(Topic ID: 218125)

What are your thoughts on the Spike II system?

By LoserKid3

1 year ago

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  • Latest reply 1 year ago by mbwalker
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Topic index (key posts)

3 key posts have been marked in this topic

Post #26 A report from an operator and a life cycle expectation. Posted by xTheBlackKnightx (1 year ago)

Post #215 Things to consider from a senior technician’s perspective. Posted by xTheBlackKnightx (1 year ago)

Post #262 Words of expierence and a warning. Posted by xTheBlackKnightx (1 year ago)

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#26 1 year ago

No bullshit answer.

Spike II is no more reliable-serviceable-durable than the first generation presently.
Continued early infant mortality issues, insufficient on board/game diagnostics, and difficult to repair node boards that are not cost time efficient to troubleshoot in comparison to ANYTHING made in 1990s.
However, Stern customer service for replacements has been very good while parts remain available.

"Play the game and roll the dice"

Present coin operated technician perspective, operators understand the risk, first time home owners do not. Speaking from a company that buys more than half dozen of each title released.

Mark has been around longer than many today in this hobby, so enthusiasts should not dismiss his opinion. If they do, they are not being objective, or informed. This sounds like the complaints people have had about certain dealers in the US, some people like them, some do not.

Research shows the lifecycle of these SMT boards is less than 10 years of route operation, materials and construction. After that, they are toast, and the game is trash. Double the cycle for home use thereabouts. After that they are "unrepairable".

Get ready, and plan ahead.

#42 1 year ago
Quoted from DNO:

Lol, what "research"?
Sorry, but I feel like these games will last and not all just die at the 10 year mark.
But there is only really one thing that will show who is right, 10 years.
My Game of Thrones pin is holding up fine 3+ years into operating, but for some reason in 7 years it's trash?
Also, the transistors are NOT surface mount on Node boards, and that is what usually fails on pinball machines, so they are somewhat serviceable.

Here is a good start for your inquiry for added education:

Design Guidelines for Surface Mount Technology
by John E. Traister

amazon.com link »

Read this book and you will learn something regarding the electronic industry, particularly material cost and mounting/design processes that have evolved past much of the SMT that was originally designed starting in the 1960s, adopted by most industries other than pinball by the 1980s, and transferred to pinball beginning in the 1990s, which is the focus in terms of timeline. Once you master this understanding, then ask me for more sources of reference specifically applied to current boards presently based on evolution. Specific background is required first.

Of course since you familiar with the electronics of the auto industry you will also understand the the same lifecycle component testing which is used and same level of reliability in terms of rate of failure after the 10 year period. They are essentially the same. Much less so for those of the consumable market on items such as phones, televisions, and stereos.

Best of luck on your route, unless your operation is home use, which I already clearly differentiated.

#52 1 year ago

Be aware many Stern node boards are not backwards compatible and game specific.

Design changes have already occurred.
Stern has no incentive to provide aftermarket boards cheaper based on present market superiority.
The term remains "planned obsolescence".
No one can fully analyze either generation of Spike PCBs because there are no schematics available!

Look to the past for comparison such as the Whitestar period after they upgraded the Sega boards from the 90s using a similar design concept.
Looking further back Bally tried a similar consolidated board concept mindset with 6803 systems which failed with operators and were short lived, but components were not SMT. For decades there was little to no proper technical troubleshooting due to some lack of proprietary design review understanding.

All pitfalls on use of advancements of technology with reduced regard for RSD considerations.

4 weeks later
#202 1 year ago

Those that work on the games regularly from route operation recognize that Stern SPIKE titles will be in the garbage dump in 10 years, but until then they will remain "reliable".
Our company still has regular, periodic infant mortality failures within 3-6 months of initial operation based on volume sales (we even had a couple instances out of the box), which requires node board replacement of all types. Why? HEAVY operational play.

We do full burn ins for at least 3-5 days before location placement. No full MPU failures to my memory. Stern customer service remains good.
Lifecycle remains doubled for home use games on average based on board testing.
Personally, I will never own a SPIKE game ever, as it is more apt within the next 5 years to get dumped for support when Stern moves onto a new system and determines this is already obsolete. It's like throwing money into a toilet, and pulling the handle.
Home enthusiasts are better off using the P-ROC system from other manufacturers, as this design is schematic documented and the boards are cost effective.
If a person is a high volume operator, it probably does not matter, as the game will have run due course, made its money, and you do have to buy what tournament and pinheads want to play, meaning the "new stuff" in many instances.

#204 1 year ago
Quoted from TigerLaw:

I agree with your entire post but not sure I understand the last part of the above sentence. How is it a leap forward? What does Spike II do better than SAM? Pardon my ignorance on the question, the difference in specs is above my technical grade so all I see are the extra costs in replacing them when they fail (which at least seems to be more frequently than on SAM).

There are no significant advantages of SPIKE over SAM, except to Stern themselves in overall cost of manufacturing both in parts, design, and speed of assembly.
It does not even have an improved diagnostic or menu system comparative for such an "advanced" system.
The reality is SPIKE was a step backwards in the Reliability-Serviceability-Durability (RSD) of pinball PCB design and game longevity.
It is like comparing the modern Valley Dynamo Zombie Baseball to an old WMS 1962 World Series (which BTW World Series has more features).
If you put them side by side, fully serviced, Zombie Baseball fails first from things like sheared batting assemblies and bent running man units.
It is incredible how cheaply these games are produced at times.

Technicians already know, and it would benefit the public to stop believing Stern propaganda.
Being "behind" in technology has its reasons, as part of the requirements are having to be able to fix what you own.
If an item is purely disposable/unrepairable, operators refuse to buy new equipment and manufacturers stop making games.
Enthusiasts need to stop thinking that these devices were initially designed for home use, as even today they have operators in mind.
The percentage of home users that understand the SPIKE operation system is very small.

#209 1 year ago
Quoted from Bendit:

How about (LCD) screen output and better quality sounds (higher bitrate) ?
I'd say these things are pretty significant.

I thought this was a discussion regarding reliability and design functions of the boards?
If we are discussing features now, SPIKE certainly has these perks.
SAM was a very robust designed game system, which worked well.
Personally, I would rather have a game that I know I can keep going, than one that has extra fancy sounds and video.
That is why I still own EMs too.

#210 1 year ago
Quoted from TigerLaw:

Another reason the home market has totally taken over and the operator market appears to be, basically, insignificant by comparison for new Stern sales...best I can tell anyway.

You are correct.
As long as new owners can get buffaloed, Stern will not change.
It is not like operators and distributors are unwise to the events around them, but they have businesses to run.
It is more likely that Stern will completely stop production of games, if the market falls flat, during the next pinball stall.
They already were last time anyway in 2009, and only one vote saved the company.
Stern has to squeeze out as much money as they can, when times are good.

#212 1 year ago

The current overload protection sometimes does not trigger on node board shutdown, coil, etc, and node board fails anyway.
One of the common problems presently, along with boards to get destroyed by some electrical voltage that is outside the specific circuit. Essentially, in some cases, no better than any previous PCB design. This could be corrected by independent fuse boards, but that has been removed from the PCBs in favor of the onboard "smart" monitoring that was referred. It is not all always that intelligent.

#215 1 year ago
Quoted from branlon8:

To what extent should the repairability of a game be considered during it’s design even if it means some fancy features have to be omitted or done differently ?

I am not sure I can give a "right" answer.
Here is a little history:
BLY/WMS in the late 80s-early 90s used no more than a 20% cost rule, and added to the time required to create a pinball design, which is where the "one year" design standard came from in the first place. In the early days, Bally could pump out 4 titles in a couple months due to simplicity alone. In some cases this meant cutting complex features as well for the SAME REASONS.

Today, it completely depends on the profit margin requirements of the company at the time, health of the industry, and overall acceptance level of the owners that use the equipment. Acceptance is high out of operational ignorance, not pinball interest, which are two different areas. Hence, less questions mean more profit.
Making equipment easily repairable with redundancy adds to expense whether accessibility to get to said assemblies, or function of electronics.
It is certainly achievable with SMT, but not presently included in ANY Stern games.
Improvements are supposedly planned, but not yet implemented.
Consider this all, when you drop your next $8-10K on a new Stern pinball machine.
It simply is not there.

If I was not a technician, I would probably refuse to work on Stern games as well, but I am just biased after watching the industry for over 30 years.
No senior technician I know lines up at the gates for Stern's new releases, for those that can afford the titles unless they are a distributor as well.
I just see what "right" looks like, and what directions are reversed.

Lack of complete documentation should be the #1 simple indicator that Stern is doing things incorrectly.
It is hard to believe anybody could even consider to argue this point if they wanted.

This is not the way the amusement industry has been run, since the 1940s (after WWII) going into the Golden Age of EMs in the 1950s.
"Secrecy of schematics" is the fastest way to alienate long time repeat buyers, once fat wallets go broke or move onto other hobbies.
Even JJP figured this out, as they are now SHIPPING schematics and added documentation to customers for the EXACT reasons.
They at least are continuing to build a baseline trust in this area, but Stern is not. They are relying on pure customer service and their name to carry the weight until boards are NLA (which has already happened with games starting from 2015), which then they will simply state as before, "sorry, we cannot help". This is the short term profit methodology which has plagued Stern since 2013.

I am reminded of an old saying, "Just because your can, does not mean you should."
This includes cost cutting via reducing long term RSD of games.

#262 1 year ago

Those that were around during the 1980s for the earliest days is SS conversion should remember remember the parts shortfalls of boards once Bally/WMS moved forward to more advanced systems in 1985 and the games were abandoned. Earlier SS games sat in warehouses untouched for decades.

Those that experienced the shortfalls and parting out of WPC boardsets after WMS closed in the 2000s, experienced the same. Many games were stripped, as the boards were worth more than the games themselves.

It took an average of 10-15 years for replacement boards, and the designs for backwards engineering were available, although many boards today for certain systems still remain NLA, such as 6803 Bally. Hence, part of the time design factor of consideration beyond stress testing of components.

Best of fortune with SPIKE games, which are already moving quickly forward.

If Stern stops producing replacement boards which they already have for WWE and KISS (less than three years later), owners will have a 285 lb paperweights, as some boards are unrepairable even with those with proper SMT workstations and correct experience with microscopes. We are not talking replacing LED boards here. There have been no indications to my operator who operates 1400+ games that anything Stern offers in training classes will provide the necessary experience to repair these boards and they require much more experience, and Stern outsources production, they do not do such actions presently.

Our senior board repair techician with over 30+ years experience dealing with every type of board repair since 1976, cannot presently fix these node or master MPU SPIKE boards for reasons mentioned predominantly to lack of availability of schematics, and size of traces in the MPUs and certain ICs (some of which are not easily commercially available at cheap cost). He is not an "enthusiast".

Those that deny the danger are being short sighted of past pinball history and experience, and most were not around to see it. Relying on promises by manufacturers of the future is just as dangerous. George Gomez does not control the direction of the company's future he manages production and remains an engineer and designer, not an electronics techician. Those former choices are not in his hands, as they are controlled by others.

Good luck.

#307 1 year ago

One of the biggest design failures of Stern SPIKE is lack of primary fusing.

We have had 6 examples in the past 2 years where a short circuit was able able to bypass the computer "watchdog" software on the MPU and fried node boards. This is not an isolated incident. The example listed above is not that uncommon. It sometimes is just a matter of bad luck, and sometimes you and up spend a lot of money as it can take up more than one board, but usually it stops with the first. The highest cost to memory was around $1000 of boards to the company. Good luck with replacements, if they are unavailable.

If schematics were available, I could with others figure out where loopholes exist in design, but Stern does not want operators discovering where they cut corners, as it might hurt sales. I can't remit the number of operators that simple refuse to buy pinball at all today, simply out of reasons of affordability or market use.

I have been trying to caution others as a collector, enthusiast, and technician of the ongoing pitfalls of this flawed system. I am not "anti Stern", but do know the reason why Stern is doing what they are doing for simple cost reasons.

#360 1 year ago

In many ways I look forward to the end of the latest pinball revival as this will force Stern to improve the quality of construction of their products in all areas. It has happened before and it will happen again.

Until then I remain resolute in my opinion, which shared by operators and techicians which have to accept certain aspects in order to pay the bills. Consumers do not, but education remains a choice.

#362 1 year ago

Distributors don't often take hits for consumers, or they would not stay in business. They do try help resolve complaints or issues, if possible, within reason. It is called, "pointing the way". They will take returns due to damage in transit, or lack of proper function after set up. Those type of failures are built into the business model by a distributor for returns.

Distributors often do not say anything, if they become aware of design issues, say introduced by technical bulletin updates by manufacturers, meaning boards/parts. They expect the end user, whether home owner or operator to make the request directly. If parts are available, a game remains within warranty, distributors will help a customer. If the game is a year old or more after delivery, not so much. That is the business model. Some might call this "shady" as referring to Betson Enterprises out here in Portland by some , but that is being overly harsh. These devices remain quantified as "commercial" equipment, not consumer electronics. Game distributors are not Costcos of the pinball world. If it works, its yours. Operators go to the SOURCE, meaning to manufacturer to solve problems, unless a distributor provided a damaged product in delivery.

Distributors are not designed/expected to be full time repair shops, except in resale of refurbished equipment. They are not troubleshooting customer care centers, and many don't have the necessary experience/time to do it for the smaller ones particularly. They are SALES, first organizations.

Distributors ARE aware of the shortfalls of present SPIKE games, but have no direct solutions. No doubts about this aspect. They simply won't say anything, as if they did they would be out of business, or lose their contract with a manufacturer.

Stern has continued to provide customer service "beyond the call of duty" in most cases presently including technical troubleshooting, but don't expect that same level of care once a game is over 5 years old. They don't laugh, rather simply shrug shoulders. The earliest SPIKE games qualify for this consideration today.

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