WHAT DO POINTS MAKE?
Story dated 18th September 2002, new pictures 26th September 2002.
As we reported back in April, Stern Pinball Inc have been working on a single-site tournament system and now it is about to be rolled out.
Yes, it's called ToPS (note the capitalisation) and it works as we described before. It's not a networked system and it works on a single machine. Prizes and the levels they are awarded are set by the site operator through new entries in the Portal menu system.
ToPS can be fitted to Playboy and RollerCoaster Tycoon games (and later) by the addition of a game-top multicolour LED display, a controller board and a tournament start button on the lockdown bar (those blanking plugs on Playboy finally come into their own).
This isn't Stern's first attempt at a tournament system. The company (or Sega as it was at the time) tried the idea with Kelly Packard's Golden Cue but that was using Incredible Technologies' network of interconnected game and the licensing costs were prohibitive leading to the abandonment of the idea.
Now it looks as if the need to have a phone line connection has been done away with and it's single game tournaments through ToPS.
So what can we expect to win?
That depends entirely on the game operator. You could win prizes, tickets or cash - either fixed value or incremental - but that's all set in the game menus. What is not yet clear is exactly how the prizes are awarded. Games don't currently have any way to pay out prizes and the installation kit doesn't provide one, so is ToPS only suitable for managed sites?
Whatever, the deciding factor for the success of tournament play has to be the cost of the ToPS system. As yet no firm pricing information is available (reports put it around $500) but the software is already included in the game, so the major costs are the display and the controller board. The system has to bring in enough additional earnings to pay for itself (like all amusement devices in commercial use) . To achieve that, the operator may have to experiment with different reward systems and the prizes have to be sufficient to encourage players to opt for the tournament game rather than regular play.
It's way to early to know whether ToPS will be a success but credit is due to Stern and the system's designers (Messrs. Blackwell, Ropp and Sullivan) for their work and let's hope that the system helps revive pinball in the eyes of arcade owners and that the extra price doesn't prove to be prohibitive.
Anyway, here's Stern's official press release:
© Pinball News 2002