Studying the early history of coin-op video games can be confusing. Especially when it comes to the name Nutting. Before long, the budding historian encounters Nutting Associates, Dave Nutting Associates, Nutting Industries, Dave Nutting, Bill Nutting etc.
What is the relationship between all these entities - and whatever happened to Nutting Associates?
Let's start with Nutting Associates. They have gone down in the annals of history as the manufacturer of the first mass-produced commercial coin-op video game - Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney's Computer Space. Their history extends back farther than that, however.
Nutting Associates was founded by Bill Nutting, sometime between 1965 and 1967. Wikipedia claims it was formed in 1965 but the earliest reference I found to it (though my search was brief) was an article in the August 12, 1968 issue of Billboard. Another article in the December 7th issue provides a bit more information, noting that they were moving from a smaller facility they had occupied for a year and a half into a new, larger one (it also noted that they had around 50 employees at the time).
Prior to forming Nutting Associates, Bill Nutting had invested in a company called Edex, which made teaching equipment for the U.S. Navy. One of their products was called The Knowledge Computer, which engineer Richard Ball redesigned for Nutting Associates who released it as Computer Quiz. Computer Quiz was an electro-mechanical quiz game that stored multiple-choice questions on a strip of 16mm film and projected them onto a tiny screen. It was the company's most well-known product and some credit it with opening street locations (such as bars) to arcade games. Other games Nutting Associates made prior to Computer Space include ESP (a number-guessing game), Astro Computer (a horoscope machine), and Sports World (possibly another quiz game).
Bill Nutting recruited his brother Dave to work on Computer Quiz. To be closer to Chicago (then center of the coin-op industry), Dave moved to Milwaukee and set up his own company, Nutting Industries. in 1967. At the time, Dave was employed by Brooks Stevens Associates (where he had worked on Willy's Jeep Grand Wagoneer - the first SUV). After quitting Brooks and forming Nutting Industries, Dave released his own version of Computer Quiz called Dual IQ Computer. Nutting recalls that he sold about 4,000 units of his version while Bill sold about 3,500 of his. Nutting Industries specialized in quiz games. Other products included Golf IQ and Sensorama (a learn-to-bowl game).
Milwaukee Coin Industries
In 1971, Dave Nutting formed a new company called Milwaukee Coin Industries. MCI’s main business was the manufacture of projection screen games, crude ancestors to the laser disc games of the mid-80s that used images from a film disc or strip projected on a screen to create a realistic background for arcade games. MCI released a number of projection games including Desert Fox, Red Baron, Flying Ace, and U-Boat. They also made a few coin-op oddities such as Airball (in which the player maneuvered a small ball around the field with a column of air) and The Safe (in which the player tried to find the combination of a safe). Keith Egging (later of Taito America) recalls that they also made a Pong clone.
MCI wasn't long for the coin-op game world. One of their customers was Aladdin's Castle, a series of arcades being opened in shopping malls. MCI's investors wanted MCI to get into the mall arcade business and shut down the video game division. MCI then started their own arcade chain called Red Baron, with 20 locations. Nutting wanted no part of it so he and Jeff Frederikson (another MCI associate) took two MCI techs and formed their own design firm called Dave Nutting Associates.
MCI’s primary distributor had been Empire Distributing, which was owned by Bally. When Bally got wind of Nutting’s design skills they contracted with his company to create a hardware system. To make a long story short, DNA went on to establish a relationship with Bally and designed a number of games for them over the years, including Gun Fight, Seawolf, Boot Hill, Wizard of Wor, Gorf and others.
But What About Nutting Associates?
After Computer Space, Nutting Associates produced a handful of video games, including Computer Space Ball, Wimbledon (one of the first video games to use true color), Paddle Derby, and Missile Radar (which Nolan Bushnell supposedly saw and which later provided the basis for the idea that became Missile Command). Watergate Caper is sometimes listed as a video game, but I suspect that it's actually an electro-mechanical game (perhaps a version of MCI's The Safe). The last game I know of bearing the Nutting Associates name was 1977's Ricochet.
By this time, Bill Nutting was long gone. In 1974, Nutting Associates had gone bankrupt and in 1975 Nutting sold it to a Reno slot machine manufacturer named William "Si" Redd, owner of A-1 Supply. Redd began producing video gambling games and later formed the companies Sircoma and International Game Technology where some credit him with single-handedly launching the video poker industry (he somehow managed to convince Bally to sign an agreement giving him exclusive rights to make video gaming machines for five years [Bally got the rights to reel slot machines - they didn't see any future in video gaming machines]).
And Bill Nutting? He went on to form an air-taxi service for missionaries in East Africa.