By Doc Pinball

It’s been over nine years since Revenge from Mars was first released to the public and Williams made - and sold - 6,878 units. In 1999, this was their biggest run in years and it showed the first profit for Williams for a long time. They were onto something big.

Many players loved it and the public was just finding out what Pinball 2000 was. This was the best shot that Williams ever took to make pinball new again.

Well, that was over nine years ago and how are these machines doing now?

There were a lot that were picked up by collectors just because they had to have one but Pat Lawlor said it best at the ‘99 Pinball Expo when he said these are commercial equipment. They were made to be out in bars, bowling alleys and family fun centers making money.

Well, I just bought Revenge from Mars from a vendor in a small town in upstate New York. This vendor’s territory was nothing big – in fact it was all small towns. This particular RFM saw work in bowling alleys and bars in towns where the population was three thousand at most.  In the nine years this game was out on route it made $41,900. Now that was a game the vender paid $3,200 for when it came out and I would say this was not a bad return on investment for nine years.

Which makes me wonder - if Williams hadn’t pulled the plug on Pinball 2000, what would pinball would be like today?

You know, I would like to know why SEGA sold its pinball division back to Gary Stern. It was said by many that SEGA knew about Pinball 2000 before it came out.  Williams took out a ton of patents on Pinball 2000 and Pat Lawlor said it would be very hard to copy Pinball 2000. This makes me think that Pinball 2000 had really sunk its teeth into the market.

I think SEGA looked at this situation and said there was no way they were going to follow Williams down that road. I’m sure SEGA looked into the patents and said “no”.

Joe Kaminkow said that he knew that Pinball 2000 would not last, but when he had the chance to buy back the company from SEGA with Gary, he just walked away. I remember in Joe’s TOPcast interview he said that his game South Park was a much better game than RFM. Well Joe, that same operator bought a South Park at the same time. It just so happens that was the game that followed RFM. It has only made $2000.00 in the same nine years. The operator also scratched his head because the South Park has needed more repairs than the RFM. 

It seems that everyone knew that Pinball 2000 was a force to be reckoned with except the President of Williams who, for his part, did not see that his pinball department had single handedly got rid of all the competition.   I mean, SEGA sold their division to Gary and Joe Kaminkow walked away. I do not see SEGA selling their pinball division if Williams closed their operation first.

If Pinball 2000 had continued, I see Stern closing its doors by 2001. Then Williams would have had the market to themselves.

George Gomez had a good idea about having two product lines, but I would have seen it work better to only have two lines when Stern was gone. Think about it - you would bring both products to the market place when you were the only player in town, or in this case the world.  

I think back to the days when Gottlieb was king. Williams and Bally were always fighting for the remaining market share. There were many times in the past when pinball went through down times but they still fought for that market. Here, Neil Nicastro's pinball division gave him the sole market and he did not see it. He was watching the wheels on the slot machines too much.

What would have happened if Williams, during the first age of solid state, closed and pulled the plug? Let’s say they made two or three solid state games. Let’s say they made Hot Tip, Lucky Seven and Contact and then pulled the plug. These games were solid state, and were new and fresh.

But these games would also have evolved, and there would be better games. They would have evolved into games like Flash and Firepower.  The first solid sate games had one designer and that was it. At that time Mike Stroll was a visionary and could see that the games would start to develop. If you’d asked any of the designers that were there at Williams during the early days of solid state, they would have said it would evolve.

Mike Stroll was that man in the ‘70s with a vision. He brought in Steve Ritchie and Larry DeMar and many more. But let’s say Mike Stroll was not there, and the man in charge decided to call it quits. Pinball 2000 would have never seen the light of day and games like High Speed, Pinbot, and Addams Family would also be gone.

But back to Pinball 2000.  There were two more titles that were in production and would have been great titles. Of course I’m talking about Wizard Blocks and Playboy. Many say Wizard Blocks would have been much better than Star Wars and RFM.  Playboy would have been a great pin for bars. I know Lloyd from SS Billiards pointed out that there had not been a good bar pin for some time.

I have always heard the story about Williams wanting to get into the slot machine business and how Williams took money from the pinball war chest to get it going. This reminds me of what Bally did with their war chest.  They had lots of money from the ‘70s brought in from video and pinball along with their Aladdin’s Castle arcade just to name a few. George Gomez had referred to this time at Bally as the “golden goose”. What Bally did next was the spent their war chest on fitness centers and a yacht company. The golden goose was cooked.

Well here we are with Williams and it was not a yacht company or fitness centers, it was their slot machines division. This leads me to believe that Williams wanted out of the pinball business in the 90’s when they got into slots. All the rest was just window dressing. I’m sure if they did not have a problem with IGT in the ‘90s, we would have seen pinball go much earlier than it did. It took 10 years for slots to take off and if they gave the same amount of time and money to Pinball 2000 it would not be dead.

Not thinking of all the games that could have came out in the last nine years, I just think about what Pat's game would have been like. George did an outstanding job with RFM.  John could have done much better with the time he had, but he was lost in the story of Star Wars.

So we can only dream and wonder. But to know now that one game in over nine years made $41,900 and if you times that by the 6,878 that were made. Pinball 2000 would have brought in over $288,189,100.

Most of the people who see this game for the first time are blown away and rightly so. I will have many parties at my house and I’m sure I will tell all my friends about the story of Pinball 2000. Then when I show them how much this little work horse made in nine years, I'm sure they will be blown away again.

When you talk to many people about pinball, they have fond memories and rightly so. As for Pinball 2000, that’s all it will ever be. Of course with this article, there is still hope, albeit a far off one, that maybe we will see some kits for Pinball 2000. But it has been over nine years and most operators have sold their games and the kits will only go the collectors. Unless the collectors start operating their own games, pinball will just float until there are no more operators. That will be a dark day for pinball.

As for me and my little work horse, she will be in my basement for a year to get cleaned up and maybe a new playfield. Then her one year vacation is over and she will go back out on the street to make money. After all, if this game can make up to $4655 in one year and be over nine years old, there is a lot of money still to be made.  By the way, this game made over $1,985 in the last six months before it came off route for repairs.

Got any thoughts about these opinions? Send them to us here.

From Duncan Brown

I certainly have many of the same thoughts. Harry Williams and some of his successors at the company knew how to ride the ups and downs of the amusement industry without losing focus on the goal of always being there to catch the next wave.

Just one nitpick: Like everyone else who is deep into pinball, you rag on SW:EI a bit... but it wasn't designed for you. It was designed for those very customers out on the street, the ones who hadn't played pinball in years, but were Star Wars fans - especially kids! You should have seen the lines of kids playing
it when we unvelied it at the Star Wars Celebration in Denver in 1999. You know, grow the base of pinball players and all that.

I'd be interested to see the lifetime earnings of some of the SW:EI games out there. As an indication of that, it's informative to go back and check the PlayMeter operator equipment polls from the era and beyond. RFM drops off of them pretty quickly, but SW:EI hangs on and on and on, long after Williams has shut down.

From Boyd Bottorff

I think (hope!) there's a typo in the recent P2K article. It said a South Park made $2000 in the last eight years on route. Are you missing a zero there? How do you get a pinball (any pinball) to average just five bucks per week? Even a maintenance hog?

I took a dead Star Wars original, mostly resurrected it (damn idiots using eddy switches in impossible places) had it in a poor location of a pinball unfriendly place, and still pulled in $15-25 per week.

Anyway, on the P2K issue... yeah, with all the patents it would be difficult to reproduce it, but the patent is halfway expired now. Only 10-12 years to go...

Reply from Doc Pinball

You read it right. Remember these games were in a small towns in New York state.

The operator was asked to take the game out of the town a couple of times. This game was not looked on too well by the public . In fact, in the first town, one mother got 300 signatures asking for the game to be taken out of the roller rink.

For the most part these games were next to one another but most of the times the South Park would go into a bar and just sit there. The operator did say he had to move South Park about three times more than RFM.

From Greg Ellevsen

I love Pinball, and I desperately want it to continue forever.

But Williams probably made exactly the right business decision when it closed its pinball division.

Pinball is just not popular these days with the vast majority of the paying public.

Go to an arcade today, and see how many games are played on the sole pinball machine vs the dance/redemption/shooter games. Add to that observation the significantly increased maintenance requirements vs video games, and the rise of home entertainment consoles, and Williams didn't need a crystal ball to know that pinball was doing to die commercially.

So they did the sensible commercial thing, and offloaded the doomed business division while they could still get some kind of licencing price for it.

Sure, perhaps they could have kept a small, scaled back pinball division in operation, with costs in line with declining sales. But such a division, with depleted resources, would be unlikely to do the kind of innovation your author suggests would have eventuated.

So, much as I hate the decline in pinball, I can't blame Williams for taking the decision they took.


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