Quoted from rosh:
I tend to think the Stern designers and programmers still do as much of this kind of thing that they can. I suspect part of the challenge that they have, and that we have to be careful about, is having the production line, and the need to feed it, can negatively impact the game development cycle. Stern has a big production line and they need to keep it running. If a machine is not selling well, it likely results in timelines changing for the next machine or two in line, so suddenly they have to 'finish it' so it can be ready to go when needed. In addition, Stern obviously likes to use licensed themes, which can be challenging, but they know how to work through the approval process -- and I suspect part of that is them going for the path of least resistance, which likely turns into -- keep it simple, don't do something they might object to.
We will face some of these challenges with game 2, relative to feeding the production line. The better Houdini sells, the lower the risk. Sticking with unlicensed themes, for now, lets us not have to worry about approvals, so it gives us the latitude to take creative risks, as well as not having something else outside our control potentially impact timelines.
I have to think that designers at Stern have had frustrations at time when timelines and approvals get in the way. I'm sure Steve, and whomever else was working on it, had a lot of cool ideas for SW, that they could not do given these various constraints. As we know some of their games ship with minimal code, due to these timelines, and while some of the programmers are really good about getting it finished, when, and if, they are given the time, the playfield designer can not 'finish' the things they wanted to do due to a lack of time or the concern of it not being approved.
With more competitors have entering the marketplace, giving buyers more choices, it increases the risk of a game not selling well, and the cascading affect that can have. Of course this can then become self fulfilling prophecy as you speed up a game's development since the last game did not sell well, and since you sped things up, this next game is not up to professional contemporary standards, so it does not sell well, and that can start a dangerous repeating pattern.
Of course quality issues are a totally different thing, but can also plays a roll in all of this.
Despite what Deeproot says, pinball is hard.