REVIEW OF THE YEAR
Story dated December 23, 2005 .
As we head towards the end of another year and look back at the events of the past twelve months, there's no doubt 2005 has been both an exciting and a dramatic time for pinball fans.
The year began with Stern's new game The Sopranos making appearances at the IMA and ATEI shows in Nürnberg and London respectively. Based on the popular HBO TV series, the game achieved moderate if unspectacular sales before giving way on the production line to a series of re-runs.
Sales of new games to home game room owners was on the rise, doubling from 10% to 20%. Games such as Elvis and Harley Davidson were the big sellers but other models continued the trend making the market a significant proportion of overall sales.
But Stern weren't the only ones making, or planning to make mechanical action games. Gene Cunningham started his production of Big Bang Bar games although it has taken longer than expected to complete the project. A delivery date - originally planned for March 2005 and then revised to November - is still some way off but hopes for a successful outcome are high.
Video pinball games appeared with an arcade version of Pro Pinball's Big Race USA from Spain's Recreativos Presas, a payout Addams Family from Nova and the return of Orange County Choppers from Incredible Technologies, although it is believed the latter has subsequently been dropped by IT and the game's designer Mark Ritchie has left the company.
Meanwhile, development continued at Mr Pinball Australia on their game Crocodile Hunter with the first whitewood appearing, showing some of the features expected in the final version due out in 2006.
But there were other developments from the Melbourne-based company as Pinball News exclusively broke the news of their purchase of numerous manufacturing rights and patents from Williams including the right to make authentic Williams parts from October and to remanufacture any existing Williams/Bally game. It also allowed Mr Pinball Australia to use the Bally name on future games.
The shock news of the deal also prompted action from others in the pinball industry. Gary Stern quickly issued a press release designed to calm the nerves of his distributors and said "We question the extent, if any, and the duration, of the right Mr. Gillard has received".
Illinois Pin Ball, faced with the loss of their exclusive licence to make and sell Williams parts eventually created an online store to sell their parts and licensed other companies to make parts and playfields.
With the rights to produce authentic Williams parts licensed to The Pinball Factory, it wasn't long before those making unauthorised parts using copyrighted artwork found themselves targets for cease and desist letters. Websites selling these parts were shut down and eBay auctions were cancelled resulting in much resentment.
Back at Stern, another former Williams game designer joined the team. Dennis Nordman joined Messrs Lawlor, Ritchie and Gomez with his first job being the design of a redemption game. Gary Stern also celebrated his 60th birthday amidst much speculation about his possible sale of the company.
Shortly after, Stern Pinball started production of its second game for 2005 - Nascar. Based on the motor sport, this Pat Lawlor design featured a racetrack around the outer edge of the playfield. Because of the theme's relative anonymity outside North American, it was rebranded as Grand Prix in other territories.
A couple of new pinball magazines started up in 2005. Pinball Today in the UK produced its first issue in April but has yet to release a second although it is expected soon. Coin-Op Collector in Belgium launched at the start of the year and is still going strong, but despite returning at the end of 2004 following a three year break, Multiball Magazine's 2005 editions never materialised.
Something that did return against all odds was the PAPA world pinball championships. Last year's devastating flood ruined 233 games and the 2005 event was in serious doubt. But thankfully they managed to rebuild and 275 players competed in August with Bowen Kerins winning the title of World Pinball Champion.
The European Pinball Championships, last held in 1997, made a triumphant return in 2005 in The Netherlands. Roy Wills won the European title and a trip to PAPA.
The UK got a new pinball show. Cunningly called the UK Pinball Show it was held in Birmingham in November and attracted over 140 games from collectors and game sellers across the country. Plans are being made to repeat the show in 2006.
Pinball Expo moved down the street to a new home at the Wyndham Hotel in Chicago following the demolition of the previous venue, the Ramada. Despite the relatively short notice change of location and dates, the show went very smoothly.
And so we look forward to 2006 and all it has in store for pinball fans. January should see the first look at Stern's next game - World Poker Tour. It should utilise the company's new hardware system so we will be seeing how that performs. 2006 should also see the release of Crocodile Hunter Outback Adventure by The Pinball Factory. Delayed by the Williams deal and parts manufacturing, the game will be closely examined to see how it competes with Stern.
Not only that, but Big Bang Bar must surely be completed in 2006. How true will it be to the original and how will it play? And the long awaited Pinball Hall Of Fame should open early in the year in Las Vegas as Tim Arnold and company bring their dream to reality.
Without doubt 2006 will be a fascinating year for pinball and you can be sure Pinball News will be here to bring you all the details - First and Free.
© Pinball News 2005