Pushers have been a part of the seaside arcade for over 50 years. Helen Fletcher looks at where it all began and what's next for this classic game...
Magnetised by the movement, you watch and wait in anticipation for that all important and crucial momen. Timing is everything. Poised you go to make your move but you are unsure – wait, not yet – keep waiting – a bit longer – now! The coin moves from your hand into the slot and travels down onto the playfield - nothing.
You reach for yet another two-pence piece and repeat the process; 15 minutes later you find yourself stood in the same position, repeating the process over and over again - welcome to the wonderful and addictive world of pushers.
It all started back in the 1960s in Ramsgate, UK, with the late Jim Crompton who invented the Penny Falls, a novel idea that had potential and a product which he thought could do well for possibly two or three years.
Little did Crompton realise that the introduction of the Penny Falls would mark the start of a worldwide market that would grow in popularity and revenue and become a sector in the coin-op industry, that today makes up around 50 per cent of a seaside amusement arcade’s revenue.
Classic family attractions that are simplistic enough for the youngest of children to get to grips with, pushers do particularly well in locations that attract a mixed age group, with seaside arcades forming the backbone of the business.
Harry Levy Amusements has been active in the coin-op market for over 20 years and the traditional pusher still makes up 70 per cent of its machines, a sure sign that the game is as strong as ever.
“People are not intimidated by pushers,” said Colin Mallery of Harry Levy. “The idea behind the game is self-evident and the concept invites people to linger and profit from the money they have dropped onto the playfield.”
John Brennan, of Namco, added: “Players feel in control of the play, the coin that is inserted into the machine can be tracked by the player to a winning or losing conclusion. They never lose sight of the their coin, this, along with the tantalising bed build up that gives the impression that one more coin will result in success for the player, is the attraction.”
Magic 10 is the latest single player pusher from Harry Levy. It has a low-level coin entry for fast and easy play, a coin splash feature and offers a multi-jackpot up to £25.
“Children love to be given a bag or cup of change and the many small wins on the way gives them the feeling they are getting value for money,” said Mallery. “Children are more interested in winning for its own sake than in winning a lot of money.”
Mazooma Games, part of the Bell Fruit Group, has been involved in the design and manufacturing of pushers for the past eight years and develops machines under the Jumping Bean and Cromptons brands.
Numerous location possibilities
Pushers work in a number of environments, the most obvious one being the seaside arcade. However, according to Des Burns of Mazooma, if you get the product right it will work in bingo halls and inland arcades.
Burns said: “The single player pusher can be used in any permitted location and we have experienced great success in single site pub locations.”
The main difference between the various pusher markets usually surrounds the payout of coins and where only tokens are allowed, an extensive amount of swag is used in order to attract players.
That is not to say that merchandise is not present in coin using markets and according to Gordon Crompton of GameConcepts, its presence has grown considerably over the past 15 years.
The pusher market, it would appear, is one with varying levels of success, depending on the country they are located in and which companies you talk to.
“We have experienced considerable success in the US where a good feature model can enhance sales,” said Burns. “Our two-player Monopoly pusher has generated a lot of interest, which has led to substantial sales. This, along with our three and eight-player pushers makes the US one of the biggest markets for our products.”
In the UK, the market experienced a reduction in sales recently, although according to Burns, this could be due to investment spend going to other product lines and the uncertainty of where a pusher would be categorised under the new Gambling Act.
“Now that we have the category of pushers defined there should be renewed confidence in the product going forward,” he said.
Michael Green from distributor UDC sees the UK and Ireland as the biggest pusher markets, although for Laurent Van De Wege of VdW in Belgium, the biggest market is France.
“Unless they are forbidden by altered or new laws the pusher market remains stable in most countries,” said Van De Wege. “They represent the bulk of our production and demand because they are long lasting amusement games, although market share among companies does change. Our pushers are present within both western and eastern European countries and France is definitely our biggest market.
“The DaVinci Mystery is one of our most recent products and after a couple of months in operation, is proving to be a real performer.”
Eastern Europe looks promising
And it would appear the eastern European market is showing promise, with Mallery saying: “We have recently completed some really interesting projects in countries such as Latvia and I am particularly impressed with some of the eastern European operators, who are prepared to invest heavily in new machines and site them in attractive modern surroundings.”
The core concept of pushers hasn’t changed that much over the years but the machines themselves have become more attractive and modern technology has allowed manufacturers to add more features and make the machines more eye-catching.
“Pushers now offer more features alongside the standard pusher action,” said Mallery. “This is aimed to attract a more tactical and possibly older player, meaning that periodically a skilled player can benefit from a coin splash, making the game more exciting.”
Green added: “The new generation of feature pushers are far more sophisticated than the traditional multiplayer pushers because of the many features we are able to incorporate using video display.”
It would appear then that adding video display and different features is the way forward for pushers rather than merchandise, with more and more companies incorporating it into their designs.
Such as Namco, which took the idea of merging the traditional pusher with innovative and up-to-date features and video display with its product Pac Man Ball, which combines high action video and pusher fun.
And then there is UK-based GameConcepts, a relatively new addition to the coin-op industry that has Gordon Crompton behind it, meaning the company’s roots are well and truly grounded in the traditional pusher concept.
Crompton, along with his business partner Ben Wilson, has taken the traditional pusher and given it a face-lift. The Galaxy 21 product comprises a fully animated 28ins LCD screen that is vertically housed within a single-player cabinet.
“Unlike most pushers it makes use of a high-speed loop system, which enables the player to rapidly insert coins from waist level, rather than having to rely on gravity and physically reach up to the top of the machine,” said Crompton. “The game uses interactive pins which are fully integrated with the on-screen action.”
It is clear that what started as a novel idea in Ramsgate all those years ago, has quite clearly proved itself and grown into a staple of the coin-op market. With new features and ideas being introduced all the time, let’s hope this classic seaside arcade game will stick around to see another 50 years.