We’ve seen a few stories come along every now and then about a new company being formed to start building new pinball machines to compete with Stern but so far, no one has really produced anything to make Stern take notice.
It’s not a great track record for this kind of news, but a new story which appeared on Pinballnews.com yesterday profiles a new start-up which sounds like they have what it takes to give Stern a run for their money. To sum it up, a long-time pinball fan and major pinball distributor by the name of Jack Guarnieri saw his pinball sales drop as a result of some of Stern’s latest designs and due to that frustration, he is using his resources (including his Elaut USA company, which will provide the manufacturing capacity. He is President of that company) to produce some new games that are tailored towards pinball fans who enjoy numerous toys on the playfield, and deep rule sets. The new company is called Jersey Jack Pinball and their first game will be a licensed Wizard of Oz pinball game, designed by Joe Balcer who has designed numerous pins since 1994 for Data East, Sega and Stern. The plan is to have Wizard of Oz ready before the end of this year and plans are in place to produce at least two other games beyond that, including a non-licensed title, something we haven’t seen since Williams closed up operations nearly 20 years ago.
Because of the capacity Jersey Jack will have through Elaut, I believe this has a great chance of going somewhere, we’ll just have to wait and see how Wizard of Oz itself turns out. While we’re on the subject of pinball, Stern has announced on their Facebook page that they are in the process of finishing up their next title, which will be Rolling Stones. They had a number of ads for it in the most recent Replay Magazine (which also had Stern’s 25th anniversary on the cover). Sounds like a game made more for collectors than entertainment venues but we’ll have to wait and see.
I’ve got some further thoughts on this situation, hit the break below for that
How it will all turn out in the end is anyone’s guess – there are those who believe that the market isn’t big enough for two pinball manufacturers and if Retro Pinball and Planetary Pinball Supply manage to release something this year as well, it will be even more crowded than that. I do understand why this is happening – when you are alone in a market for a long time, the lack of competition can also breed a lack of innovation and I think that has happened with Stern Pinball. There’s no reason why pinball can’t draw in new players and grow as a market but if the games, technology and ideas aren’t there to foster such growth, then it won’t happen. I like to compare it to the video game industry – imagine if graphically the consoles decided to just stick with the effects we saw in the early 90’s, with crude 3D models and blocky textures. Or if they refused to pursue new control ideas, such as rumble or motion-sensing. That is pretty much what has happened with pinball – it’s been stagnant in the arena of ideas and technology and that is catching up with Stern. Yes it’s great that they’ve been around to keep pinball alive – it could be worse with no manufacturers there at all after Williams closed – but that’s not a good reason or excuse for stagnation. I think Stern can survive but they will need to up their game to do so if Jersey Jack or someone else produces superior games that people want to play. This is why competition is great and so I welcome it if it means better games that you can put into an arcade and have them bring in strong returns. This is really what the focus of a pinball machine should be – something that attracts people in an arcade and will drive repeat plays – something us operators can get behind. If it can do that, it will please collectors as well.