Guarnieri bets there's strong demand for feature-rich games that sell for more
LAKEWOOD, NJ -- Jack Guarnieri, a 35-year veteran of the amusement industry, is planning to produce fully loaded, commercial-grade pinball machines under the name Jersey Jack Pinball. Guarnieri revealed his manufacturing plans during a Spooky Pinball podcast on Jan. 1.
Until recently, Guarnieri was a leading reseller for Stern Pinball Inc. (Melrose Park, IL), which for the past decade has been the only manufacturer of what are widely considered to be the last authentic electromechanical pin games. Guarnieri launched Pinballsales.com, one of the first online marketplaces for classic coin machines, in 2000. Eight years later, he merged the pinball dealership with Elaut USA, which was formed in 2008 when Belgian coin amusement pioneer Elaut nv/sa purchased Monduse, a national operating concern. Guarnieri is chief executive of the new concern in which he owns a stake. | SEE STORY
During his interview with Spooky Pinball's Charlie E., Guarnieri suggested that Stern's pinball products are losing appeal among home recreational players. Pinballsales.com was an influential force behind the home game sales business boon that began in the late 1990s. The website has sold thousands of pinball machines since going live in late 1999. And according to Guarnieri, today's at-home pinball players want machines that offer richer experiences.
"I have a deep and loyal customer base that wants to buy a product I don't have," he told Spooky Pinball. "So what am I going to do? Not sell them the product, or go and create the product. I chose the latter. I'm going to grow my own fruit trees."
Jersey Jack Pinball will design games based on original themes and licensed properties. For its inaugural title, the pinball company is tapping into one of the most memorable films ever made. The Wizard of Oz pinball machine will be released at the end of 2011, in time for the holiday buying season.
Jersey Jack Pinball will produce 1,000 Oz games in its first production run, said Guarnieri, whose manufacturing credits include a classic puck bowling machine called Parker Bohn III Pro Bowler. Joe Balcer, who worked on Stern's South Park and Simpsons Pinball Party, will head a team of designers working for the new pinball venture. The games, which will be built in New Jersey, will ship around the world.
"'The Wizard of Oz' is universally recognized," Guarnieri observed, adding that some of movie's legendary scenes will lend themselves to creative mechanical toys for the playfield. The new pinball maker acquired the worldwide Oz pinball rights from Warner Bros. at the same time Elaut USA acquired the license for its new Wizard of Oz coin pusher.
"I can't bomb with a 72-year-old movie," Guarnieri proclaimed during the Spooky Pinball podcast.
The "Wizard of Oz" was MGM's most expensive production up to the time it was produced in 1939. And the modern-day pinball adaptation may be the most expensive flipper game production in coin-op history.
While the new machine is being engineered for commercial coin operation, gameplay is aimed at home players. "Home gamers are very educated [players]," Guarnieri explained. "They like games with greater depth -- in terms of programming and mechanical toys."
Guarnieri divulged that Jersey Jack Pinball machines are not going to be cheap. Without revealing precise detail, he said The Wizard of Oz is going to incorporate technology never seen in a pinball machine, but it will not be a radical departure from the current class of games. (The JJP platform will use open source code to allow players to program their own rules.) He cautioned that Jersey Jack Pinball games would not be a reprise of Williams' Pinball 2000 platform, which used a monitor to display animations, scores and other information.
The Oz pinball machine "will have things that will cost a lot of money to do," Guarnieri admitted. "It's not going to be $10,000 ... it's not going to be $4,000," he said, suggesting a median price of $7,000, which would be about 30% higher than the average Stern pinball model. According to some of the nation's largest pinball resellers with whom Vending Times interviewed for this story, there is a large part of the home recreation market that will pay this much for a machine that offers more features and a versatile set of rules. Such a machine, they say, could stimulate sales.
And for Guarnieri's billionaire customers, limited edition Wizard of Oz pinball machines will be available with inset emerald and ruby stones.
The Jersey Jack Pinball podcast can be found at spookypinball.com. Since the interview went live, Guarnieri told VT that he has received more than 400 emails and messages about the project. Many of them included suggestions on design features, he said, which will get full consideration by The Wizard of Oz design team.