Joe Kaminkow is a longtime veteran of the arcade and entertainment industries, having worked in many design and executive positions during his career. While most players may not know his name, they're sure to recognize the games and companies he's worked for — Williams Electronics, Data East Pinball, Sega, Batman Forever, Starship Troopers, Star Wars Trilogy...
...oh, and Tattoo Assassins. Yep.
Kaminkow grew up in Maryland, where his father worked in commercial distribution for companies including General Vending and Bally. After graduating from Curry College in Milton, Massachusetts, with a business and political science degree, Joe started a game development business called Logical Highs, and joined Williams Electronics to learn the ropes. Though his first game was the overlooked Defender, Joe quickly rose to prominence when he secured licensing rights from NASA that led to Williams' 1984 smash hit Space Shuttle. He left Williams soon afterward and briefly joined Game Plan, where he met Gary Stern, son of Stern Electronics' President Sam Stern.
Seeing a resurgence in pinball games in the mid-eighties, Joe and Gary started their own company in November 1986. After their proposal was rejected by Konami, the two found a receptive audience at Data East, who wanted to expand beyond video games. Though Data East Pinball started with original titles like Laser War and Secret Service, Joe rapidly leveraged his talents at securing licenses, resulting in a flurry of Licensed Pinball Tables such as RoboCop, Back to the Future, The Simpsons (Data East), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Data East), Star Trek, and Lethal Weapon 3. When Data East Pinball was bought out by Sega, Joe remained as Executive Vice President of Game Design, supervising parts, productions, and licensees.
Joe Kaminkow left arcade gaming in 1999 to join International Game Technology, where he revolutionized slot machines by the extensive use of licensed titles. He also co-founded Spooky Cool Labs, a subdivision of Zynga that designs social games for casino gaming and the Internet. Joe is also a founder of Back Lot Tour Productions, a studio specializing in Game Shows and Reality TV programs, and joined slot machine manufacturer Aristocrat Technologies in February 2013.
Joe Kaminkow was inducted into the Pinball Hall of Fame in 2004, and has been named one of the top ten most important people in the history of casino gaming.
He's renown for being unabashedly zealous and over-the-top — he arranged for a man in a chicken costume carrying balloons to appear for an introduction of his friend and mentor Ed Cebula, and one of his first acts after joining Aristocrat Technologies was to give everyone in his department the title of game designer.
As for Tattoo Assassins, Joe's not embarrassed by it at all. Its amazing because here we are 20 years later, and people are still talking about the game, and remembering, and playing it. Its a cult favorite now. Were probably like Plan 9 from Outer Space.
Games that Joe Kaminkow was involved with include:
- Defender (Williams, 1982)
- Space Shuttle (Williams, 1984)
- Laser War (Data East, 1987)
- Secret Service (Data East, 1988)
- Time Machine (Data East, 1988)
- Playboy 35th Anniversary (Data East, 1989)
- RoboCop (Data East, 1989)
- Sly Spy (Data East, 1989)
- Back to the Future (Data East, 1990)
- The Phantom of the Opera (Data East, 1990)
- Crude Buster (Data East, 1990)
- Checkpoint (Data East, 1991)
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Data East, 1991)
- Joe & Mac: Caveman Ninja (Data East, 1991)
- Batman (Data East, 1991)
- Star Trek (Data East, 1991)
- Lethal Weapon 3 (Data East, 1992)
- Last Action Hero (Data East, 1993)
- Tattoo Assassins (Data East, 1994; unreleased)
- WWF Royal Rumble (Data East, 1994)
- The Who's Tommy (Data East, 1994)
- Baywatch (Sega, 1995)
- Batman Forever (Sega, 1995)
- Apollo 13 (Sega, 1995)
- Space Jam (Sega, 1996)
- Star Wars Trilogy (Sega, 1997)
- Starship Troopers (Sega, 1997)