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Allied Leisure Industries - Designer, Jack Pearson

by Keith Smith

Allied Leisure 3

JP: Yes. There's a story behind that. Allied Leisure heard about Pong and we got a distributor in California to send us one and we paid him about twice what it cost him to buy it. We didn't know anything about solid-state games. We were all relay logic so we took it to a company in Chicago called URL and they more-or-less copied the circuitry and started making boards for it. We came out with Paddle Battle and I think we sold more than Atari did.

KS: Do you remember how many?

JP: We sold 22,000 of Paddle Battle and we followed it up with a 4-player called Tennis Tourney (released in July 1973). Gene Lipkin was our sales manager at the time and Dave Braun told him that he would give him $10 for each Paddle Battle that he sold. When he didn't get his money, he left and later became president of Atari!

KS: This type of copying was common at the time right?

JP: At the time, the idea was that anybody could copy anybody at any time. Our philosophy was that if you wanted to make any money you had to go out there and get it first and go like the devil while you've got it because someone else is going to be coming with it later. So put it out and go as fast as you can so that by the time the next guy copies it and gets into the market you will have your profit out of it. And that was the philosophy we all lived on. But another thing we would do was, if we wanted to come out with a driving game, you would look around or call other companies to see if anyone else was doing a driving game. And if they were, we'd do a flying game instead. We looked at the market to see what was out there, so as not to step on each other's toes - not for the other guy but because you didn't want to divide your market share.

KS: Why do you think you did so much better than Atari with Paddle Battle?

JP: Well, we had better production facilities. Back then, to us, a year was a long time because we were used to having to come up with a new game every three or four months. When you had to do tooling and everything else, it was a real burden. We [started producing the game] right after Atari and we had a better sales staff and a better factory. We got up to producing 150 a day.

KS: What can you tell me about URL?

JP: I don't remember what they were doing before they got involved with us. Before Atari came on the picture it was Midway, Chicago Coin, and Allied Leisure.

Allied Leisure 4

KS: What about Williams and Gottlieb?

JP: Well, we didn't consider pinball machines our competition. We were selling a ton of Paddle Battle and we had already designed Tennis Tourney. Since we had the money we could afford to stock inventory so we made a few hundred Tennis Tourney, boxed them up and kept them in the warehouse. We didn't tell anyone about it. We were going to wait until the sales on Paddle Battle dried up. Then Midway came out with their 2-player game [Winner - released April 1973]. I think we were selling at $995 and they came in at $945 to try to get a piece of the action. So we dropped to $895, they dropped another $50, we dropped another $50 and it kept on until we got to, I think, $795. Now we'd already made our profit and Midway couldn't make any money selling at that price. Then we announced the 4-player and Hank Ross told us that they couldn't give their game away. So that's an example of the marketing strategies we had in those days.

KS: Allied had also introduced shakerball pin games around this time. (The first shakerball game was 1972's Sea Hunt, followed a year later by Spooksville)

JP: That was a real innovative piece of work. It was really something in its day. It had a pinball playfield and two handles and the playfield was designed where you could shake it. The playfield was movable. You've seen people hit and bang on pinball machines? Well, we designed a game where a guy could shake it and wouldn't tilt it! The playfield was free-floating. Unscramble was another innovative game. I didn't design it but had to do service calls for it. It was a game in which players tried to unscramble 3-letter words.

KS: Did Allied eventually have its own video game design department?

JP: Yes, we did. In some ways designing video games was easier. We had to hire programmers because none of us knew anything about programming but as far as the design, you had more flexibility in a video game than an electromechanical because [with electromechanical games] in a day a guy might be able to get the thing moving but it may take us weeks to create tooling to make the parts to build it. The video game was a lot easier and the gave the designer more flexibility. The few parts that went in it was stuff that didn't wear out and that was a boon to us designers.

KS: How long did you work for Allied Leisure?

Allied Leisure Industries - Designer, Jack Pearson

by Keith Smith

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