Numbers Don't Lie, Do They?

Blues Brothers Pinball | Pinflation Update | Do Numbers Lie? (More Stern Number Crunching) & Other Sundry Bits

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“Numbers don’t lie, but they are open to interpretation.”

This week, we discuss Homepin’s Blues Brothers announcement, provide an update on Pinflation through the first quarter of 2024, and crunch some more market numbers for Stern in a roundabout way of asking if John Wick would move enough units to be a success for Stern.

Oh, and we’ve got a new Song of the Week that’s shot on location at a Los Angeles area pinball spot!

This Week’s Pinball Agenda:

  • Song of the Week (shot in an arcade!)

  • Pinball News of the Week

    • Homepin announces Blues Brothers pinball (why?)

    • An update on Pinflation (it’s chillin’)

    • Do numbers lie? (more Stern number crunching; can John Wick move enough units?)

  • Creator Highlights of the Week (congrats Derek!)

  • Mod of the Week

  • Poll of the Week

Song of the Week

I’m thanking the YouTube algorithm gods for this discovery. It’s the latest release from Islands, a long-time indie rock outfit that emerged from the ashes of The Unicorns in 2005 and was largely kept alive since then by frontman Nick Thorburn. I never kept up with their output over the years but the album cover for their 2006 release Return to the Sea is seared into my brain for some reason, probably because Pitchfork gave them a good review back when that really mattered.

Fun fact: I learned while researching the band that Nick Thorburn may be most famous for composing the main theme to NPR’s Serial podcast.

The song is an enjoyable listen on its own, but this share is happening because it looks like the video was shot on location at Blipsy Bar in Los Angeles and features shots of Stellar Wars, Playboy, Terminator 2, and Twilight Zone, among plenty of arcade games.

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Pinball News of the Week

Homepin Announces “Open Source” Blues Brothers Pinball Machine

Mike Kalinowski with a prototype Blues Brothers game.

Let’s just get this out of the way. My broad POV is that all pinball is good pinball, but I get conflicted when the pinball comes from seemingly questionable individuals. I’ve never met nor talked to Homepin’s owner, Mike Kalinowski, so my observations are simply that, but for anyone reading this who is new to pinball, I feel I can’t write about Homepin and Mike from Homepin without a nod to Kalinowski’s public comments and podcast appearances, which, regardless of whether or not they offend or shock you, certainly demonstrate questionable judgment.

So with that said, Blues Brothers is a machine that is coming from Homepin later this year. It’s being marketed as being “open source,” but having some familiarity with open source software and how those projects typically work, I’m not sure if that is truly an accurate description of what is being produced. For example, is Homepin going to maintain a GitHub repo for the code? Is any coder going to care enough to create a fork of the main project, make changes, and work with Homepin to merge changes back into the main code branch?

We also know from a previous appearance on the Aussie Pinball Podcast that this game will have almost no assets, as Mike said in June of 2023, “It doesn’t allow us any movie clips, or quips… and so we’ve decided to go for a cut-down machine that does not have a DMD or a monitor that’s reverting back to very much a Bally SS machine.”

To recap: Homepin is building a budget game (that’s fine) for buyers who want a pinball machine in their home game room (also fine) but who don’t enjoy pinball enough to buy a full-price game (okay) or participate in enthusiast groups (weird), who hopefully aren’t American (odd choice), with a decidedly American IP like Blues Brothers with no assets (why?), and who read Pinball Magazine (???).

Where does any of this make sense?

Pinflation Keeps Chilling; 1Q 2024 Used Prices Flat

This data is courtesy of reader/contributor Ted Finlay, who operates the great resource site PinballPrices.com. The last time we talked with Ted, we received a mid-year update on 2023 Pinflation, which was clearly starting to cool off from some of the highs we saw in 2022.

After looking at the latest numbers, I would say that trend is holding true as we progress further into 2024. The average sales price across all game categories was down 2.4% in 2023, holding mostly steady through the first quarter of 2024.

It gets really interesting when you break down the numbers by game era. There, the story is more about the top end of the market dropping off (LCD games released between 2016 and 2024) while other eras are either holding steady or increasing slightly.

My read on these numbers probably affirms what many of you are thinking already: that new-in-box pricing from the manufacturers is higher than the market can realistically support and that’s manifesting in places like decreased NIB sales volume and reduced secondary market prices.

Interest in pinball broadly and the total pool of pinball buyers has probably not decreased substantially. This is why we see other eras of games with higher price-to-fun ratios holding steady or increasing YoY. Suddenly, an early solid-state or alphanumeric game looks much more appealing at sub-$4k than something wholly modern at 2x or more of that cost.

Interestingly, for the LCD category, the volume of reported sales (keep in mind this is sourced from verified secondary market transactions) is pacing to be about 6% above what was reported in 2023, which could suggest some normally NIB buyers are gravitating towards used games which currently trade at a discount to MSRP.

Numbers Don’t Lie, Do They?

It takes me a while to trust numbers. 

Numbers may not lie, but they are open to interpretation. 

Particularly as it relates to an industry like pinball that is comprised of exclusively private companies that are equal parts small and secretive. 

With public companies, I can read a financial report and have confidence in the numbers. With a larger industry, even if the company in question was private, I can look at enough analogs to make informed assumptions and have reasonable confidence in the numbers.

But pinball is a giant shrug emoji. 

For example:

  • I think I know Stern produced 1,000 LE Godzillas, but I can only account for about half of them. Where is the other half?

  • I know they made 20,270 copies of Addams Family in 1992, but I can only account for about 10% of those. Where are the rest?

  • I know that Stern’s 7 Days of 007 James Bond Insider Connected quest saw 10,402 badge earns in a week, with the easiest of those badges (Dr. No), receiving 2,671 badge earns.

  • I think I know that there are around 600-700 copies of James Bond 007 available at public locations. I also think I know that there are around 800 copies in home enthusiast collections. A run of ~1,500 units, when mapped against 2,600 badge earns in an IC campaign, feels plausible, particularly if you assume that public locations generate a multiple of badge earns for each available machine.

  • I know there’s a portion of the market I can’t see, but is it 10% or 60%?

  • I know that for the last 15 major pinball releases, the median age of someone who was 10 years old when the IP was first released (ages 5-15 is what I consider to be the sweet spot of nostalgia) was about 55 at the time of game launch.

When I see or hear numbers for the first time, I like to try and find confirmation elsewhere or collect enough related data points that would reasonably confirm the original number. In pinball, this is very difficult to do.

For example, Zach Meny made an observation on the latest Pinball Show that he thought Spooky Pinball had only produced around 80 combined copies of Looney Tunes / Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I was able to reach the same conclusion independently with my own set of numbers. That gives me confidence in those numbers.

Everyone says that Venom was a poor seller for Stern, but we don’t really have trusted numbers to prove that, which gives me low confidence.

I have a data set that I think puts it in line with other noted poor performers from Stern, like Led Zeppelin and Black Knight: Sword of Rage, but because of all the unknowns, I haven’t decided how confident I am in that data yet, though I think it would support the market consensus.

If my data set is accurate, or even simply a reasonable proxy, then there are 1,000-1,500 copies of Venom out in the wild, and that may be a generous count.

At the other end of the spectrum is Godzilla. We know (or we think we know) that the Elwin helmed title was and is a runaway sales success for Stern. I have that one pegged at maybe 5,000 copies in the wild, which is orders of magnitude more than anything else pinball has seen in the last decade or more.

Other examples like Foo Fighters (~2,000), Rush (~1,500), The Mandalorian (~2,000) start to paint a broad strokes picture of what success looks like for a company like Stern.

This is an extremely long-winded way of asking the question, if John Wick is indeed the next cornerstone release, are there enough buyers in the market for that theme for it to hit whatever sales floor Stern targets for a major release?

Consider that John Wick as an IP isn’t old enough to trigger any nostalgia for any pinball buyer yet, given that it dates back to only 2014. Since we’re already on our 4th film release, its place in the cultural zeitgeist has realistically long since peaked. It’s not like Game of Thrones or Stranger Things, or even Walking Dead, where pins were released as those franchises were still on the rise.

If I had to guess, between the spectrum of a Venom and a Godzilla, John Wick would perform closer to a Venom. Maybe it’s a Rush. It’s certainly not a Mandalorian or probably even a Foo Fighters on demand for theme alone, but maybe I’m wrong.

Creator Highlights of the Week

Mod of the Week

It’s the Bouy…. OF DEATH!

Stumblor Pinball has done it again, this time for Jaws with the recently announced Bouy of Death mod. Just read some of the features, and then check out the video.

  • Motorised “bobbing” buoy.

  • Wrap around matrix LED screen with 198 LEDs. Text ticker showing game events pulled from the sign. Ability to show Animated GIFs, like the blood effect when the chum line is hit.

  • Buoy Siren. Triggerable by events, and fully configurable.

  • Water effect resin with over 100 LEDs. Triggerable by events, and fully configurable.

  • 100% configurable through the Lolly Web UI

Poll of the Week

Are you in or out on a John Wick pin?

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Last Week’s Poll Results

How often do you use Stern's Insider Connected platform?

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ Daily (19)

🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 Regularly, but not daily (74)

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ Rarely (15)

🟨🟨🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️ Not at all (43)

“My wife and I play our pins a few times a week at home and always login. We try to get out a few times a month to play and support operators and we always login out in the wild too. Insider connected is amazing and we love comparing achievements. ”

-Selected “Regularly, but not daily”

“I wish they would do more with the interface, especially viewing Achievements. The UI is still super rough and not very useful. There should be a way to see easily what you and your friends have recently unlocked. ”

-Selected “Regularly, but not daily”

“Working on the 120 consecutive days badge. ”

-Selected “Daily”

“I joined but don't scan when I play. Who cares about it anyway. I play for fun and not to compete.”

-Selected “Not at all”

“During the NEPL spring league I use it at least weekly. Otherwise it’s a couple of times a month due to limited access to pinball.”

-Selected “Rarely”

Weekly Feedback

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