Date: 2nd January 2011, updated 21st January 2011
It's a headline we've used a few times over the years, while the companies and people concerned have enjoyed varying degrees of success.
But now coin-op manufacturer and retailer Jack Guarnieri has announced his plans to become the second US-based pinball maker.
Speaking on the Spooky Pinball podcast, Jack explained how he owns a number of companies, but is probably best known in the pinball world for his Lakewood, New Jersey-based Pinball Sales firm which has sold thousands of Stern pinballs around the world. Such was his influence, he was able to convince Gary Stern to re-make Lord of the Rings in a special limited edition version in 2009.
However, the decision by Stern Pinball to change their product to a sparser playfield design with simpler rules has hit Jack and Pinball Sales hard. Jack, who is also a Stern distributor, says his customers are educated buyers who enjoy mechanical toys and deep rules. Consequently, he was only able to sell nine of the recent Avatar limited edition machines in the run up to the holiday season. He said you have to make a product your customers like, not one you like.
With Stern as the only major manufacturer of pinball machines, Jack said there was no product left for him to sell, so he's been thinking about what to do about the situation for the past year, and decided to start making his own games.
His new company is to be called Jersey Jack Pinball and work is already underway on the first of the new titles which is to be based on the movie, The Wizard of Oz. Jack has secured a licence to produce both the pinball and a pusher using the Wizard of Oz property.
He said he wanted a theme which is universally acceptable and understood, doesn't offend anyone, provides lots of ideas for mechanical playfield devices, and provides very deep and rich content to be used in the game.
He already has the manufacturing capacity in the US with his Elaut USA company which makes assorted coin-op grabber, pusher and novelty games. He says they currently make more complicated products than a pinball machine, so manufacturing pinball should be no problem.
The Wizard of Oz pusher which is made by Elaut USA and was part of the licensing deal can be seen on the company's website.
The pinball game's designer is Joe Balcer, who also designed games for Stern/Sega/Data East from 1994 until 2003, including Apollo 13, South Park and The Simpsons Pinball Party, and has been working for Jack since May. No other details were released about who else is working on it but Jack hinted several well-known names are already on board to work on the project.
Producing a mechanically rich game with plenty of playfield toys and deep rules doesn't come cheap though. Jack wouldn't give an exact price at this stage but said it would be more than $4,000 but less than $10,000. There would be an initial run of 1,000 special edition 'Emerald City' models of the game, possibly with real emeralds and rubies.
But Jack is also looking beyond the first game to games two and three, and he wants to bring back non-licensed themes, saying the second game probably won't be licensed and game three might be.
He also offered the prospect of making the source code for the non-licensed games available to the pinball community so they could make their own versions, but he tempered that by saying the modified code would have to be uploaded to Jersey Jack Pinball so it could be compiled and then made available for machine owners to purchase, with some of the revenue returning to the new code's programmer.
Jack's plans have not been kept entirely under wraps. Many people knew parts of the story and of Jack's intentions, but this is the first official announcement. Jack told Gary Stern about his plans when the two of them met at the IAAPA trade show in November.
Gary has often said, if another pinball company starts up one of two things will happen - either they will lose a lot of money very quickly and go out of business, or they will take Stern Pinball down. Jack is hoping by appealing to the customers Stern are currently neglecting, he can fulfil and expand the demand for more complex, fully-featured pinball games. Although Gary doesn't think there is room for two pinball manufacturers, Jack says Gary's been wrong before.
Jack is keen to stress he has both the facilities, and the determination to make this new company happen. He says it a brand new venture, but the people involved are all experienced in producing fun games, and he's absolutely determined to succeed.
His timescale is to have Wizard of Oz on the market in time for the 2011 holiday season. It will be exported around the world and be fully RoHS-compliant.
Pinball News will be covering all the latest developments at Jersey Jack Pinball, and we'll be bringing you much more about the new Wizard of Oz game over the coming weeks and months.
Jack has now revealed that artist Jerry Vandersteldt will be in charge of the art package for the Wizard of Oz game.
Jerry created the art for one of the best regarded pinballs of recent years with his sumptuously detailed designs for the cabinet, backbox and backglass of Stern's Lord of the Rings. He subsequently produced the artwork for Stern's Elvis game and now is set to extend his pinball portfolio with Jersey Jack Pinball.
In other developments, the price of Wizard of Oz has been set at $6,500, but that price is only valid for pre-orders made before 1st March 2011, where a $250 refundable deposit is required.
When the pre-order deadline is reached on 1st March, and additional $1,500 deposit is required to continue with the pre-order, otherwise the pre-order lapses and the deposit is returned.
Game bought outside the pre-order process will cost $7,500 - a $1,000 premium over the pre-order price.
Special game serial numbers can be requested, although number up to 120 have already been reserved.
Anyone wishing to place their pre-order for the game should visit the Pinball Sales site and make their payment.
The latest news from Jack Guarnieri is that Dennis Nordman has joined the Jersey Jack Pinball design team to work with Joe Balcer on The Wizard of Oz. Dennis will then go on to develop his own design for the company, which will be the next game to be produced after The Wizard of Oz.
Dennis is quoted as saying, “Words can’t describe how thrilled I am to be given the opportunity to design pin games again. Jack is a great leader and motivator and I know we will build an exciting product.”.
Dennis has also revealed how his Whizzbang Pinball partner Greg Freres will be creating the playfield artwork for both The Wizard of Oz and Dennis' own game. Jerry Vanderstelt is expected to produce the cabinet, backbox and backglass art.
This mirrors the arrangement at Stern for The Lord of the Rings, where Kevin O'Connor and Margaret Hudson produced the playfield artwork, while Jerry looked after the cabinet, backbox and backglass.
Meanwhile Jack has unveiled the new logo for Jersey Jack Pinball. The neon-style red, white and blue design shown above features an outline of the state of New Jersey and will be used on their upcoming products and associated literature.
This latest news came in the first press release from Jersey Jack Pinball, which you can read in full below.