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National and World

January 22, 2013

Slate: Can this man save pinball?

(Continued)

LAKEWOOD, N.J. —

Regardless of how many games he sells and when he gets them out the door, Guarnieri has already provided a great service for the pinball world. "I don't care what the industry is, you need at least two manufacturers," says pinball designer and writer Roger Sharpe. Sharpe, who worked at Williams during the Pinball 2000 era and whose testimony secured pinball's legality in New York City, says Guarnieri's company serves as a heartening proof of concept to other potential pinball start-ups.

Gary Stern doesn't buy that argument. "We are the only pinball manufacturer in the world," he says. And though he acknowledges that it "will sound arrogant," he tells me that "pinball will survive if Stern Pinball continues to make pinball machines in a meaningful volume."

Despite Stern's protestations, Pinball News editor Martin Ayub believes the reigning pinball king has been forced to step up his game on account of Jersey Jack. After producing a series of simpler, cheaper-to-produce titles in 2010, Ayub says, Stern has now augmented its lineup with "fuller-featured" premium products at a premium price. In addition to the sub-$5,000 "Pro" model of Stern's Avengers machine, you can get various premium versions with extra ramps, LED lighting, and limited-edition designs for around $7,500, more than the cost of the Wizard of Oz. (At this week's Consumer Electronics Show, Stern also showed off smaller machines designed for the home market that will sell for $2,500.)

For his part, Guarnieri believes two pinball companies are better than one: "I hope [Stern sells] a million games and we sell 10 million games," he says. Even so, he intends to keep pressuring his rival: Jersey Jack's next licensed game, The Hobbit, is scheduled for 2014, to coincide with the final movie in Peter Jackson's trilogy. If increased competition breeds superior machines, collectors and nostalgic nerds like me will rejoice.

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