Everyone Loves a Hit Game
Challenges Abound, But Successes “Lift All Boats”
by Jack Guarnieri, Jersey Jack Pinball & PinballSales.com
It seems that just about everyone knows a “hit game” when they see it. I’ve been fortunate to be involved with several over the years in concept, design, sales, marketing and support. I can tell you, it’s a lot more fun to have a hit game than a not-so-good game. It just doesn’t happen as often as you would like.
We just unveiled Jersey Jack Pinball’s new Willy Wonka Pinball game. I’ve been negotiating that license for several years and Pat Lawlor and his team have been working on game design for almost two years. I think it’s an amazing game and buyers have agreed. In just a few days’ time, we got orders for close to 900 games! Even some amusement companies and distributors who never buy our games are calling to order Willy Wonka. That’s a great sign that we might have a hit.
We all go to industry trade shows to see new games and try to gauge what our players would like to play (not just once but many times over). The tease of winning a prize, maneuvering the claw to pick up rolls of tickets, the spin of a wheel, the toss of a ball or the flip of a flipper –– whatever the action –– it’s the job of the designer and the manufacturer to plant the seeds and grow good crops to feed a hungry operator sector and an eager player base.
Starting a pinball company from scratch wasn’t easy, but I think the creation of Jersey Jack Pinball has helped change that part of the industry. There’s a saying that “the rising tide lifts all boats” and I think we’re fortunate to see pinball growing through successes at JJP and other companies. There is a growing interest in the game and recently, I even received a call from a chain of amusement centers that would like to “try a few” of our new Willy Wonka games.
Reliable and solid-earning games are what our industry needs more of. I saw several pieces at Amusement Expo that had the promise of being hits. There was a time when, as an operator, I could afford to buy everything I liked or thought would make money. Today, operators don’t have that luxury. While there are many games to choose from, there aren’t too many “great” games. Operators are being much more selective.
It makes sense and that’s why reliability is so important. A great game can only make money if it is working reliably on location. Think about it this way: If you go to eat in New York City’s theater district, there are hundreds of places to choose from. They’re all “good” or they wouldn’t be able to stay in business with the high overhead there, but how many qualify as “great”? Not as many, and for those that are, it’s difficult to get in without a reservation, some having to be made months in advance. In a similar way, as many game factories start with short runs or build to order, buyers can find waiting lists for the better titles.
I have many friends in this industry who design and manufacture all types of games. Every one of them is trying to create the next big hit. I cheer them all on –– even my competitors –– because what they do is good for all of us. It lifts all of our boats.
Likewise, we need to feed a healthy player base. Remember that most play more than one type of game at more than one kind of location. Not every game can be a claw that picks up rolls of tickets. If you buy my pinball games or someone else’s that’s fine with me because at least you bought and operate pinball on location!
The industry for many of my friends has become smaller and many manufacturers have fewer buyers. The few chains that can afford to buy a good number of games seem to call the shots. That’s true until a great game comes along that everyone must have. If you don’t, players will go to the location that does.
Nobody wants their player base to go somewhere else and play the game they don’t have. After all, the player may like it there better and never come back!
Jack Guarnieri started servicing electro-mechanical pinball machines in 1975 and has been involved in every phase of the amusement game business since then. He was an operator in NYC, then began a distributorship in 1999, PinballSales.com, selling coin-op to the consumer market. In January of 2011 he founded Jersey Jack Pinball (named after his RePlay Magazine pen name), which builds award-winning, full-featured, coin-op pinball machines. Email Jack at jack@ jerseyjackpinball.com.