Good, fun games are good and fun regardless of their source material. Pinball is ultimately about physical play and satisfying feedback, and there are lots of ways to do that.
Some licenses are “bad” because they saddle the designers and artists with too many restrictions, but if you avoid those you can make great games still.
For me, the reason I’m bored with licensed pinball is that I miss the sense of mystery and discovery. I don’t want to hear familiar movie quotes. I don’t want “lunchbox art”, even when it’s great, where you’ve seen the characters before.
To me games like Houdini and Oktoberfest are licenses. Simply because they’re familiar, and just hearing the name is enough to conjure up the basics of what the game might look and feel like. They’re “safe” ideas, easy to understand quickly. Doesn’t make them bad, just removes the element of the unknown.
It’s a ton of work to make a pin. And it’s definitely work to invent your own world, create original art for it, make animations for it, sound effects, call outs etc. Licenses do help shortcut that somewhat. But it’s all still work.
My personal feeling is if you’re going to do all that work, you might as well go all the way and tell your own story. If you just want the easiest route to a finished game then do a license. It’s less risky all around. If you’re Stern and you kind of need to pump out games I get it.
If you’re a startup, scrappy company, with less initial need to keep the factory running? I wish we’d see more original work. Truly new thoughts, not just easier routes through familiar ideas.
Why do all that work and not get to tell your own story?