START UP DOWN UNDER
Story dated April 14, 2004
The world's second volume manufacturer of pinball games could soon be with us, and this time they're not based anywhere near Chicago.
Australian pinball dealer Wayne Gillard who trades under the name Mr Pinball Australia, has unveiled plans to start building games at his Murrumbeena facility in Victoria, south-eastern Australia. He has assembled a Pinball Design Team of six including Andrew Field and Marc Alexander to build the games from the ground up with completely new hardware and software.
Starting with a blank slate gives the company the chance to incorporate many new features and improve on the games we are all familiar with.
A network connection is a desirable feature that will be included as well as the ability to update the software through a USB port rather that having to burn EPROMs. It is envisioned using a memory stick to transfer the software making it easy to update many games from one device.
But some elements will remain unchanged. The game will still use a dot-matrix display but in a development of the "custom message" facility, it will be able to display adverts either for the location or for other companies. Manufacturer supplied adverts could help reduce the purchase price of the game.
Shipping games should be easier with the game coming either pre-assembled or in a flat-pack kit form. Additionally, home versions could be made available without coin mechanisms so that they could be sold through retail outlets or mail-order.
The team is already looking ahead to future games, so each new game will be available as a kit to upgrade earlier models in the same way as Williams made Star Wars Episode 1 kits for Revenge From Mars or Congo kits for World Cup Soccer. In these cases however, the latter games were not as popular and the kits did not sell well leading to the "upgrades" often being viewed as downgrades.
Both these kits were based on licensed themes and Stern place great value on licences as a way to provide instant recognition and familiarity. Pinball News asked Wayne whether he would be using licences in his games or going for original designs. "Both. It is a catch 22 situation; license themes usually sell but cost between US$50 & US$200 per pinball for the license fee, original games save you money but cost you more in artwork and development - for example music/sounds etc. Having said that, our first game is a licensed theme!"
Most parts used by the Pinball Design Team in the new games will be generic to provide easy access to replacement parts and make it simpler to swap parts between games to fix problems. It is also intended to make them easier to repair by swapping-out boards.
Wayne told Pinball News why, after many years selling games he decided to get into pinball production. "I am in the business of selling pinballs and it is getting harder to get both used & new pinballs; Stern will only sell via their Australian distributors who charge more than I can buy them retail from a US distributor and airfreight them in for."
But Wayne is also not happy with the games Stern is producing and thinks he and his team can do better. "I think the World has unique requirements not serviced by Stern since the No 1 pinball company Williams ceased making pinballs."
Although manufactured in Australia, the games will not be aimed at a purely Australian market. "The market is not big enough here in Australia, it will be the international market we will target and we have the support from the Australian government with this venture for exports." Wayne intends to sell the games around the world and is expecting to spend many months touring trade shows and distributors around the world promoting the games.
Indeed, he sees himself spending so much time on the pinball design and manufacturing business that he has put the retail sales business up for sale. "I work all hours of the day and night doing both, so selling the pinball retail business would free my time up more."
The first whitewood sample should be ready by the end of the year with production in 2005.
Finally, the cost of this venture? "I can confirm it does cost approx US$1 million to produce a machine from scratch."
© Pinball News 2004