The Current State Of Pinball

The Current State Of Pinball

The Pinball Pugilist

Pinball.  Cut throat business.  Hobby. Job. Distraction.  Outlet to voice one's opinion.  

This hobby, while being a small flame relative to most of society's more common interests, burns so intensely, it lures some pretty damned unique moths.  Pinball is comprised of a very passionate niche of loners and strong personalities with too much money to burn and insecurities that make them long for inclusion in something bigger. Once it becomes an obsession, it sparks collections of over priced toys that use nostalgia as kindling. One’s income does not deter most collectors. Even the most frugal pinhead has emptied his meager wallet on games that outsiders feel are an insane waste of money and resources, but time has numbed us to its absurdity.  The absurdity is much easier to accept when you make a habit of surrounding yourself with like minded people. We are a flawed brother/sisterhood, but all groups are. I write this with the realization that I fall within those parameters. We all do.  

This post, article, summary etc. will not be loved.  It is not the intention of the author. There are several motivations for it.  It can live on as a wake up call, a spark for discussion, a catalyst for change or simply as an affirmation of the issues that affect the hobby. 

Why would I wish to remain anonymous?  The benefit of writing without fear of repercussion will allow for a more frank discussion.  There is no fear of reprisal from peers, manufacturers or "media" that are eager to nail one to the stake who does not share their agenda, and it removes the ties of friendship that would skew the discussion.  This will be free of those constraints. Who I am isn't as important as what will be said. This is one man/woman's opinions and their observations, but it is time for the laundry, dirty or not, to be aired. Agree or disagree with it.  That is the point. Regarding my identity, speculate all you would like, but I have no intention of ever revealing who I am. I would have too much to lose in regards to my career and reputation. 

This article will discuss each manufacturer, the self appointed "media," distributors, the health of the hobby and the direction it is headed and finally, the buying practices of modern pinball fans.  We will start from the top. 


Manufacturers

Stern Pinball, Inc.: The industry behemoth led by an unfit general

Gary Stern is an asshole.  By most any measure of a human being, the descriptor fits.  From the perspective of one who loves the hobby and wants what's best for it, he is the main antagonist.  Gary is motivated by two things; His legacy, and money. Cocaine, a wild youth fueled by corrupt morals, shady business practices and a complete disregard for anyone who has helped, and continues to help, the bottom line of his company are just some of what earns him his reputation.  The company somehow thrives, despite his personality and motivations lingering into the day to day decisions and actions of the company. He is a paternalistic fraud who stumbled upon his good fortune through a father who allowed nepotism to guide him. 

Despite this lunatic, thanks to the help of much needed investors years ago, Stern has become the de facto standard of modern pinball.  He has surrounded himself with people who know pinball. George Gomez, Dwight Sullivan, Jerry Thompson, Borg and Sheets just to name a few, all the way down to the most unknown animators, techs, engineers and support staff. The list goes on and on.  Stern is full of creative geniuses who only care about pinball. Their visions and creativity have been restrained by the bottom line of the company, and always will be. 

Stern insists it is a "lifestyle brand."  This is no more than an attempt to gain capital through the sales of shitty clothing and accessories to adorn both the machines and the faithful zombies that buy them.  $100 Sideblade art? $750 toppers? Overpriced bookbags that proudly display the user as someone who is loyal to the mothership? These are a modern Nanking of pinball and its most loyal obsessives. 

Machines are cut to the bone in terms of their costs to produce.  Proposed mechs are slashed, art is hurried and talent is ushered to the door if they question policies beyond a whisper.  The result is a homogenized product that continues to be gobbled up by a market desperate for the latest thing. LE and Premium models are sold as "Feature laden" trims when in reality, they have what ALL trims should have.  Issues are squashed and hushed. Playfield de-lamination is a known problem in the halls of Stern. So much so, that great lengths have been chased to try to make it better, including playfield manufacturing from within. It all comes down to the cost.  Not the cost to fix what is out there and already fucked, but the cost to actually do it right to begin with. Notice how, rather than using better clear coat application procedures to tackle this problem, they made it thinner? Coincidence? Dimpled playfields are not normal.  They do their damnedest to pretend it is, but the cost of lumber and it's decrease in quality combined with the cost of securing lumber that would PREVENT it, is not in line with Stern's financial objectives. 

Two things keep Stern at the top.  Licenses, including the relationships that they have built in securing those licenses (there is no one better at this than Joe K), and their employed talent that seeks to make the most of what little they are afforded.  These factors are their savior. For now. 

The arrival of competitors, although small ones, that simply don't have the ability to cut into the incredible market share of Stern currently, are their biggest threat.  It is not a financial threat in terms of the short term, but simply the slow movement of those smaller manufacturers changing the perception of what is expected for the buying public's dollar.  Jersey Jack Pinball, Spooky, American, Chicago Gaming and potentially Deep Root soon, all have the ability to make the kool-aid drinking faithful start to realize that more should be expected. These smaller manufacturers will continue to push Stern to add more to their machines and push innovation.  Without them, the hobby will suffer, despite each of them having their own set of issues.  


Jersey Jack Pinball: Grossly misguided with good intentions....

Jack Guarnieri was supposed to be the guy who set pinball back on track, at least in terms of returning it to innovation.  He threw mechs galore at a theme (Wizard of Oz) that was nearly universally loved, and it sold really well. It continues to sell to this day.  LCD displays, an operator friendly OS, cabinets and art that you would be proud to display. The issue is Jack is a salesman. He had huge dreams and bit off more than he could chew.  A couple of bad decisions including investment in questionable themes (Hobbit first, more to come), landed him in trouble financially. He was rescued by investors (which seems to be a common theme already), and after stumbling about trying to release a game that was ultimately not liked in Hobbit, he continues to struggle to find a firm footing that will allow JJP to continue.  There seems to be a movement now towards slimming features and costs in an attempt to be more financially viable, but that has not sold machines. Budgets and lack of production numbers require a work force that is unable to match quality to the prices of the machines and the hobby has taken note. Wonka and Pat Lawlor is a match made in heaven...at least on paper. Unfortunately, the sales have not met expectations due to a variety of reasons including perceived short cuts, lack of innovation and an underwhelming response to the theme. 

Jack doesn't help himself in terms of his relationships within the industry.  He is widely seen as self serving, arrogant, stubborn and pompous among insiders.  Distributors whisper about the difficulties of dealing with him. Hair brained ideas to keep the company in the black (Yellow Brick Road) by charging a exorbitant premium for established, even dated properties are laughed at by the buying public and forced upon a once loyal distribution network that grows tired of the bullshit.  Successful shot layouts are derailed by poor theme selection and execution (Dialed In) while good layouts and innovative designs (Pirates) are plagued by quality control issues that underscore a work force that is either not trained properly or mismanaged. The success of Wizard of Oz has yet to repeated. One wonders how long this can continue before investors wonder if they put good money on a bad horse. 

There is hope.  Toy Story has potential to be a theme that will right the "rocking ship."  It is a theme that appeals to many. The issue is the reputation of trouble free quality is now lacking.  Tons of mechs, innovation and outstanding gameplay is nothing if every forum topic pertaining to your games are filled with angry customers trying to troubleshoot their 10K toys. 

One questions the relevance of Guns & Roses as a pinball theme. It is a perplexing choice beyond the fact that Slash is a well known pinball fan.  I sometimes wonder if it was fueled by the loud, obnoxious love of a particular media member who has shown over time to change allegiances, opinions and loyalties as often as one would change socks.  Even Jack's attempt to heal past wounds by inviting him to personally play Woka before the release was eventually paid back with some of the harshest public criticism of the game... after publicly proclaiming it to be the second coming of Jesus Christ in pinball form.  Which is more absurd, the fact that he thought this pact would end well by cutting a deal with Kaneda, or that Kaneda now wonders why Jack despises him? Take your pick.

Chicago Gaming Company: Specializing in Pinball's past AND its greatest hope for the future?

CGC is a blood thirsty opportunist, but I mean that as a compliment.  Much to the dismay of many early collectors who painstakingly sought out and restored some of the most popular titles in the history of pinball, they have been a success so far.  Keeping games priced reasonably, while offering higher end trims that built upon the features and offerings of the originals, has proven to be a pretty winning formula. 

Quality, support, quiet tenacity and leadership who stays below the radar with rare sightings of Doug Duba, mostly when he is participating in a charity event, leaves mostly positives to discuss. 

Medieval Madness, especially once CGC came to their senses and realized hooking their wagon to the Stern train would only hold them back, has been a resounding success.  It is still selling. Attack from Mars? Lauded. Monster Bash? Despite some self admitted clear coat issues (wow Stern, take note), it has been a hit as well. Should a company be celebrated for simply copying the successes of the past?  In my opinion, yes. When it allows games to be purchased by people who would not have the ability to play them other wise, then certainly. 

Building on this wave of winning is the next step.  There are natural limitations to their formula. Each machine that is released moving forward will be less of a sure fire hit. The greatest hits in pinball's past can only go on for so long.  Now, on the precipice of releasing their first non remake title, as well as Cactus Canyon, we will see if they can move beyond copying other companies and creating their OWN winning games. I wouldn't bet against them. 

There are some issues.  Talent is essential, and finding free agent high end designers, coders etc isn't easy.  Making a game from scratch is much different that hiring a bunch of engineers and cad designers to replicate games.  They have already publicly picked up Christopher Franchi, the acclaimed, but divisive artist that fell out of favor at Stern.  Can he shut his mouth and let his talent do the talking? He inexplicably just joined the "media" and started his own podcast. If CGC thinks they will be able to work with him and avoid the drama that he brings, they are in for a rude awakening.  Media types, generally speaking, are people who offer nothing in pinball, but seek to achieve some quasi fame by saddling up to industry types. Why would Christopher, who by all accounts, already contributes, feel the need to validate himself by releasing a ridiculous pinball show?  He seems to enjoy the battles and can't stand to fade from public eye, even for a minute. Didn't he just leave pinball? Now, what, he is throwing himself back at it? Tread carefully CGC. Who will design? Some veteran pinball designer who is stuck in his ways and insists its his way or the highway (Ritchie, Lawlor) or a new kid who can make a name for itself.  I'd vote for the latter. There is too much new blood with a lot of talent in this hobby to keep going after the retreads. 


Spooky: The little pinball company that could

Spooky is small.  They sell less games in a year than Stern nearly sells in a month.  If you write them off though, you are missing the point. They are a force.  If not in sales, at least in influence. 

They did themselves a favor by separating themselves from the likes of Ben Heck and his cancerous personality.  He is a genius, but at what cost to a company and it's clubhouse chemistry? They haven't looked back it seems, thankfully. 

It hasn't been all sunshine and lollipops.  There have been growing pains. America's Most Haunted, Rob Zombie.  These games were rough by modern standards. Themes were questionable and quality was suspect.  If you care to notice, Spooky has taken off since separating itself from the idea that horror should be their machines common denominator.  It is ok to have games that have niche appeal, but they better be good. Take Alice Cooper. They had an uphill battle when they selected the theme, but it was executed well enough that it turned out to be well received by their production standards.  With the announcement of Rick and Morty, their first modern theme that, while juvenile and certainly not mainstream, has enough of a cult following with loyalty in spades, that it is almost assured to be a success. I don't get the show, and it isn't my style, but I am in tune with pop culture enough to know that for a lot of collectors, it is exactly what they wanted. 

750 Rick and Morty machines will be their biggest run to date.  Scott Danesi, an incredible talent who uses his love of pinball's past to influence his designs to great effect, is at the helm.  Bowen Kerins, the guy with good intentions who insists on fighting on social media with everyone who doesn't embrace his leftist agenda, even when some of the left wants him to shut the hell up, is a talent nonetheless and is working his magic on code.  Charlie has surrounded himself with people that will take his company as big, or as far, as he is willing to go.

Charlie however, is happy staying small and sticking with small town Wisconsin life.  His motivations are not world pinball domination. Its not money. It is simply to have a comfortable life, working with his family making pinball machines that he is proud of.  That is one hell of a formula for success. It is also a great formula to piss off the industry giants, and in particular, Stern. 

Stern wanted TNA.  They didn't get it.  Stern explored Rick and Morty.  They didn't get it. Charlie is throwing the kitchen sink in his games.  That is not a good look for Gary and his minions. Even though they sell more machines than Spooky can fathom, it will be felt.  When Elvira is passed on by collectors, because it is a shell of a game that is light on features and innovation, they have the likes of Spooky to thank.  Even if that potential Stern customer doesn't buy a Spooky game, they KNOW that there should be more in the game, because Spooky can do it. Little, tiny, gnat of a company Spooky, is offering more exciting games than Stern.  That has to eat at you if you have an office in Elk Grove. It eats at George Gomez rest assured. It would be like the manager of the Yankees, somehow fielding a baseball team of all of the greats of their history including hall of famers, dead and alive, only to be told by the owner that in a game against a minor league team, he has to have the owners nephew bat clean up and his daughter pitch to save a buck.  He is more concerned with the margins of the popcorn than the product on the field, even though by stacking the lineup with the best, and destroying the opposition, it would lead to more long term profits, success and make him the hero of the industry. Nope. Make em buy the stale cotton candy at $12 and increase the seat prices while cutting the cost of the team. That doesn't fill seats in the long term.  You may beat the minor league team, and rest assured, the Elwins can still make the all star catch in center field and hit a grand slam, but your fans know you are short changing them. Eventually, they will support a team that can make a reasonable profit on them, and give it all they have. Excuse the drawn out analogy, but it fits. 

In summary, Spooky is a model that all companies would benefit from mimicking in some ways.  Customer first, feature heavy, passion for the hobby from the top down, charitable contributions, an owner that has integrity AND a group of people around him that are allowed to innovate and are financially supported in that endeavor.

Spooky could be a force and a behemoth, if they wanted to be. Whatever they decide, they should be supported. 


American Pinball: Unrealized potential and misguided owners

Dhaval Vasani is the guy in charge in Streamwood.  He comes from a background of PCB manufacturing with his company Aimtron.  They know their stuff, and they have a firm financial backing of divested interests that allow them to chase this elusive tiger tail of pinball.  The issue is the understanding of pinball isn't fully understood by the owners. Dhaval makes decisions that are counter to the best interest of having a successful pinball company.  A refusal to bring in top tier animators, artists, and skimping on some machine components has led to a lot of headaches. Josh Kugler and Joe Balcer know pinball. If the guidance of the company and the decisions that have hamstrung them were allowed to be set right, this company would kill it.  They offer a tremendous value, quality cabinets, innovative ideas, and have at least a skeleton crew of the right people to ensure things move in the right direction. Instead, Dhaval lets his pride and corporate need to be "the man" get in the way regularly. 

There have been rumors for some time of the possibility of Dhaval selling to people that can change the course of the American Pinball.  Someone who is in it to win it, or at least a group of people who are. Joe Balcer is capable of designing great games, but he often has too much influence on the thematic choices of the games.  His tendency to go rogue has led to infighting, and many are fed up. It is as if they have become stuck in a situation that there is no easy way out of. What they need is a license that will be a hit.

With the recent rumors of that license being Hot Wheels, they have at least demonstrated a realization that a license is needed.  Clever twisting of well known, free to use IP's have proven to sell, but not at the levels required, and people within the hobby have noted some issues that continuously refuse to be addressed due to costs.  Only time will tell if Hot Wheels can be a successful theme, but it has a hell of a lot better chance than fucking Oktoberfest. 

What is needed at American is for him to hand off of the oversight to someone who knows Pinball.  Dahval needs to delegate these items to someone who is specifically there to focus on pinball and only pinball.  Someone who is well versed and capable of such things. Having the owner in the kitchen is not working when all he does is burn the meatloaf.  Joe would only drink the wine for the recipe, and Josh is too hands on. They need a George Gomez. Someone who is a veteran that is respected and is only concerned with making the best games as can be with little interference from above.  Someone who, when they get approached by Uncle Joe demanding that the next game be an obscure theme that few will relate to, they lay the hammer down and tell Joe to shut up and design what sells. If that can't happen, sell the damn company and let someone else take American where it can go.  The skeleton is in place for a great company, but they can't get out of their own way. 


Deep Root Pinball: Shut the fuck up already and make a game

Robert Mueller.  Where do I begin?  All talk. Full of shit.  A business man who has had a lot of things go his way in those ventures, suddenly thinks he can buy his way into marketshare in the hobby when he knows fuck all about any of it.  Bombastic, bragging, cock sure interviews making claims that have been vaporware to this point and joining forces with one of the most hated crooks in pinball in John Popadiuk. Its as if he is wanted to be hated by everyone. 

He knows he knows nothing.  I will give him that. Stocking your McMansion with Bally Williams classics does not a good pinball company owner make, so he did what he knows to do.  He rounded up a group of like minded dumb fuck investors with more money than sense, and they went out and hired the best talent they could find. The upside is that these people CAN save this thing.  It is in good hands, despite the dick behind it. The thing is, said dick has stacked the odds against the fine people that work there. If anything has proven true in this hobby, it is to under promise, and over deliver.  "Big dick" Bobby has done just the opposite. People have been promised a LOT of shit. I would bet my last dime that whatever finally gets released, in final form, will underwhelm. Keep talkin Bobby. Keep making an ass of yourself and signing principal to your name.  I am not impressed. No one in the hobby is. Release something people want, then scream you nailed it. However, scream how you are ABOUT to nail it and you have 20 something games ready to dismantle every existing pinball company though, and people just think you are a dip shit.  Myself included. I hope your employees prove me wrong. You won't.

That felt good.


Multimorphic: All brains, no beauty

Gerry Stellenberg is the Vincent Van Gogh of pinball.  Not in the sense that he is a mad man, or I fear he will slice off his ear, but that his innovations and efforts are falling on deaf ears.  Van Gogh was undeniably talented, but his work was not appreciated during his lifetime. I fear Gerry is following the same path.

The issue is the P3 is just too far from what people want in pinball.  It is certainly practical and innovative. The issue is that most people who have come to love this hobby appreciate the very idea that it is somewhat archaic in nature. No one asked for fancy, but he is going to sell it to them damn it, or at least try. 

Multimorphic is rumored to release another game within the foreseeable future.  It won't sell P3's unless it is closer to traditional pinball than they have demonstrated they have a desire to build.  Their platform has its fans, and many people who know Gerry know that he is closer to Charlie than Robert or Gary, and that is certainly a good thing.  It is almost like the little brother who longs to be a professional athlete. You root for him, and deep down, you want it to happen, but you just don't have the heart to tell him it's not in the cards. 

I'm here to tell you, if no one else will: Gerry, it's not in the cards. 

If someone could convince Gerry to harness his genius and develop a game that uses wood, but takes their obvious engineering talents and makes MECHS that are crazy innovative, he would sell more than he could build.  The issue is, like a lot of dreamers, the pursuit of this dream has blinded him of reality. Blame society, blame tradition, blame a lack of focus on the game, blame a lack of cooperative sales people pushing the games, but at the end of the day...the blame is your own misguided aspirations. 

All of us want to play short stop for the Yankees.  At some point, you gotta realize that you can join the workforce and make a name for yourself in other ways.   He has the brains, the tenacity, and the talent to do it. Let's hope he does. 


Pinball "Media"

I certainly could have started some juvenile podcast that spouted off about all of these points while droning on for 2 hours.  I just don't give a flying fuck about notoriety or being recognized for any of these opinions. My ego does not need to jump on a mic as a self proclaimed expert with no resume to back any of it up. 

Don't get me wrong.  I do listen to podcasts occasionally.  I enjoy several of them but I have also grown to despise a couple of them, or at least the dumb asses that do them. 

The issue with the pinball media is the agendas. If the host is partial to a particular manufacturer, his credibility is shot.  If he has too many friends in the industry, his credibility is shot. If he sells machines, his credibility is shot. If he is a fuckhead of a  sociopath that can't get a long with anyone and gets banned from every forum he has ever joined, how is he worthy of my time, or yours? 

Do this.  If you have a favorite podcast, listen carefully.  Are there opinions the same now as they were previously?  What are their motivations? Are they out for revenge? Quasi fame?  Free shit? Most of them can get a resounding yes. 

A few are guilty of this slightly but entertain while discussing the hobby.  They offer informed opinions that are grounded in reasonable opinions. They are critical but do it CONSTRUCTIVELY.  Like I'm doing in this article, I am offering and want opinions, but I also want reasoning behind it that makes sense.  It's up to you to decide if your entertainer of choice does that. Its a short list for me. 

The one media that I find refreshing is This Week in Pinball, the website.  It presents the news and steers clear of bullshit bias and gets to the point with clear articles.  Once I read that, do I really need to hear 14 podcasts discuss what I just read? Nope. 

Streamers are refreshing usually.  Jack Danger is good for the most part, although he sometimes strikes me as someone who is a little too far up his own ass.  Some of the best streamers are ones that don't get much acclaim. Don't be afraid to experiment with new streams. It pays off in my experience.


Distributors

Most distributors are giving opinions that sell machines.  Makes sense right? The issue is some do it in a way that fools fools.  That latest LE that just got announced that you are being hurried to commit to because your distro is insisting that he has sold all but one?  If you fall for that shit you deserve your fate. Also, don't fall for the assholes who I call squatters. They pack away a couple of each machine only to fuck unsuspecting buyers later on by selling them at a exorbitant premium.  That is a shitty way to do business and it borders on unethical. 

Tommy from Nitro is a pariah, as he should be.  I don't give a damn about how you, the reader, feel about feminism.  I just don't want to support a douche bag who thinks he is anything but a dried up dirty old man.  

Find someone who will back you and go to bat for you.  Given the tendency for modern machines to have issues out of the box, you don't want someone who sells you a lemon and never offers to help in the event of a problem.  These distros are abused by major manufacturers, realize meager profits, and then have to find ways to fix factory fuck ups, sometimes on their own dime. If you can find someone who has ethics, and is willing to ensure you are happy, reward them with your business and thank your lucky stars that you found them. 


The health and prognosis of Pinball

For now, things are going well.  We have a ridiculous number of manufacturers putting out reasonably good games and sometimes great ones.  The resurgence of pinball through tournament play, arcade bars and the fact that some of us who grew up playing pinball are getting to the point in our lives where we have disposable income, have all contributed to the boost and overall health of the hobby.  Will it last? Only time will tell.

I fear that things will struggle to maintain their current pace and direction.  As more manufacturers make more machines each day, the market grows more and more saturated.  Pinball machines take up a lot of room, and are not cheap. Even the most diehard collector has a limited amount of space and money that can be devoted to pinball.  When that tipping point is exceeded, things will get messy.

If this happens, or when it happens, smaller manufacturers will start shutting down.  American, Multimorphic and JJP will be the first to call it quits unless they fall back on their umbrella companies or find ways to offer more products that can remain relevant in a shrinking market.  This is just the beginning. CGC will return to pure redemption and then the others will be forced to adapt to survive, or perish. 

Ultimately, Stern will survive but restructuring will force major changes.  Lines and production will slow. The workforce will shrink. First the line workers will experience layoffs of moderate numbers, but those will increase.  Then the talent, the ones who design games, code them and implement the magic, will start to feel the pinch. Threatened layoffs will come in waves till the company is a shadow of its former self.  A much smaller facility will house Stern Pinball. The games will now be scaled back, not out of greed, but out of necessity.    

I don't mean to be a downer.  It is reality. This hobby we love is fragile.  It is based on nostalgia of a bygone era. There will always be collectors.  There will always be those of us who continue to chase machines, but if you think that things will continue at this pace, you are kidding yourself. 


Modern buying practices: Are we, as collectors, part of the problem?

Watch the next release.  I mean really watch how it unfolds.  Try to step back and witness it, not as an obsessive collector or pinball enthusiast but as a bystander who is indifferent to the hype. 

A machine is announced.  Forums have been speculating for months, or sometimes years.  As the date approaches, the buzz increases. Layouts are speculated.  Wishes are aired. Ultimatums are given and features are demanded. Fanboys from other manufacturers chime in with insults about the title being doomed.  Advocates of the game will announce it is the best thing since sliced bread and the theme is a dream. The game will be a sure fire hit. Distributors fill interested lists with people who can't write the checks fast enough. Used games flood the market, usually the last title that was not received well.  This currently can be seen with Munsters and Black Knight. Checking accounts are braced, spouses are pleaded with or lied to. It hasn't even been seen.

In the case of stern, the day before the release, a cryptic trailer featuring the logo of whatever IP they overpaid for, is shown.  The faithful fever is at orgasmic levels. The next day, release day arrives. Trim levels are shown and obscure staff of the manufacturer play the game showing that the extreme wizard mode is about as attainable as winning the lottery twice.  Balls are drained, shots are made. Sometimes there is issues that are laughed at. Then, and only then, the bull shit starts for real.

Forums explode.  The game is torched.  People who were all in scramble and back out of preorders.  The W is drawn funny, the game is clunky, the assets are lacking, the art is atrocious.  Quietly, some soldier on. People come to their senses. Distros call and start their lies of games being limited and nearly sold out.  Some demand non refundable deposits for LE's within a certain amount of hours. They use this manufactured supply and demand to hedge their bets and their inventory.  Keep in mind, no one outside has seen the LE. Most have not played ANY trim level. 

The wait begins.  Extreme whack jobs who possess more money than sense satiate their lack of patience by ordering the pro version so they have something new to play in their collection of 35 games while they wait the agonizing weeks for their LE's to ship.  They then use the time spent on the pro to proclaim how inferior it is to the LE and Premium while questioning those who bought the peasant version and their place on this earth. Sometimes they may prefer the way the pro played, but their pride prohibits them from admitting they could have saved thousands and bought a mere commoners pin.  Stern smiles and pays bonuses. 

Machines start shipping.  Issues rear their heads. Early adopters either swear it is the last game they buy or quickly put it on the pinside marketplace to off load the head ache while insisting the game plays perfect and has 32 total plays.  Vultures circle ready to swoop in. They purchase it for $200 less than their NIB cost and cackle while calling up STI to allow a group of over worked and underpaid blue collar types who despise them to throw their machine with reckless abandon on the back of a box truck where it is loaded and offloaded repeatedly with increasing frustration. 

Four months later, another stern is released and the whole process is repeated.  Shortly thereafter, those that ordered their premiums of the last title slowly start to receive them.  

Months later, a topper that looks like it was shipped from alibaba is revealed to the public.  People scoop it up, fast. Credit cards are stressed. Led kits are ordered and installed. 90% of the hobby laughs and shakes their head.   

During all of this, we have the conglomeration of genius and experts commonly known as Pinside analyzing, criticizing and poking fun of the game, the people who bought it, the artist, the designer and anyone involved with its production. 

The game starts showing up on pinside regularly, usually at a significant amount less than what was paid for it.  The new shiney is being revealed. The junkie can't be without his fix and his ego won't allow him to not have the latest game for his two friends that are in pinball to swoon over. 

The hobby is fucking doomed.  Doomed.