just in case:
Predator Pinball "License Gate" Backstory
Some words from the "Anonymous Insiders"
PREDATOR PINBALL – The Complete Reveal
MARCH 21, 2015 ~ LEAVE A COMMENT
This page is being released as a supplemental & independent piece to accompany the Pinball News editorial, which we’re sure everybody is now aware of. Let us be clear up front: This WordPress publication is not affiliated with Pinball News, it’s opinion, or it’s editor. The following is our point of view, said in our way, based on the facts we gathered (all of which were provided to Pinball News as well), and provided here for all to read so they can finally hear the complete “behind the scenes” story – from the actual guys who broke the ground. In this format, without being under an editor or guidelines, we can say our piece in our own words, and tell OUR story.
Let’s Get Some Initial Things Out Of the Way:
Who are we?
We are indeed the “anonymous group” that many of you may have heard about the last month or so. The ones who were gently passing the complete Predator story forward via email, early, to key members of the hobby and selected Pinsiders (mainly trusted & respected Immortals, as well as Moderators, etc). Specifically, “we” are a handful of regular everyday pinballers, and most of us are everyday Pinsiders you already know.
Why are you anonymous? How dare you?
Due to who some of us are, and the positions we hold, unfortunately the gravity of the story and it’s potential outcomes forced us into anonymity. For now, anyway. With the inevitable drama that comes with the collapse of a once-adored pinball project, the focus on what matters could not be clouded or jeopardized by those who would most certainly make it all about us. This can never be a battle over motivations or biases. So we can’t allow it to become one. We’re not going to be “the guys who killed Predator” for some. Because we aren’t. Kevin Kulek killed Predator. By chopping off the ability to focus on “us” at this time, it allows the actual issue – the story we unearthed – to shine all on its own. Who we are doesn’t change the facts we ended up finding. It doesn’t validate them or invalidate them (as some may try to attempt, if we spoke as ourselves). Removing who we are from the equation keeps the facts on track, to stand on their own, and just hang there in the light. If anonymity doesn’t personally work for you, then fine. We get it. We can only provide what we know (and have) and let reality set in and take its course. That is precisely why we approached Pinball News first, at the very beginning. There could be no questioning of the story – and thus if it appears on Pinball News, that means it’s been vetted and verified, and given proper handling for counterpoint comment and defense (by Kevin himself). We, the original source, don’t matter.
But do you have “skin in the game” ?
One of us still does actually, yes. Still not refunded, and have been trying since Q4 2014. Two of us were pre-owners, but got out last year, early, successfully. The rest were never pre-owners, but were leading voices of skepticism during the height of “License-Gate” on Pinside back in late 2014.
You hate Skit-B and simply wanted to destroy the game.
We’ve heard that. We were called haters, deluded, conspiracists, sick fucks, asshats, and meddling kids (Scooby Doo, really?). To characterize our motivations in those ways may be comforting and conclusive for some… easily explaining away (in their minds) that we could only be evil-hearted, because the Predator project and Kevin Kulek could only be pure and good in contrast… Those folks would be wrong in their assessment of our motives. This issue is not about a pinball machine. It’s about a liar and horrible risky business being active in our hobby, and handling a million dollars of our money. It cannot happen again. Yes, the machine itself ends up suffering a dark fate, but a machine is made of wood and wires. People are more important. The hobby has self-cleansed itself and policed itself very well for countless years – from pointing out Craigslist scams, to warning about bad sellers, to outing dishonest members of the community. The bad gets purged. The good gets raised up. This situation is no different. Except it took way too long to reach the point of revelation. Sometimes people who appear good, pull stunts that are very very bad – and unless somebody speaks up to reveal that – the bad reigns, and has the chance of becoming an even worse catastrophe later on. Our information is frankly a little late coming out as it is. Predator could have taken a much easier fall, and Kevin had an easier out, six months ago. Had any of us known…
Why did Skit-B get singled out? Why not investigate JJP, Stern, and Heighway regarding their licenses?
Any line of questioning going in this direction is beyond ridiculous. The cause-and-effect factor is imperative to understand. Kevin ended up causing an effect, which DROVE the investigating to happen. Let’s put it this way: If Jersey Jack, Stern, or Heighway (or anybody) make their premiere production disappear without a trace, and won’t mention it by name in writing… then you had better believe raging debates will break out over them hiding the IP, and calls to confirm a license will indeed be performed again to settle the argument. Rule of thumb: Those who are truly & legally licensed, proudly flaunt and promote their product(s) in the open market at all times.
Why were you sneaking the story to only select people?
This question will likely come up, and it’s important. People will likely wonder why we just didn’t plaster Kevin’s situation far and wide, and at the very least tell the 250 pre-owners. Once you read the entire backstory below, hopefully you will get a better understanding on why we were constrained for many months on breathing a word to ANYBODY beyond ourselves and Pinball News – who in turn was also in contact with Kevin throughout this whole period. The relatively recent “leaking” to select people was a matter of seeding the eventual Pinball News story that was coming out, to certain “pillars” in the community. This included highly respected & rational Pinsiders, some Pinside moderators, some of the lawyers on Pinside, several producers directly involved with the Skit-B project, and members of the “press” (podcasters, etc). This was meant to gently “prep” strong voices in the hobby for the eventual hellstorm that was coming – so they could be armed with the facts, and mentally prepared to be rational and balanced, later in a sea of speculation and flailing. It should also be noted, the story was also forwarded to one pre-owner (the “Leading Pre-owner”) as we felt he should be prepped to lead the group – but he refused to accept a word of what he was told, and blindly kept cheerleading the project and being an apologist for every issue. We were stunned on that one. Maybe today he will finally believe what we told him – six weeks ago.
Why didn’t you just post everything to PinSide during the peak of “License-Gate” and win the argument? We could have been done with this months ago.
As you will read in the backstory below, we were basically muzzled. Plus, it took many months for things to fully unfold for Kevin behind the scenes anyway. Sure, it would have been great (but juvenile) to go back to Pinside with our findings and “win” the argument in November 2014. But, the hard reality of what we discovered was extremely sobering. It set us back in our seats for a long while. Suddenly, true reality rose above a war of words on a blog site. This was serious business. A million dollars was on the line. We caught the producer of a major pinball investment project in a very big lie. A lie that was also now known by the IP holder…who was now out to snuff Kevin… we knew Predator was doomed in November 2014, but how does one manage to roll that message out? That is why we immediately started with Pinball News, due to the gravity and responsibility of such a message to the hobby. Pinside was out of the question for something like this.
Why now? What took so long?
We sat on this shit for months. It hurt. It ached. It really did. Truly heavy hearts all around, for the 250 people with their hard earned money possibly getting trapped in this thing. Even without our information, the Predator project was unraveling on its own the last few months anyway. Pitchforks were out at varying times. Then Kevin would quell the masses with a poetic heroic email, and the pitchforks would go away. Rinse and repeat. We could only stand by as Pinball News did their research, Fox IP kept giving us updates, and the story was being built and vetted for publication. Keep in mind, Kevin has been in on the story being built at Pinball News for months. He knew we all knew everything. Kevin always kept winning reprieve by coming up with new “hope” that kept the story back… and Pinball News didn’t want to scuttle the project by creating a mass exit situation. So it took so long to publish because Kevin was given dozens of breaks, and more than enough gentlemanly olive branches. In a nutshell, Martin Ayub is a terribly nice guy. Almost to a fault. Martin knew the gravity of what Kevin pulled, and knew it had to be revealed someday… The machine itself being built or not is not relevant to the story (in our opinion). Kevin being caught in a lie, with all of its ramifications to the investors, was the story. A handful games shipping or not. Regardless, here we are. It’s all finally published. Kevin was shielded for long enough. Martin did his best, and respect must be given for the restraint and fairness he has shown, under these really shitty circumstances. This is where the meddle of a journalist is tested, and Martin proved himself having a strong spine for a long time. Certainly longer than we would have given.
OK enough. So what was this big dark story that nobody knew?
Speculations on Kevin’s problems (and public hiding of the project) were all over the place the last five months. Some were close, some were far off. One thing is for sure: “License-Gate” was completely correct at the time. Even in recent weeks, with the story seeded to some, and leaked in parts here and there, many still don’t know the complete depth of how much of a license “problem” Kevin actually had. With the Pinball News article, and regardless of Kevin’s defense, we’re going to tell you the entire background here and now. The depth of Kevin’s “problem” and the depth of his actual level of being in trouble will now be revealed from our point of view, and how it happened for us.
But First and Foremost, Let’s Just Get this Out There:
Before we get to the backstory details, underneath everything you are about to learn, and regardless of all of Kevin’s former explanations and claims (you have to let those go – they were simply not true)… with all the snippets and fractured versions of theories out there, let’s just get down to the bottom line. If there is anything everybody needs to absorb first & foremost, it’s this:
Kevin had a license that was “small” and/or “inexpensive”.
Kevin had license limitations that limited or prevented promotion.
Kevin had a license that expired.
Kevin had a license that ended up incomplete, weak, or had “issues”
Kevin dug out his “license” and discovered he “didn’t have what he thought”
Kevin had “issues with his license” that are “being addressed”.
Kevin NEVER had an actual license for ANYTHING on Predator.
At any time. From day one.
Of any scale, scope, or cost. Not a cent paid to anyone.
Of course, yes: Before he took investor money.
Knowingly. Planned that way. Simply skipped the entire process. Period.
His plan was to attempt to build 250 Predators, license-less for all IP used.
Save/keep the license money. No approval processes, complete freedom.
Play the extremely good odds that Fox (and others) will simply never find out.
Completely hide the project after selling it, to eliminate risk of ever getting caught.
Please let that sink in. Read it again if necessary. The utter worst-case scenario assumed under the “License-Gate” controversy, was actually the true case. No problems or issues… no licenses AT ALL… and to Kevin’s dismay, he DID get caught.
People assumed there would be no way possible that any pinball creator or business, especially a bro as “nice” as Kevin Kulek, would have the brass balls and/or stupidity to risk a million dollars of other peoples’ money on actually building 250 licensed-themed pinball machines, without a license, hide it all for safety, and simply PRETEND to have complete unincumbered rights to it all…
But yes. Yes. Yes, it IS possible. It just happened.
This is precisely the business acumen and risk/gambler mind of Kevin Kulek.
He simply never conceived of getting caught. That’s all. In his mind – license, meh, it’s all good. I’m just a dude in my basement. What are the chances? He may have been correct. Extremely low chances. Likely zero. But… he took everything offline as a cautionary step – which sounded alarms, and showed his hand – created License-Gate – Kevin couldn’t clearly explain it or produce compelling evidence to the contrary – and thus his hiding everything actually became his undoing.
So Where Does All This Come From?
So lets go back to the beginning, and we’ll reveal the entire backstory. You can compare this background to Kevin’s version of events. We’ll use a timeline format to make it easier:
Predator “License-Gate” is at it’s peak (at the time). Emotions are flaring. Arguments are being had. The internet had long been scrubbed by Kevin of everything showing Skit-B is producing Predator. Predator isn’t being named in private emails from Kevin. Predator is gone from Kevin’s web site (reverted back to Duck Hunt, etc). Posts and updates from Kevin have dropped to non-existant levels. Kevin is evasive on questions concerning his true rights to the assets. Friends of Kevin are stepping up to vouch for his licensing story – but they are only going on what he is telling them – nobody has seen anything. Kevin produces nothing, which would snuff any speculation instantly. So many outs, so many potential answers, but nothing is given, and all answers are the wrong answers or completely weak answers. Camps break off into loyals vs. conspiracists. It ends up that anybody not believing Kevin at his word are assholes. Anybody pressing the issue are tin-foil hatters. Kevin comes online and says “Predator” and it’s over with… the conspiracists are beaten into the laughing stock, Kevin wins over the applauding masses.
Problem is, near the end of the weeks of debate – there was a challenge. It was brought up by several people, and an extremely good suggestion… to simply end the debate once and for all, why not just contact Fox IP and find out the answer? Dozens of us were offline talking in private messages and emails for weeks about Kevin’s claims anyway. We got to talking about the Fox thing. One guy was “absolutely sure, through a friend” Kevin was lying and didn’t have anything. The rest (including us) had our opinion, but could only speculate. Time to end speculation. Let’s just settle this once and for all. We’ll come back and report our findings, regardless of what they are (that was the hope) and the hobby can be done with this crap for good. So a few of us broke away from the private chats and emails, got together as a smaller group, and went on our own mission to figure out a way to get an answer from 20th Century Fox….
First of all, getting to IP at Fox is an ORDEAL. They are completely “unpublished” and a very specific division that doesn’t take contact from the “public”. In fact, the actual division of 20th Century Fox that handles their intellectual property is a separate entity called Fox Licensing & Merchandising Corporation. Completely separate from the entertainment divisions. There is absolutely no number to Fox (at all) on the back of any Predator DVD, let alone any number getting you near FL&MC. Just so everybody knows. Be sure to watch Kevin’s interview (on video) telling the fictional story about a “cool Fox pinhead licensor”… We sensed a problem with Kevin’s story right at the beginning. We forged onward, having to email into a specific FL&MC general inbox (as dictated by a switchboard operator who said nobody can be forwarded into FL&MC on the phone). We sent a very basic email in there, requesting an email address or phone number to address our questions regarding the licensing of a consumer product…
Entire days went by. Got a response back. Basically a handler at the front lines looking for what we wanted to know. She requested we submit what we want, and she’d handle getting it to the right people. Again, everybody is shielded, and we have no contact info except her return address. We draw up the simple yes/no question about a run of Predator pinball machines, asking for a confirmation of official licensed merchandise status, and attached a picture of the game. Sent.
Many many days went by. It was certainly over a week. Definitely into November by now. We actually thought the whole thing was a dead end, and practically had given up on ever knowing. We were moving on, and didn’t care much any more. But then an email landed one day… with a very serious tone. It was from Bryce Coughlin, senior IP counsel for Fox Intellectual Property. He didn’t answer our question in his email. He wanted a phone call to speak to one of us directly, as HE had questions he needed answered. Number provided.
Called him. He ended up wanting to know all about the Predator project. How it came about, who’s manufacturing it, where are they being sold, etc. He didn’t address anything about a license on the call. It was all questions. He said he was going to go look up Predator pinball, and give us his findings. But the tone of the call, and the material asked, sounded a lot like he had no clue about Predator pinball.
A couple weeks went by. Mr. Coughlin called back. He had performed due diligence to make sure everything was searched, and he knew for sure. He stated that there was absolutely no license for Predator pinball, they haven’t heard of Skit-B Pinball, and the project is absolutely Infringement. Now there was a problem. Here we are, after asking the questions to get an answer, we got the answer, but this process also inadvertently tipped Fox IP off to the project itself. So yes, November 2014 was the first time Fox had ever heard of Predator pinball. When did Kevin launch the product and take initial deposits? Wow.
Mr. Coughlin started a process of callbacks and interviews to talk to several of us. He wanted to find out about the whole sales approach, the preorder, the deposits, the numbers, and what Kevin is saying. Mr Coughlin ended up finding all the threads on Pinside, all Kevin’s announcements and reports, videos of the game at shows on YouTube, and even the original site (before it got took down) on archive.org. In no uncertain terms, he expressed that Fox will be taking immediate action to stop Kevin. We expressed our concern for the 250 Pre-owners, and they need to know Fox is shutting things down, because they need to start requesting their refunds. We were asked to NOT tell the 250 people (or anybody) as Fox wanted complete and undisturbed access to Kevin without any warning or disturbance. That is kind of where things ended for communication from Fox at that time. We didn’t go back to Pinside. Shit just got really heavy, and as far as we were told, Predator was 100% not going to happen…yet a million dollars is sitting paid for it… Kevin is caught.
We bring the story to Pinball News. The weight of handling the information looming large. Martin Ayub accepted the challenge of handling such a message.
Also this month (found out later, in February), Kevin is served with a Cease & Desist letter. He of course doesn’t tell his Pre-owners.
Kevin is actually served “several more” letters (according to Mr. Coughlin, we weren’t told until contact in February). Yes, several.
Kevin continues to build, and release update emails that Fox is seeing on Pinside. Fox is getting pissed off. Kevin actually had the brass balls (or again, bullheaded stupidity) to continue with Predator. Knowing he’s caught. Doesn’t care. This is only speculation at this point, but we think Kevin actually believed in his mind that he was covered by some concept of some rights (non-profit, homebrew project, or something) that he’s had in his head since the beginning. That Fox has no grounds to poke at him. Just a hunch, but Kevin avoiding the license from the beginning has some roots in some belief that he’s “allowed, no problem”. We were shocked to hear of his defiance to the C&D’s. But it revealed the kind of guy everybody is dealing with here. Either delusional, or very insanely daring.
This is why it appeared, even with Kevin’s rare communications, that things were being built during these months. While in fact, Kevin was getting bombed by C&D’s and not saying a word. Now you know.
Meanwhile, Martin IS communicating with Kevin in the background, seeking a response to the internally-known situation. Looking for comment. Kevin is talking, but cryptically and vaguely. Kevin is aware of our Fox contact, our claims, and we think Martin even encouraged Kevin to make some significant decisions about coming clean about things. Kevin didn’t. At this point, the Pre-owners are still in the dark.
It’s been a couple months, and contact with Mr. Coughlin finally happens again. (This is when we learned about what Fox tried in December and January) We nearly fell over in disbelief at Kevin’s reaction. They wanted to know if Kevin had shipped any finished games yet. We told them no. Fox IP was getting pissed off, and since Kevin was refusing to stop building, we were told that they are escalating the Predator matter to next steps. Bigger steps. We still expressed a worry for the 250 Pre-owners, but were asked again (and thanked) for remaining quiet and not creating a panic. February 9th we were told “we are getting high-level signoffs to move forward, you will see action in the next 3 to 4 weeks that is very visible. You will be the first to know”.
Kevin’s “dark” emails come out. Kevin makes some weak acknowledgements in private emails to the Pre-owners that he is essentially being “attacked by outside forces” (playing the victim) but doesn’t say that it’s Fox IP. He only weakly admits to “issues with his license” (there is NO license, and he continues to lie) and we can’t believe he’s still using the cover story insinuating that he’s licensed. Kevin plays himself and the project off in a heroic light of overcoming insurmountable odds, and with typical flavor, thanks everyone to death for their ongoing commitment. He indicates forging onward, and still seems to insist Predator is getting produced. He indicates IP issues are being worked on by somebody helping him.
March 10th, another contact with Mr. Coughlin (and our last one to date) he admitted to being overwhelmed by other cases, and he’d been away from the Predator case the last many weeks. But he’d be back “tomorrow” looking at it again. (Looks like Kevin got a bit of a reprieve) We asked if Kevin or a third party was negotiating with Fox to buy a Predator license in the present, to apply to the run of these games via another producer. We were told their office had heard from nobody, haven’t heard of such a thing, and it wouldn’t be likely/possible anyway. The entire game, the last 2 years, was a case of Infringement.
Frankly, it would seem odd that an infringer who was caught, C&D’d, and being sued, would be able to simply walk up at the end and buy a license for their production. However, we think Kevin has this idea as a solution. Have somebody else (somebody clean and new) buy the license as if Predator pinball was a new product idea hatched yesterday… oh, the brilliant mind of Kevin Kulek. Always thinking ! If that is not a facepalm moment, we don’t know what is.
As Nate on the Coast2Coast Pinball podcast (Episode #147) said: Eject. It’s done. Stick a fork in it. It’s not worth fighting to build this any more. In the near future, this whole thing may actually be finally filed in a court of law. It’s time to back away, absolutely beg for mercy from Fox, and bring a conclusion to this debacle. 250 machines being built is 1000 miles away from being a priority right now.
After knowing everything that Kevin has NOT told his Pre-owners, and glossed over all the legal trouble happening behind the scenes the last 3 months, and why it happened, and why he took the project offline in the first place… it’s just been one sneaky or dishonest move after another. A complete white flag waved has been waved recently, that Skit-B self-admittedly isn’t even capable of building the run. Think about it, that’s even if a license was handed to them for free without prejudice. But Skit-B remains holding everybody’s funding. As much as there were lies exposed surrounding the licensing… people are digging deeper. Now there are (fairly new) inquiries being brought up in the hobby regarding Kevin’s claims of all deposits allegedly held in a type of “PayPal escrow” (claimed completely safe, even if he died). Plus new discussions emerging about Kevin’s “Non-Profit” claims, and alleged 501C tax status. How far down the rabbit hole did Kevin actually go? We’re fearing today’s revelations may only be the tip of the iceberg.
We’re sorry it went down this way. We’re not sorry we made the original call to check on Kevin’s claims. We are on the side of the 250 owners, and only care about their best exit. We don’t care about Kevin Kulek’s welfare any more. He made his bed. He created this mess. Insane risk like this can’t happen again in the hobby. Thank goodness this project is basically pre-production where technically little has been spent as possible. Allegedly only parts for 10 games of 250. That means 240/250 (or 96%) of the funds should still be available, right? Somehow we don’t think so… which is yet another issue Kevin must tell the truth about – and why there isn’t 96% left. Think if Kevin had been caught halfway through. What would be left then? Time for truth and transparency. Some of Kevin’s stances (his version of what happened to him) will differ. Just know that we have zero agenda or anything to gain here. Every single part of this story is correct and accurate. If you still have doubts, and you think this is all just a character attack on Kevin or some “sick fuck” sport to shut down a boutique shop… all we can say is… Wake up. Please.