The chase for nostalgia is an interesting and magical thing. Following months of rumors, when Stern Pinball finally announced that their Ghostbusters pinball game based (mostly) on the 1984 movie, the pinball-focused portions of the internet exploded.
Collectors, operators and enthusiasts started throwing money at Stern to line up for the privilege to buy the latest and greatest - and most expensive Stern pinball machine to date.
Cult classic movie, hand drawn art from an up and coming artist and a legend of Pinball design, how could this possibly go wrong for Stern?
If you've ever seen a Gary Stern interview or talked to him in person, you probably can predict his speech. Really, it is like a drinking game: take a drink every time Gary says "Manufacturer" and "USA". Stern takes pride in being a pinball manufacturer, the only pinball manufacturer to make it through the industry gloom early 2000's. Even though plenty of pinball companies are making machines today, Stern carries the distinction of being the largest and most established.
The problem with repeating over and over that you are the best of something is that you stand to fall extra hard when you do finally fail. Like David J. Maloney, a local ambulance chaser lawyer with cheesy dramatic local commercials about going after drunk drivers. When he was pulled over for an alleged DUI, the local media ate up the irony with gleeful abandon. Except, David J Maloney was shortly thereafter forgiven of his transgression. I don't know (or care) enough of the details to make a sound judgement on if that was fair but I do know the cry for public awareness when a public figure fails is always much louder than when one succeeds.
With Ghostbusters, Stern finds themselves on the edge of a moment this like this. When it was first announced, it was as if a giant Luigi-Mansion-esque vacuum cleaner sucked up all of the money in the pinball hobby. If you had a pinball machine to sell in Q1-Q2 2016 in the pinball space, it was a buyer's market. Most of the buyer's dollars were going to Stern through distributors and retailers.
Like the Wal-mart effect on local retailers but with Ghostbusters and the related secondary pinball market. This was to be many peoples' first New In Box Pin.
The track was set and all Stern had to do was run their victory laps past the competition. Except, that's not what happened.
Production delays, poor communication and quality issues are what has happened.
"Your game is coming in June. "
"Your game is coming in July."
"Your game is coming in August."
August is here and half-past and some games have arrived. The palpable excitement about people getting their LE games (only 500 made) are starting to be dulled by reports of playfield issues.
Insert problems, insert-ghosting, clearcoat chipping, etc..
The people having problems with their games are being vocal. Possible that many people out there aren't having problems or haven't noticed any issues but the most vocal generate the story of history and right now that story is pointing towards a widespread quality control issue across multiple titles (Spiderman VE, Ghostbusters) and no specific promises from Stern to date as to what they will do to make it right.
All of the sudden, if the pinball market was a balloon and money was air, it is like the balloon has been re-inflated as droves of customers cancel or delay their orders to see how "Insert Ghosting-Gate" plays out.
If you have a pin to sell, now is a great time to sell it. But act quickly, the window will close again.
To be completely fair, I tend to believe that the reports of play field failures are likely exaggerated. It isn't that I don't believe these people are having issues - they are absolutely having problems as the result of what appears to be a manufacturing defect in the playfield. But, are the vocal few truly a representation of a widespread failure? Maybe but equally: Maybe not.
What is clear is that the days of a manufacturer being able to ignore customer requests for support are over. In fact, maybe the name of this blog post should have been 'The Social Media Effect' on the Pinball Industry and Hobby.
I do think, Stern could do a better job of getting in front of issues like this and communicating to the public what they intend to do and what the status of the issue resolution is. Ignoring the community that feeds your business is a little like buying a pitbull and starving it.
Eventually, it will eat your face off.
For what it's worth, I'm staying in on my Ghostbusters Premium order, even though I honestly have no idea when the thing will arrive or if it will have problems when it lands here. I half suspect it will, though my personal experiences with Stern technical support have all been very positive and reasonable.
But, what do I know, I'm just a guy that sold 3 pins in 9 hours at fair market prices. If you are looking to cycle your collection, it is probably a good time to do so before the next have-to-have pin announcement freezes the apparently limited supply of cash in this hobby. :)