Last night we saw a remarkable difference between the two major pinball companies during their Expo sessions.
Stern gave a presentation on how barcades and beer are their future and talked about their market without talking about the key topics that are important to the pinball buyers that make the difference - enthuisiasts and operators who actually buy the games from Stern distributors.
We heard nothing about how Stern plans to make anything better for their customers, no commitment to excellence, no acknowledgement of growing pains, quality control issues, no understanding that deep and feature complete code matter to a significant majority of their market or why it's important to have open, frequent and transparent communication with those buyers. Gary Stern, arguably the savior of pinball, demonstrated that his company is willing to cede the title of best pinball company to JJP because Stern is more interested in being a manufacturer than delivering world class pinball machines.
It was well understood Stern was not going to reveal a new game. No big deal. The expectation was that they were going to relaunch their flagship 30th Anniversary game, Batman 66, that was released early to meet the 2016 anniversary deadline. At Expo last year we saw a georgous, unplayable game with pretty lights with a promise that designer George Gomez and programmer Lyman Sheets were going to deliver a game that would do the theme justice, exploit the new LCD screen and the amazing audio and video assets they have for Batman.
Early LE and SLE buyers of Stern's most expensive game ever were willing to take the risk because they were big Batman fans, big Stern supporters and believed George when he said Stern was committed to deliver a game both he and Lyman wanted to own themselves. Others were not so sure and distributors struggled to sell Premiums, not because the theme wasn't popular but because the game was barely playable.
From January to May we saw the code improve and hints of greatness to come (parachute pickup mode) and then complete radio silence until Expo when attendees were the first to experience the first update in 5 months. Those that actually paid for their games - some almost a year ago - don't have access to the code (they did get a vague promise that something might be released in a week or so, but that it still wasn't going to be anything close to release level code or the game George and Lyman supposedly want it to be). We got lip service as to why and no commitment to keeping owners in the loop. Owners of Star Wars and other games in serious need of code fixes didn't fare much better.
A couple hours later we saw a company that understood and acknowledged past missteps. Jersey Jack started with comments and presentations that showed they were committed to excellence, were willing to take risks, understood what their customers wanted and then followed that by revealing their POTC game in an 180 degree change from the disastrous reveal for Dialed In last year (a game that has exceeded expectations despite the initial negativity).
I do not care for the POTC theme and will not be a buyer, but the reveal was a home run. The game looks fast (a fast widebody!), fun and incredibly deep. JJP says it will deliver in 1Q18 with feature complete code, similar to what they did with Dialed In. What we saw last night was a game that was supposedly 20% complete that had more code than Stern's three most recent games combined.
The JJP team indicated they are here to stay for generations to come. I always wanted them to succeed and am now convinced they will. Someone said in another thread that JJP has now become the WMS of the 90s (the gold standard) and Stern was again Data East. With the stark differences in build quality now readily apparent to anyone that wants to look, that may be true. Stern may have the greater sales volume, but they are no longer the market leader in pinball.
Unless management at Stern wakes up from their "we own the market" stupor quickly and acknowledges and addresses the needs of the "enthusiast" community their beer and barcades future may be populated with competitor's games. They may see the impressive 40% growth disappear as fast as it came.
I love the idea of a fabulous Batman 66 machine. I like Stern. I want them to be more successful. However after last night I have no faith they want me as a buyer. I'm excited at the possibility of a new, great Elvira game. But I'm no longer going to buy a game for what it might become in the future or what a company tells me they are going to do. Actions speak louder than words. I'm going to be buying on what I get today, not promises of what I'll get tomorrow.