FESTI FLIP 2013
Date: October 26th & 27th, 2013
Report by Bruce Ng
A few years back, a group of close French pinball friends cooked up the idea to start their own event, to embody everything that they had previously enjoyed or hoped for in a pinball show.
After plenty of brainstorming, research and then four intense months of planning, the very first edition of the Festi Flip took place in October of 2012 in the city of St Étienne.
With 150 pinball games, they managed to put together the biggest pinball event that France had ever seen. Some 1,500 people attended and they must have had a reasonably good time because the word spread far and wide.
Half-way around the world, 9,000km away in the French tropical island of Réunion, Pierre Galobardes who goes by the name of Galorun on the main French pinball forum flipjuke.fr, started to plan his trip to attend the second edition in October 2013.
From all the chatter and pictures on FlipJuke, Galorun knew that if there was one pinball event he had to experience, this was it. In order to cover the travel costs for his son Gabin and himself, he parted with a beloved Tommy and got out of his comfort zone to fully restore 3 additional games for fellow collectors on the island.
Many other people who had missed the inaugural event also made sure not to miss it this time around, such as Alain and Laurence Boulieu, both IFPA officers in France.
Thanks to a solid promotional campaign that relied not only on the pinball forums, but also on social media and the local city hall’s regular outreach channels, such as the local TV, radio and print media, Festi Flip was back at the Palais des Spectacles in St Étienne, bigger and better, in October of this year.
They managed to surpass the inaugural event by almost doubling the number of visitors this year with some 2,800 guests over the weekend and 251 pinball machines, along with 42 other games such as arcade video games, foosball, pool tables, air hockey, and electronic darts.
Less than one hour after they opened their doors on Saturday, some 400 people had flooded in.
The wide appeal can be traced back to the very spirit in which the event was founded. The name itself, “Festi Flip”, was deliberately chosen to convey a fun, festive, and family-friendly image.
The usual word in France to designate such events is "salons" which roughly translates to convention, or an event that would primarily cater to the dedicated circles of the cognoscenti. A festival sounds a lot more inviting and also conveys their vision of a scintillating smorgasbord of pinball being represented in its many embodiments: all the different generations of old and new machines, custom games, workshops, vendors, tourneys…
Another way to look at this broad appeal was offered by Laurent Gaudin, the Festi Flip communications attaché who goes by LorenZ on the forums: “The parents will bring their kids along with them. And we hope that the kids will be dragging their parents back for the second time.”
That same grand public appeal explains why the admission price was kept at the very friendly price of €3 per day. Food and beverages were also all available at very reasonable prices.
In addition, the organizers insisted that the tournaments remain free in order to encourage all levels of players to participate. Thus the IFPA tourneys were deliberately hosted in one of the wings of the building so that they would have their own quiet space but also in order to preserve the fun and free vibe of the main festival area.
Many great statues dotted the Festival. The Happy Days company based in Lyon graciously lent all these statues after having been a vendor last year.
The entrance rotunda was nice enough, but after you walked down a few steps you got the big reveal of the spectacular main central area.
When you first set foot in the main area it was simply breathtaking. The big black drapes hung from the ceiling create a sophisticated and cosy atmosphere while softening the light to make it very pinball friendly.
The first year of the festival, they had eight Medieval Madness machines in a row, since MM is the perennially-hyped crowd favourite. This year to change things up they decided to go with GnR, and since that topper is always sought after they had a huge one custom made.
Another strategy to attract more people, namely collectors who would contribute their games, was to offer a VIP evening package open to anyone who would bring their games or help out in any way.
The VIP access not only meant that they could stay past the 7pm closing time and play to their heart’s content until the wee hours, but they were also treated to a Happy Hour, a full catered sit-down meal, a magic show by the world-renowned magician Phil Keller and a live concert by the ska band Reggae Jahzz Attack.
There’s no doubt the VIP package was a big factor in gathering the 251 pins.
To pull off a sit-down meal for 296 people right in the middle of the festival floor, the organizers had an elegant solution. By the entrance of the main festival area, they placed four big games such as pool tables. This created a sense of spaciousness and increased the dramatic effect of seeing the GnR line-up. Then they only had to move these 4 big games to the side to magically replace them with all the banquet tables.
Several vendors were at the festival. One could test out and purchase new Stern games, as well as various parts, magazines, electronics, game room furnishings, and more.
Vendor Bernard Loose brought seven of Stern’s latest offerings, some of them right out of the box: Hulk LE, Metallica Pro, Star Trek Pro, X-Men, a custom Avatar, a custom Avengers, and a custom Tron. When I enquired about the absence of AC/DC games at the festival, Mr. Loose said they are so popular he can’t keep them in stock.
The workshops and presentations covered restoration techniques and new products:
Nicolas Manaud, flanked by his brother and associate Timothé Manaud, explained how their new PinSound product is an enhanced replacement soundboard with true stereo support, enabling easy music and voice call customisation. It also adds line-out and headphone connectors.
The IFPA free-to-enter tourneys also featured prizes for the top-placing woman and child. The main contest was conducted on Saturday with around 100 participants. The games used were: Monster Bash, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Simpsons Party Pinball, The Wizard of Oz, The Addams Family Gold, Batman - The Dark Knight, Twilight Zone, The Machine - Bride of Pinbot and Goldeneye.
The Sunday IFPA contest was a fun event with offbeat set-ups. The Addams was played with foot controllers, the Simpsons with flipper blinders (a piece of paper), Creech needed reversed hands, Monster Bash had a remote control box, and Twilight was played sitting down while the playfield lights had been deactivated.
Kids also had their own tourneys on both days in different age categories (3-6, 7-9, 10-12). 150 kids participated and everyone won a diploma. The kids pins were set-up near the snack bar area.
With 251 pins from which to choose, there were quite a few gems to be found. It’s always fun to see which game is represented the most. Besides the 8 Guns N’ Roses, there were 6 World Cup Soccers, 4 Medieval Madnesses and, thanks to LorenZ bringing 24 of his games, an impressive line-up of 8 Zaccarias (Robot, Pinball Champ ‘82, Farfalla, Devil Riders, Shooting the Rapids, Time Machine, Space Shuttle, and Pool Champion).
These friendly, unobtrusive signs on most of the pins were surprisingly effective in keeping people from commandeering games.
The idea apparently started at the Retro Game Alpes salon near Grenoble, and has since been adopted by several events in France.
Sébastien Muller and Christophe Lienar brought the two The Wizard of Oz games. This was the very first chance for most attendees to see and try out the industry-changing JJP offering. WOZ almost didn’t make it to the venue due to a car breakdown 300km away but luckily they were able to rent a car and WOZ was a huge hit, making many converts.
It was truly refreshing to see such a diverse crowd at Festi Flip. The organizers certainly did all they could to attract a wide demographic, but France also has a long love affair with 'le flipper'.
According to Alain Boulieu, the IFPA Country Director, “In the fifties, the French really took on pinball and it was widely accessible in the famous French bistros. Historic numbers clearly show that France was the biggest importer of pinball machines up until the mid 1990s”, thus making France the biggest pinball-loving nation after the United States.
His wife Laurence who won the main IFPA tourney and has held the top spot in the French rankings several times added: “[Alain] has shared his passion for pinball with me since we were 15 years old and it’s thanks to him that I have reached this level in competition. Now we share this passion with our 16-year-old daughter Clara who also participates in tournaments with us. To be able to bring your family together around a common passion to share fun times and to meet fellow enthusiasts at events such as Festi Flip is likely why so many families come to Festi Flip.”
Malizia is another attendee with whom I got to chat with as we both kept coming back to WOZ, she explained how in the late '80s she was a teenager and pinball was the thing to do. “With my best friend and some guy friends, I was 15 when I started to play regularly between and after classes.”
Galorun, who undoubtedly travelled the furthest to attend the festival, told me that even in Réunion, a French outpost on the other side of the world, pinball was huge with students. “Arcades close to schools had a booming business for many years”, he said.
He knows that very well, as he was able to salvage some of the games from that era from a dusty warehouse. Réunion island may be just the size of Luxembourg or smaller than Rhode Island, but it still had 3 operators. He added, “even though they never built as many games as the Spaniards or the Italians, pinball was lot more mainstream in France, with between 3,000 and 4,000 operators back in the day.”
Even Robin from Pinside who hails from Holland relayed to LorenZ that he discovered pinball while on vacation in France as a kid. He thought it was a French invention!
To this day, according to Geoflipper.fr, the main pinball locator in France, there are currently 450 pins on location in the Paris region alone, which is still a far cry the number of operated pins in their '80s heyday.
A couple of weeks after all the excitement and the last pinball machine was carted back out of the Palais des Spectacles, LorenZ invited 20 of the organisers and helpers for a well-deserved massive feast with prodigious amount of raclette cheese and potatoes while they unboxed his brand new X-Men game at his home in Grenoble.
Since then they also had the chance to let the dust settle and to start looking to the future. Understandably they really like the atmosphere at this current location but there’s always the possibility to go bigger eventually, and they have already scoped out other promising locations. They joke that they’ll ramp up to four events per year.
Next year’s event will most likely be in the same St Étienne location, and they plan to take over the whole structure with an additional five rooms. After the Medieval Madness and Guns N’ Roses line-ups, team leader Sylvain promises a fun '80s Gottlieb game to be featured as well as many new offerings and surprises. Are there even that many Ravens still in existence?... He also hinted that a few more members may be brought in to help pull it all off.
Whatever they cook up in the future, we can be sure that this great bunch of fellows will surprise and delight us all.
In closing, here are a few more pictures of the festival:
© Pinball News 2013