PINBALL EXPO 2003
9 December, 2006
In this next part of our Expo report we look at the seminars and describe the speakers, their topics and provide some audio clips so you can hear them for yourself.
Thursday morning brought the factory tour but after that, and the welcome luncheon, the Expo seminars started and first to take to the podium was Michael Shalhoub to talk about the state of pinball in Australia and the progress on the Pinball Museum - the project he and Alan Tate are undertaking to build a museum in Yattla on the Gold Coast to honour the games and designers which have been most influential to him.
2pm: Michael Shalhoub - The Dream Continues Down Under
This is supposed to be highly resistant to wear, fade or corrosion and is guaranteed for 20 years, so it could be a useful product in pinball production. After a few pinball trivia questions and prizes he introduced Alan Tate.
Alan explained how the museum was his idea initially but has been pushed along by Michael. Alan's enthusiasm was fired when he got onto a steam powered fairground ride at the age of 5 and he wants to enable future generations to experience those feelings so the museum will have vintage rides and amusements along with pinballs.
The building will have a design from the late 1800's and will have areas dedicated to individual pinball designers - a short history of them, the games they designed, short stories and memorabilia. Initially, there will be areas for Harvey Heiss, Wayne Nyens, Norm Clarke and Steve Kordek. Alan and Michael then presented the latter three with certificates showing their areas in the museum. Additional buildings will be added which will include more designers' areas. Building is due to start in 2004.
2.30pm: Steve Kordek - My Days At Genco
When they started producing pinball games in 1931, they used casting on top of the games and the castings were brought over from the casting company by Harvey Heiss. The brothers saw the potential in Harvey and employed him to design games for them.
Genco decided to make a payout game called Kingfish in 1935 - it was a disaster and they had to recall them and return to pure novelty games.
In April 1937 Steve had been looking for a job for 6 months and was walking down the street when a woman opened a window and offered him a job at Genco.
He already had a solid electronics background and he was soon working with Harvey on Silver Flash - a $74 game.
In November 1941, a game called Victory which was released just before the US entered World War 2 and pinball production was shut down in 1942. When it began again in 1946 the game had been so popular that it was remade under the name of Defence, but with the same layout.
Steve has many stories to tell about his work with Harvey Heiss at Genco such as how Harvey used to sleep on a boat and how they drove his 40ft mast through the streets of Chicago on top of his Oldsmobile at 3am.
The Gensburg brothers' father came over and told them to use whatever money they made to buy real estate in the area. Consequently, they ended up buying almost every corner apartment building in north-west Chicago. When they decided to retire, they used the income from these buildings to build the first high-rise hotel in Las Vegas, the Riviera.
The Brothers were very shrewd to keep Harvey and Steve at Genco. They gave them 10-year annuities partly paid by the company and partly from their wages. These effectively tied them to the company until the policies matured.
In 1947 Harry Mabbs at Gottlieb created the flipper mechanism (6 of them, 3 down each side of the game). Steve said that this was a hugely exciting point because it turned a game of chance into a game of skill. In December 1947 when Harvey Heiss was ill and couldn't complete a game for the January 1948 show, Steve took over and designed his first game - Triple Action - a game with two flippers at the bottom which was the hit of the show.
Harvey left Genco in 1954, using his annuities to purchase a ranch in north Miami. Steve stayed until the company closed in 1958, transferring to Stern.
Lots of people have been requesting new playfields for their game with Funhouse the most popular. At a cost of $25000-$30000 to make, there has to be a good demand before IPB will go ahead. They require 50 firm orders, secured with $100 deposits to start the ball rolling with a production run of 100 selling at $400-$450 each and a lead time of 3-6 months.
IPB have all the playfield designs going back to the '60s so they could reproduce any of those if there is enough demand.
Gene listed the products IPB have made including plastics, gold kits (legs, lockdown bar, balls etc), cabinet side art, and light boxes. He explained how they are currently making bumper caps and drop targets for '80s games, ball shooters for various games, and selling Pinball 2000 playfield glass for $100.
He said he had bought all the tooling used to produce pinball parts and is setting up a workshop in Bloomington to clean them up, so they can be taken to a manufacturer to reproduce parts with the original tooling.
Northern Plastics are quoting on about 15 items which are currently out of stock.
They are currently working on the holograms for Creature From The Black Lagoon. They believe Polaroid has the original cast of the creature and they have spoken with a company who can make four-camera view holograms.
Prism cards for Pinball 2000 games are very expensive to reproduce. IPB have 10 new ones in stock and 10 repaired ones returning shortly. They have the equipment to test the cards but would to order several thousand cards to bring the price down to anything sensible.
Gene went on to explain the process by which they make reproduction playfields and the problems that occur, especially the colour-matching of plastics.
He is looking into making playfields and head glass for Eight Ball Deluxe, possibly with the intention of making a small run of 100-200 full games. His private collection has topped one thousand games again. Two years ago he had around 1600 and sold 636 in an auction but the number has been creeping up again.
People always ask Gene why IPB don't publish a list of the parts inventory. He said that they do have this information on computer but don't have a published list, although he claimed that most distributors know what is available.
They keep the last two parts of all products so they can get replacements made and Gene said he spent approximately $200,000 on parts in the last year. At present Gene cannot reproduce any Pinball 2000 parts under the terms of his contract with Williams.
He went to work for Williams as a marketing analyst, working with Larry DeMar and Eugene Jarvis.
When the pinball division ran into trouble they tried added ramps, multiball, flashers, speech and created Space Shuttle. They named the shuttle Defender, put the "A" symbol of the Manhattan nuclear bomb project on the nose of the ship and allegedly put another hidden element into clouds in the backglass.
He left Williams after his immediate boss Mike Stroll left and he went to work for Gameplan. There he developed a game called Loch Ness Monster, but Gameplan ran out of money before the game could be released.
On the 1st October 1986, Data East pinball was born, when the Japanese video game company came up with the money to fund it. Gary Stern and Ed Peligree wanted to start a pinball company (Gary had previously tried with X-Star but that came to naught) and approached Data East and Konami for funding, since the idea of running a video game company with a pinball company was working well for Williams.
The funding came through a month later. Gary and Joe were working out of Gary's garage to build the company's first game, Laser Wars. It was a big learning experience for all of them. There was a constant war between Williams and Data East. Williams would constantly try to contest DE's game elements, such as the use of the word "multiball" or claiming patent infringements.
The parent company of Data East owed Sega money so one of the assets they sold to Sega was their pinball division.
When Sega took over the company they reduced the staff and bill of material by 25%. They were working on Apollo 13 at the time and Joe insisted the Sega head signed the order to make cost reduction as he couldn't bring himself to do it. He said it was a grind working for Sega which culminated in Godzilla, where "there's hardly anything on the playfield except a big plastic head and a nice set of rules".
In 1998, Joe was talking to IGT at a trade show and were looking to add more functionality to their gaming products. So he left to join them.
Joe talked about the reasons for pinball's demise, saying one of the real things to hurt sales was the introduction of Diamond Plate and similar systems. The coating stopped playfields wearing in the same way, making games last longer and reducing sales of new games. There are also several social changes in where we get our entertainment and the demise of the arcade.
He said an typical container would contain 50% games in average condition, 25% really nice games and 10% total junk. Once he opened up a Phantom of the Opera game to find the skeletal remains of a cat inside.
Sometimes though, it's the service calls that cause the problems. Leaving a hot soldering iron plugged into a game's internal outlet and only remembering about it when you get to the next customer is one such problem. Dropping and breaking a bottle of Mills wax, spilling the contents all over their carpet is another.
He warned against trusting an unsecured backbox, describing how he watched as the head on a Suspense fell - seemingly in slow motion - and crashed onto the body, shattering the backglass.
Shattering playfield glass is a common problem. No mater how gently you try to put the glass down on the floor, it's all to easy to just nick that corner and destroy the whole thing. But Scott described how temperature can be a problem too. He had to deliver a game to a customer and loaded it on the truck the night before. It was a cold night and the next morning when he delivered it, he went to take the playfield glass off and the heat from his hands against the glass caused it to shatter while it was being removed. Sometimes, though, it's the customers who destroy the glass, such as the man who couldn't remember how to remove the lock-down bar, so tried to lever it off with a screwdriver.
Scott also warned against the evils of electrical contact spray such as WD-40 and explained how he now refuses to work on games where the owner has used this.
Members of the audience then related their service and repair nightmares to wrap-up the session.
9.15am: Steve Epstein - Stern Pinball Promotions & Tournaments
Steve has - with Roger - been heavily involved in running leagues at the arcade and full tournaments through the PAPA organisation.
Steve was speaking about running tournaments and in particular how the Stern ToPS tournament system can help operators increase pinball's earnings. He saw the system at a trade show the previous year and had discussed with Gary Stern how he could help promote it. Pinball News reported on his association with the company back in February.
He said the "missing link" in creating the optimum pinball experience for players is the operator. They don't want the workload required to maintain a pinball machine in good condition, something that is important if they are going to be running a tournament on it. He went on to urge players to get involved with the operator of their favourite location and encourage them to buy and maintain pinball for their site.
The ToPS system has been well explained here before, but Steve recapped the main points and the rationale behind the system's development.
Steve explained that when he was running the Broadway Arcade, he tried to promote pinball in locations other than his own and tried to get these other sites to run tournaments too. He said he had no success doing that and now, with this new system, he's also having almost no success. "There's a wall of resistance. Operators just don't get it", he said. That said, over 400 units have been sold so far.
In his role with Stern, Steve is going out to talk to distributors and operators to explain how ToPS can boost earnings and interest in pinball but he isn't allowed to talk directly to site owners.
He revealed that Stern are currently working on an enhancement to the system called Bump & Win, designed to allow players with lower skill levels to be part of the tournament too. It's still in development and it is not yet clear how this can be achieved without making it unfair for the skilled players.
Steve was joined by Stern's Joe Blackwell who reiterated many of Steve's points and related stories of how tournaments had boosted operators' earnings. He also described the current ToPS as the seed, the start of a much larger development including possabilities such as local-area networking and multiple win systems.
Steve returned to the rationale behind the system. "We've got to do something" he said, "pinball is competing with a billion other things" for our attention. He said they are adding value to the product with the tournament.
10.15am: Mark Bakula - Digitally Repairing Playfields
Then it was on to the basics of making a decal, starting with photographing the affected area using a digital camera. The first rule is always to remove the playfield glass to reduce glare and reflections. Then clean the area and place a ruler or scale nearby so you can later take accurate measurements.
Take some overhead pictures, lit to avoid glare and avoiding the flash if at all possible.
Mark then described how to use a software program such as Photoshop to adjust the digital image and use the fill and stamp tools to copy areas of colour or pattern.
When it comes to printing out the decal, Mark suggested using the Avery label maker gloss paper which comes in a small 2"x4" size with an adhesive backing
After cleaning the playfield, the decal can be applied and covered with mylar if required for added protection.
The biggest problem is likely to be matching the colours correctly. Lighting, white balance and camera characteristics all combine to produce colour errors, so one way to avoid this is to use Pantone colour swatches. These are booklets of coloured strips, each one corresponding to a numbered Pantone colour. You can use these colour numbers in Photoshop and get an exact match.
One concern about applying these decals is longevity - how long will they last without wearing or fading? Mark showed us a test rig he made to check these issues. The unprotected decals were surprisingly resilient to wear but mylar coating is recommended. After nine days of constant UV exposure from a black light there was minimal fading. This was created with a $50 Epson printer and original Epson inks.
Mark then explained how he created a decal for a larger area on a Nitro Groundshaker. There were problems matching the pattern of the original which required more extensive use of the drawing tools in Photoshop.
Mark then showed some artwork from recent games and some prototype playfields along with other items of interest such as a cardboard concept model of the recent Stern Playboy game from George Gomez.
In the final part of the seminar Mark talked about his and Don's plan to write a book on the top pinball games of the 1990s. In order to choose those games that should be included they are turning to us, the pinball players and collectors to vote for our favourite games.
They have set up a web site at www.pinballsurvey.com where you can register and vote for the top ten games in various categories. It's quick and easy to do, so visit the site and have your say.
1.15pm: James Loflin - Manufacturing Improved Ramps & Other Pinball Parts
In order to sell them to collectors, he said they had to make them better than the original parts. After researching different plastics and seeing how they worked in a pinball game, they found that soft plastics slowed the ball while hard plastics could be too fast.
Then there was the durability to consider - how would the plastic ramp stand up to being constantly hit with a steel ball? What was the appearance? Could it be sufficiently clear, or coloured easily if needed. Finally, there was the cost. Ramps sold through eBay and similar channels were reaching ridiculous prices, making them uneconomic for professional restorers.
After considering all the factors they decided on Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol or PETG and a 0.177" thickness. He would like to have used polycarbonate (Lexan), since that is much tougher but it requires a much higher working temperature and they would have to use aluminium moulds which would make the costs much higher. Also Lexan is a harder plastic which can make the ball too fast, causing it to fly off the ramps and wireforms.
The moulds used for the PETG ramps are made from epoxy aluminium which can withstand around 2000 pressings. The PETG has to be heated up to allow it to be formed onto the mould and this heat damages the mould itself. The addition of aluminium helps it withstand that heat, allows the temperature to be monitored more easily and produces greater yields, while the use of epoxy keeps the cost down.
Once the plastic has been formed on the mould, it comes off in one sheet and has to be cut into individual ramps of the correct shape, firstly by a band saw and then by a five-axis router to create the holes for mountings, lamp sockets, switches and metal flaps.
Typical production runs take eight to ten weeks to complete and are typically of 100-200 ramps depending on expected demand. The moulds, which cost $4000-$8000 each, can then be stored for future runs.
Do these new ramps infringe on Williams copyright or their deal with Illinois Pin Ball? James said that when they first started making ramps they had a phone call from Gene Cunningham asking that the cease and desist, but the Pinball Inc ramps are not masquerading as original Williams parts, indeed they are designed to be better than the originals and so are like car parts where you can buy the manufacturer's original spares or any number of third party companies' replacements. Pinball Inc does not provide any artwork which would be covered by copyright.
So far, the best selling ramps are those for Funhouse and The Addams Family but after being stuck with a lot of unsold stock he has vowed never to make any Data East ramps again. Decisions on future products are made on the basis of the popularity of the games and their production runs, along with the number of games still around and the prices they sell for.
Greg lives in San Francisco and after starting a software company he was looking for his next project and decided to look into building a conversion kit for Pinball 2000 games. Williams were not keen on the idea, but Greg went to the factory to talk to George Gomez about it, or the possibility of working at Williams. George explained how it was not a good time to get into pinball. That was around a month before Williams announced their decision to close.
Greg bought a Revenge From Mars for his company's office and saw how everyone enjoyed playing it but was intrigued why Williams got out of the business when they had such a good product. He thought it would make a good subject for a documentary. Greg Dunlap was also making a documentary on the same subject, so for a while they collaborated but eventually he had to move onto other projects and Greg Maletic took it over.
He didn't want to cover the history of pinball but instead wanted to look at the pinball market, the culture at Williams and how a game is designed. For this he examined the first Pinball 2000 game - Revenge From Mars which sold 7000 units, far more than any Williams game for the past two years. It was developed alongside the other Pinball 2000 game, Star Wars - Episode 1 with that game originally intended to be released first but held back to coincide with the release of the film.
Greg then showed a clip from the documentary about the build-up to the release of Star Wars - Episode 1. There were problems when the game started shipping. For a start, the price was higher than Revenge From Mars. RFM was itself more expensive than previous games but many distributors absorbed that increase because it sold so well, but there was also an accounting error which led to the game being underpriced. For SW-E1 they tried to rectify that mistake and so the price rose again.
Also, the movie didn't receive the acclaim it was expecting. Initial games were sent to Europe and games didn't start appearing in the US until much later when the film's hype had worn off.
In the end, the game sold 5000 units which, while good, was not as many as expected and would have led to a gap in production of a couple of months before the next Pinball 2000 game - Wizard Blocks - would have been ready to hit the line.
Another problem was the much higher profit being generated by WMS's gaming division. With much easier returns coming from slot machines it was hard to justify continuing with the low-profit pinball division.
Another clip from the documentary showed various people's thoughts and speculation about the closure and the reasoning behind it.
The documentary should be completed around March or April of 2004 and available to purchase on DVD. We will, of course, be reviewing it when it is completed, but you can keep up with the latest information at Greg's web site www.futureofpinball.com
Greg then introduced a panel of guest he had assembled for the seminar.
They answered a series of questions from the audience about the issues Greg had talked about and about the state of pinball now.
I won't relate the entire story illustrated by these diagrams as it would take another web page as large as this one to include all the information Tim gave us and I don't want to belittle all the research he did for this presentation.
To summarise, Seeburg started off as a piano maker, moving to automation to produce jukeboxes, parking meters and vending machines. United Manufacturing started when Harry Williams & Lyn Durant started refitting old machines in 1943, when the war effort denied them the chance to make new games. Two years later they split, with Harry going on to form Williams Manufacturing Co., still revamping old games until the end of the war.
United prospered, building novelty games, shooters and even a jukebox alongside the pinballs. They moved to the factory complex at 3401 N. California Avenue, later to become famous as the Williams factory.
Williams had a small, cramped factory and made only pinball games.
Meanwhile, the Fort Pitt Brewing Company was expanding its empire to become Fort Pit Industries expanding into more automated businesses.
In 1956, Fort Pitt bought Seeburg to add to their expanding portfolio of companies.
One of the Seeburg executives was called Lou Nicastro and when the company was sold and the Seeburg family withdrew, he gained more influence over the company.
In 1958, having divested themselves of their brewing concerns, Fort Pitt changed their name to Seeburg Industries.
Over at Williams, they diverged into pool tables and gun games. Harry Williams preferred to live in California, and so sold the company to Sam Stern. Sam expanded the pinball side and increased exports, just as United stopped making pinball moving to bowling and more importantly, bingo games.
In the early 1960s, Seeburg Industries expanded into more drinks vending machines and Lou Nicastro was promoted to one of the top posts in the company. The firm continued expanding and wielded great negotiating power.
Sam Stern sold Williams to Consolidated Drug Company in 1962, but after difficulties at Consolidated Drug, he get the company back again, only to sell it to Seeburg Industries in 1964. Later that year they buy United Industries too and move Williams into the California Avenue factory. Now Lou Nicastro is in charge of the division. Sam Stern stayed with Seeburg as vice-president and controller.
Seeburg bought up a struggling company called Commonwealth United Corp from the west coast and Seeburg changed their name to Commonwealth United, with Lou Nicastro in charge and Sam Stern as a director.
Commonwealth United had a huge diversity of interests including records, TV shows, movies and petroleum. But it started losing huge amount of money and started selling off various divisions to stay afloat. To help improve its image it changed its name to X-Corp. But despite large and growing pinball sales, X-Corp still struggled financially and so it reinvented itself as Williams Electronics Inc. with Lou Nicastro as both Chairman and CEO. The company was listed on the stock exchange with the 3 letter code WMS.
Lou Nicastro was joined in the 1980s by his son Neil Nicastro and together they started up several companies including a slot machine company.
In 1983, Williams' pinball division was doing so badly that they made a tentative agreement to sell it to Bally. (That deal ultimately fell through and in 1988 the reverse happened when Williams bought Bally pinball.) but 1983 and 1984 were dire times for Williams Pinball. The diversified into hotel/casino management, television programmes and pay telephones but neither of these latter two came to much.
But then Space Shuttle came along and saved Williams Pinball in the late 80s and early 90s. Williams was then 62% pinball and 38% hotels. Then they decided to return to making slot machines perhaps inspired by the huge profits made by IGT from their slots.
At that time, pinball occupied the large factory and slots the much smaller one. Their first slot - Monopoly - was a big hit and they needed more factory space and better loading access.
In 1999, the pinball division made a $4.6m profit, but that was after $40m of research and development work. So they closed the pinball part of the business to concentrate on slots.
The company is now called WMS Industries, is worth $675m and has no debt.
The aim is to raise $1m by fundraising and mortgage. By raising more money they can reduce the mortgage. Tim thinks that they can afford to pay $1000-2000 a week for the mortgage. Once the mortgage total falls so that they can afford the repayments they can go ahead and start.
Here is an initial layout of the building:
There will be one main door, and everyone entering has to sign in and provide ID. Right by the entrance is the main attraction - the newest game. There is a merchandise store to help support the museum and a snack bar selling pre-packaged soda, hot dogs and ice cream. It is intended to sell these snacks for $0.25 each.
The example front view is shown with tables for soft drinks or food every two games.
The plan is to divide the games up according to age, so you have a row of '50s games, another row of '60s games etc.
In case you're wondering about the area called "Kill, Kill, Kill", that's a machine gun game shooting real steel shot. Be afraid, be very afraid.
At the time of the seminar the total in the fund was $167,000. The time-scale is still very vague, but opening should be in 1-3 years.
© Pinball News 2003