Does Stern’s PR department not do fact checking? Do they not know that the words VAULT and GREED are forever connected in the world of pinball thanks to the Addams Family? No matter…
Shortly after noon today, Stern announced they would be re-releasing Iron Man, in a special edition they call the “Iron Man Pro Vault Edition”, which, essentially, will feature LEDs instead of the original incandescent bulbs and improve the casts of the villain figurines on the playfield. No word on whether the game will feature artwork changes for the backglass or cabinet.
The impact seems minute at first glance: a company is remaking a product that was a dud when first released, but has since increased in popularity and a demand now exists for more. Anyone who has ever wanted an Iron Man, or even thought about owning an Iron Man, can now have a Vault Edition for a MSRP of $5495USD. This premise was first attempted, successfully, by Stern with multiple runs of Tron. However, the catchy “Vault” tag wasn’t used, rather, different translites indicated the different runs of the game. Stern and the pinball community at large are traversing a very different landscape now than we were back in 2012. In two short years, the market has become crowded with some excellent Stern releases with multiple models for each title, Jersey Jack’s games finally entering the market place, the actual realization of a few boutique titles like Predator and America’s Most Haunted, announcements of even more boutique titles like Wrath of Olympus and Full Throttle, and, of course, the Planetary Pinball remake of Medieval Madness. That final example is probably the catalyst for all of Stern’s recent re-envisionings like AC/DC’s Luci edition and this Iron Man redux.
I think Stern is well aware of the money, both real and imaginary, tied up in pre-orders. Whether the money is sitting in a manufacturer’s bank account in the form of a deposit or in the collector’s bank account in the form of earmarked money that will be going to a pre-ordered title, Stern wants it. Badly. If folks are willing to pay eight grand for a Medieval Madness, Stern is betting that folks would be willing to pay five (or less, retail) for an Iron Man. Sure, its apples and oranges in terms of theme but it’s the same basic idea: a fan layout old and cherished, in limited supply, made better, stronger and faster while maintaining the original spirit of the game. And with many of these pre-orders having refundable deposits, each new release by Stern has the potential to pull money away from a competitor’s project and add to their own bottom line. That’s a win-win if I ever heard one. Stern is gambling on the fact that we, as a community, are impatient and need instant satisfaction. Why wait six more months for a Medieval Madness? Why wait another six (hopefully) for The Hobbit? Why wait, well, who knows how many more, for one of John Popadiuk’s games? Just buy an Iron Man. We have lots and we have them now…no need to pre-order. Stern wants you to unlock your bank vault, and buy into their “Vault”.
Do you think Stern cares that the value of your original Iron Man just went down the toilet? Not a chance. They aren’t concerned what’s “good for pinball”. As far as they are concerned, they ARE pinball. Your old Iron Man is competition, just as a Williams Whirl Wind or a Data East Guns N’ Roses is “competition”. Competition in as much as it is a four hundred pound game taking up valuable space in your game room and valuable dollars in pinball assets. Stern needs both of those to stay in business. However, this may be a bit short sighted. If the secondary market dips enough, it will end up hurting new-in-box sales–nobody is going to want to put out five grand, only to have their investment sink to two-and-a-half grand when they try to sell the title in a year. It is a vicious cycle. It challenges Stern to include more “value added” features, and produce more “keepers”, however, your guess is as good as mine how many different titles, at thousands of dollars per pop, this community can sustain. We gotta run out of pinball money sometime, no? The operators can’t support Stern on their own.
I think this announcement will also create discussion about what other titles will re-enter “Vault” production. The Simpsons Pinball Party? Spider-Man? Both are candidates–they are titles that are always in demand in the secondary market and have held their value well. Could Stern venture back into the Data East catalogue? I’m actually at a loss as to what Data East games would be worth remaking…none come to mind…but something may click. It will be interesting to see how this all rolls out in the coming weeks, and leading up to the games actually hitting the market. Given Stern’s stinginess with production numbers, it will be a guessing game how many will actually be remade unless they announce a cap. Perhaps the losers in this whole situation, besides original Iron Man owners, are those that were waiting for the official announcement of Stern’s next game. Everything old is new again. Everything new must wait.
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