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.

23 Comments

  1. BooleanBob says:

    Software as a Service, folks!

    • milligna says:

      More like the realities of licensing.

    • Iain_1986 says:

      Not really considering if you bought the games you still have access to them. This is just “ceasing to sell”.

      Its nothing to do with “Games as a Service” but instead more the effect of online retailers only. No second hand market, no physical copies that can still be passed around. Once they lose the right to sell something that’s it….legally speaking of course.

  2. NailBombed says:

    Back to VPINMAME it is then.

    • Iain_1986 says:

      Tbh if you were accustomed to VPinMame and VPX then I can’t imagine why you’d go back to PBA (on PC) anyway.

      The VPX experience is far superior in my opinion with significantly more tables available. Like. Hundreds. Thousands even if were technically going on all VPX tables out there.

      VPX barrier of course is setting the whole thing up and getting it working. Cabinet gaming with it is excellent though.

  3. Jason Lefkowitz says:

    Oyyyyy. This sucks.

    RPS could do some journalism here and reach out to the Williams/Bally rightsholders to see if we can get a statement as to why they chose not to renew FarSight’s license.

    I can’t imagine they’re making a ton of money from licensing these tables elsewhere, so from a strictly financial perspective the decision is baffling. So what happened? Did some larger studio woo them away from FarSight with a big check? Did FarSight do something to tick them off? Are the rightsholders just idiots?

    The only side of the story we know at the moment is FarSight’s, so we can only speculate. It would be interesting to hear from the rightsholders themselves why they made this move.

    • Sir_Deimos says:

      Could be that they’re working on their own pinball game? Having exclusive rights to their machines would certainly be a draw considering they have the best catalog.

    • mitrovarr says:

      It would probably be hard to get in touch with them at all, and when they did, they probably wouldn’t be willing to give an answer.

      • Andre721 says:

        I would rather that some press entity try to contact the license holder and be told “no comment” than assume that they just won’t comment. Maybe ask a general question like, “are there any immediate plans for the Bally / Williams pinball tables after the license expires with The Pinball Arcade?”, and see where things go from there.

      • Jason Lefkowitz says:

        I’m skeptical we’d get anything informative in a statement from them too. That said, getting comments from both parties when covering a dispute is kind of Journalism 101, so I would like to see RPS at least try. Even if the rightsholders decline the opportunity to comment, we at least know that RPS gave them the chance to challenge any egregiously misleading aspects of FarSight’s account.

    • Iain_1986 says:

      > Did FarSight do something to tick them off?

      Honestly, I think there might be something here. FarSight were not performing the best as a developer. Lots of missed deadlines, broken promises of content.

      Very buggy releases, trying to hit so many platforms but each one being a bit of a mess each time and taking ages for fixes.

      The whole “experience” is awful too, the UI is just woeful.

      Then there’s the Switch fiasco. Releasing on a platform they *didn’t* have licensing rights for, so having to pull the release literally a few hours later….

      If I was the license holder I think I’d be debating whether to renew another long standing license or maybe look to alternative developers….

  4. c-fan says:

    Huh. So if I allready have them all on steam I sould be ok I guess.. And I have the physical versions on PS4, good luck removing them from that atleast. It’s a shame, like Jason Lefkowitz above said: I can’t imagine a solid reason to not renew the licenses.

  5. wonderingmonster says:

    Sad news indeed. Pinball Arcade and Zen are permanent fixtures on my phone. It’s a pity that licensing makes a virtual museum like TPA so brittle. I’ve grabbed the tables I still had my eye on. I hope they don’t have to revoke any parts of it later, like with GTA’s music.

    I looked around for some alternatives and besides some options of dubious legality, I was pleasantly surprised to discover Zaccaria Pinball. Like TPA it’s a recreation of real tables. I had never heard of the table brand before, but apparently they were pretty big at one point.

    • mike69 says:

      I’ve got quite a few Zaccaria tables – they’re great fun and good recreations – but heads up that they’re of a very different style to the kind on offer from the likes of Williams. Just as addictive though.

  6. magill.foote says:

    I’d be sadder if the total cost of Pinball Arcade’s DLC’s on Steam wasn’t over $600 CAD.

  7. demicanadian says:

    Welp. Good thing that since december update it’s impossible to buy any dlc anyways (error wrong price)

  8. wummes says:

    While still great fun to play and very completionist the Pinball Arcade interface is still the same mess after all these years and the physics are simplistic compared to new Visual Pinmame tables and Pro Pinball Timeshock.

    Real easy being a pinball god though on PA machines.

  9. Roughbuddha says:

    i somehow grabbed the software and one table pack on switch during the short time they were online. does this mean they won’t be added back to the nintendo store before the deadline?

    • Iain_1986 says:

      No they’ve confirmed it will go back up on Switch but without these tables. They didn’t have the rights for Switch hence why they had to pull it quickly.

  10. Iain_1986 says:

    I’m wondering if the license holders are maybe not too impressed with Farsight and maybe taking more of a “We’ll find someone else” approach.

    Their support has been…lacking. Very buggy tables. Trying to hit multiple platforms without really dealing with each one fully. The UI is *awful*. Quite a few broken promises and long delays on content. And then there’s the Switch fiasco….releasing on a platform they *didn’t* have licensing rights to do so and then having to pull the game just a few hours later.

    If I was the license holder I might well be hesitant renewing another long standing contract with them…

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