Saturday May 18, 2024

The History of Skee-Ball Machines

Other Alley Games

Skee-Ball's popularity led to many other alley games, designed by Skee-Ball as well as other 3rd-Party companies.  These alley games aren't quite as popular as the original Skee-Ball scoring-ring style machines, but they captured another part of the market looking for a little bit of variation in gameplay and are very fun and challenging in their own right.

Bug Bash Alley Game
Photo: Bug Bash Alley Game by Baytek

Bug Bash (by Bay Tek) is an alley game where the player rolls a ball up the ramp to try to knock down 9 bug targets.

Alley Hoops

Image: Alley Hoops Alley Game
Image credits unknown

Alley Hoops (by Skee Ball, Inc.) is an alley game where the player rolls a ball up the ramp into one of 9 mini basketball hoops to score points.

Alley Cats (by Skee Ball, Inc.) is similar to Bug Bash, only the player tries to knock down various cat targets.

Base Hits Alley Game
Image: Base Hits Alley Game
Image credits unknown

Base Hits Alley is a baseball-themed alley where the scoring holes are arranged like a baseball field.  Players can roll the ball into scoring pockets to advance the runners around the abses on the display.

Skee-Ball for Phones
In December 2010, Gameloft, a worldwide leader in developing and publishing downloadable video games, partnered with Skee-Ball, Inc. to release a Skee-Ball game for mobile phones.  It featured rich graphics, three modes and tournament play.  Players can unlock new modes and content by winning championships.  Battle mode allows up to 4 players to compete against eachother on the same device.  The game was available for download in Janauary 2011.

Skee-Ball for Phones
Image: Skee-Ball for Phones
Image credits unknown

Imitation Skee-Ball Machines

There were many manufacturers that have produced alleys similar to Skee-Ball machines.  At this time, it's unknown how many imitation alleys were made over the last century, but the alley concept was seen as a huge opportunity and a lot of manufacturers jumped on board.  It's likely a portion of these alleys infringed on Skee-Ball's patents and copyrights.  Some may have been licensed through Skee-Ball directly, but the large majority likely changed enough in the design, engineering and gameplay to not infringe on what Skee-Ball had patented.

Think of it in terms of pinball machines.  You can patent the mechanical design of various components, you can copyright the artwork and layout, circuit boards and software being ran.  That doesn't stop someone from creating their own design, artwork, and circuit boards to create something that no longer infringes on the original patent.  This goes for anything, be it arcade games, coffee makers, cars or basketball hoops.  It's what creates competition and many times allows better products to be created.


Smart Ball (Smart Industries) - These alleys are actually really cool, at least the later models with a 192x64 gas plasma display.  The electronics were made by Smart Industries, Inc. which is still in the arcade business today (though not producing Smart Ball alleys).  The Smart Ball alleys featured digital stereo sound effects using the BSMT2000 audio IC (used in the Battle Toads arcade game as well as a handful of Data East pinball machines during the '90s).  The alleys were either 10ft or 13ft and featured a similar layout as the Skee-Ball machines, only instead of the point values being 10-50pts with 100pt pockets.. they were 100-500pts with 1000pt pockets.  Maybe that was just one of the ways of getting around one of Skee-Ball's patents?  In any case, these machines are unique in that they feature display animations while you play, great island-themed background music and digital sound effects.  There was even a MATCH feature at the end of a game, similar to pinball, where if the last 2 digits of your score matched a random number, you won a free game.  There were also Smart Balls with LED segment displays (both 1-player and 4-player versions).  I'm not sure exactly what years these were produced and if they came before the dot matrix Smart Ball or if all came out around the same time and these were just less expensive models.

Smart Ball Alley Games
Photo: Smart Ball Alley Games.  Traditional alley (left) and dot-matrix alley (right)
Image from Smart Industries' flyers

Fire Ball (Bay Tek)


References & Other Information

RePlay Magazine Article on History of Skee-Ball

Philadelphia Toboggan Coasters, Inc.

Skee-Ball, Inc. About Page - Timeline

2009 Interview with Joe Sladek

2011 Interview with Joe Sladek

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Origin of Skee Ball Machine
Posted 03/17/12 3:37AM by Anonymous Techdoser
I KNOW where the name "Skee Ball" came you know where it came from?