and will take his or her time about how they play. They don\‘t want to finish the game in 20 seconds, they are more \‘faithful\’ than the regular payout machine player."
For Van de Wege, the hexagonal six-player is the most popular format - convenient for the player and not too large for showmen, and that shape is perhaps now more prevalent than any other.
The three-in-a-line model to stand up against a wall is well in demand, but there are fewer of the eight-player back-to-back machines now.
In Japan today, the pusher remains a hot favourite, along with the crane machine, and technology has seen it become extremely automated with all the bells and whistles imaginable, including built-in video monitors, sound effects and lighting cosmetics.
The big companies like Sega have also taken the genre to their hearts, although Sega has never tried bringing its pusher machines into Europe, which surprises many.
Wherever the desire for pushers is prevalent but the jurisdiction prevents the use of cash, the token has taken over - and even ticket payout has been introduced in some areas. The US has taken a keen interest in the game and it is popular in travelling carnivals and FEC locations.
In Europe, France, Belgium and the Netherlands are big for Van de Wege, while the UK is strong for Levy, either using coins or tokens depending upon the legislation. So which countries are not markets for pushers but perhaps should be?
"Some eastern European countries might have more pushers but the AWP and slot machines are much more popular," said Van de Wege. "And the Middle East would be a wonderful market, but won\‘t allow that type of game."
Why didn\‘t Jim Crompton ever patent the pusher?
"Half the world has copied it," said Gordon Crompton. "But it was not patented, so in a sense we offered it to the world. Jim never thought it would last beyond a year or two in terms of popularity, so he never went to the expense of covering it… I wish he had!"
Indeed. There are an estimated 200,000 pusher machines now operating all over the world in every kind of location. Even high-end casinos have pushers.
The evolution of the pusher has seen many stages. Gordon Crompton feels that the key developments were the addition of changers in the 1980s that pushed up income anything between 20 per cent and 40 per cent.
Merchandise was added at the end of the 1980s, trinkets appearing on the moving shelves, or even gold tokens to exchange for better prizes from adjoining cabinets.
"The pusher was popular and still is because of its simplicity and its transparency," said Gordon. "You get what you see - there\‘s no smoke and mirrors. It\‘s an honest game. It has always been a good earner and always will be."