Last week we heard a ‘rumbling’ that UK based pinball manufacturer Heighway Pinball was filing for bankruptcy. Now, that has been confirmed as a public notice regarding the liquidation of the company’s assets will be taking place this Friday and news that Heighway Pinball staff was let go last week.
If you want an incredibly thorough timeline of Heighway Pinball’s existence, click here for This Week In Pinball’s detailed break down of the history. Bring a beverage. I was not aware that designer Barry Ousler was still working on designs for them, which would have covered Queen (the band) and a new entry for Playboy.
I did meet the Heighway team back in 2016 when they brought Full Throttle to Amusement Expo 2016 in Las Vegas. There were nice guys and it was an interesting game although it took a few tries to get ‘used’ to how it worked. But I found it to be fun – apart from an occasional issue that popped up with the ball getting stuck somewhere (for the record, I have that happen on my Stern machines once in a while too). What I really enjoyed in talking to them was the constant focus on the operator – I had rarely heard that brought up before by a pinball maker so it was refreshing to hear. The conversion system was a fantastic idea – but like any conversion kit, you need content for that to ultimately go anywhere.
After hearing the news a little while ago that the founder and CEO of the company was ousted from the company, I had a feeling that it was only a matter of time before it came to this point. That might have changed if Alien was a smashing success with no technical issues but that was hardly the case by what I’ve heard through the grapevine. I was even told more than once from fellow operators to avoid it.
I was going to include info on Heighway Pinball in my upcoming book but it looks like there’s no point in doing that now /ShamelessHypePlug
On a tangent, I was talking about this with an operator friend and during the discussion, I wondered why it is that these new pinball companies don’t try and expand their product base into other out-of-home entertainment novelties. Yeah, I don’t know the exact costs of getting all of the production equipment, paying the designers, employees, licensors, covering rent and electrical, taxes and so on. Why I wonder is because from my operator and former sales guy perspective, variety was the spice of sales. Buyers/players only interested in one kind of game are pretty rare and don’t cover bottom lines. I believe that pinball is an essential addition to the amusement business but it is a limited market of buyers who will buy every theme under the sun.
It is obvious by now that successfully keeping constant pins flying out the door is an expensive, herculean task. Jersey Jack and Spooky Pinball seem to be getting along ok but any business can be here one day and gone the next due to a plethora of reasons. I do understand that you only have so much capital to get one game out of the door and that pinball development ends up costing a lot more than they initially anticipated. But there are various game designs we see in this business that don’t change much apart from the license that could be done(coin pushers, crane machines & physical sports games come to mind). Stern has done some of these ‘side hustles’ – not just the Spider-Man redemption game they never released but also recently with the Pinball Alley sign and mods for their new games. Heighway did too – at first when they made a limited run of a unique novelty game for a client. I just wonder why they didn’t try a few other things to help the bottom line.
The R&D behind another basketball arcade game or a crane machine that just needs new art slapped on it has to be a heck of a lot cheaper than building a new pinball design from scratch. But, I have to imagine that anyone trying to do that would end up being ostracized by the ‘community’ for not sticking to their true pinball roots. I’m sure the answer is ‘money’ but again – if you can hedge the bet in this business, you might as well do that until you come across the next Addams Family design.
Anyways, RIP Heighway Pinball.