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Pinball Arcade facing a licensing-induced tablepocalypse

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Fickle licensing agreements are the bane of games. We’ve seen whole games pulled from sale (such as Alan Wake) or chunks lost or needing to be replaced (Grand Theft Auto 4’s soundtrack), but the damage on the horizon for The Pinball Arcade is almost unparalleled. Due to the current rights-holders for Williams & Bally pinball tables being unwilling to renew their license, the vast majority of the game’s many DLC tables will be removed from sale at the end of June.

While other pinball games do well enough with physically improbable (if entertaining) tables created entirely for the digital space, Pinball Arcade has always billed itself as more of a simulation for pinball aficionados. Its collection of tables are officially licensed, highly authentic recreations of classic table designs of yesteryear, with Williams and Bally’s tables making up the majority of its near-hundred designs – over 60, if I’ve counted correctly.

Developers FarSight Studios have announced that due to the current holder of the Williams & Bally license not wanting to renew their license for the game, players now have until June 30th to buy these virtual tables (including the classic Black Knight 2000, which you can see in action below, captured by YouTuber LexGame) before they’re pulled from sale. Thankfully, existing owners will not find their pinball tables disappearing into the ether, but Pinball Arcade’s extensive list of $30-40 table packs is soon to be gutted, leaving mostly Stern, Gottlieb, Data East and Sega designs.

FarSight have stated that the studio is not at risk, and that no layoffs are planned, which is some small relief, at least. An eighth season of tables – mostly focused on manufacturer Stern – is on the horizon, and once the Williams/Bally purge is complete, the surviving tables will be repackaged primarily on a per-manufacturer basis. It’s a very sad state of affairs, and one that I can only imagine will result in significantly increased piracy of the older version of the game.

Just to add one final nail to the coffin, the Williams rights-holders have forbidden FarSight from discounting the to-be-removed packs between now and when they’re pulled from storefronts, meaning that anyone wanting to pick them up will have to do so at full price, which costs more than a little bit. Granted, it’ll cost significantly less than buying a real refurbished Williams pinball table, but still far from ideal, and yet another reminder that time-limited licenses are risky business.

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Dominic Tarason

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