Skill Shot recently spoke with Jay Stafford of Seattle, the Senior Editor of the Internet Pinball Database at http://www.ipdb.org. Jay, along with Chris Wolf (who manages the technical end), have been the driving force behind the IPDB since 2002. Working with over 1,500 contributors, they’ve built the Wikipedia of pinball, with an average of 5,000 to 6,000 unique visitors daily. You can find the entire hour-long interview here. Below is an excerpt regarding the emergence of “re-themed” games.
SS – You say you only want to have pictures of the games in factory conditions. How can you tell?
JS – It’s an art sometimes, how to tell. A lot of it is trust, but a lot of it isn’t. I get pictures of a game, especially older games, beat up around the corners. I doubt they were recently painted. Reproduction parts can be a little harder. But by and large people are very upfront about it. Where I might have a problem is we have a European audience and not everybody speaks English. And therefore I think that they don’t benefit from ongoing conversations [online] or maybe they can’t read our pages that say, you know, don’t send us paint jobs. Sometimes I get well-meaning people that will send us pictures that are obviously beautiful repaints, but we can’t use them. Sometimes people will say, “I restored this game and I thought you’d want to have pictures”, and they’re very proud of what they’ve done – and they ought to be! I’ll ask them, “what do you mean by restored? Is it just a good cleaning and a rubber changing, or did you actually get out a brush and start doing things?” And they’ll tell me.
SS – Is that what you’re trying to avoid, if somebody’s painting the machines…
JS – Yeah, we’re trying to show factory condition. Although people can actually repaint their games and restore them to be probably identical to factory, I’m getting pictures of them, and there’s already a color translation in that, I imagine, but more so we want people to come to our site and believe they’re looking at factory condition, and not wonder if some collector had decided this is the color that belongs.
The other thing is if we allow repaints, we probably would be receiving a lot of people’s repaints to show everybody how well they can repaint. Some people do it for commercial reasons, some people do it because they’re really proud of what they’ve done. I’m not against restoring at all. But as far as what we put on the database, we don’t want repaints and anything that didn’t come from the factory.
SS – I guess there isn’t a limit on how many have to come from the factory. Galactic Girl, for example. There’s a production of 1, but because it’s an original game and it’s not a modified older game…
JS – Oh yeah. Here’s the thing on that. Up until a few years ago it was very rare to see anyone take a factory-made game and repaint it and give it a brand new theme. It wasn’t an issue. But lately there’s been an explosion in the hobby of people who want to “re-theme” their games. Totally repaint it, change it. And they have the facility and the talent to do that and make it look as professional as if it came from the manufacturer. They may only make one, they may make a few, whatever, but those games get exposure, and people will come to our website eventually and they’ll want to learn more about that. And if we don’t show those re-themed games on our website, then for one, we’re probably not performing the service we should be, and for two, people might think, well we need to be told about it. So what we decided to do is create a category on the pinball database and call it “re-themed games”, so these ones that aren’t manufactured, we’ll put them up on the website, if nothing else so when people go to look they’ll at least see, okay, they’re aware of it, and it’s a re-themed game, and it’s not a historical manufacturer-produced game, meaning manufacturers that we know: Stern, Bally, Gottlieb, and the zillions that came before. You know, Galactic Girl [wasn’t] made by a historical manufacturer, it was made by a hobbyist or a collector.
SS – A private artist.
JS – Right.
SS – Like there’s that Bill Paxton one, I don’t know if you’ve seen that.
JS – I have, and we have it up [on the site.] So in showing those games, we’re breaking our own rules. But we feel we had to, again, because we wanted to not have people come to us and not be satisfied. So what we do for those re-themed games is we make them unique and we show a modicum of information, just a few pictures, yeah, this is what it is. But we don’t feature it in full bloom. We really don’t want to become commercialized by people who might some day say “I want to sell these.” We don’t really want the commercialization of the site. To become someone’s showroom, maybe they should host their own pictures if they’re doing it for business purposes. So it’s a slippery slope there, but I think we’re keeping a handle on it.
SS – There are different ways of doing it. Dominique built his own playfield, but there are some people who just take the playfield and just change the artwork or the theme.
JS – You get it all. You get people who design the complete playfield. I think we have a game [where] the guy made his own parts! Now how exactly — I don’t know if he wound his own coils, I can’t say. And then others just will simply take a game, sand down the playfield to nothing, and then paint it over again. And how they do the backglasses, I’ve never asked them. But I’ve had silkscreened ones, and ones that are just translucent, like a translite.
Within the last few years I’ve seen more than I’ve ever seen in all the years before that. The hobby’s exploding. It isn’t just people collecting games and sticking them in their basement. I think that men like to work with toys, machines and tools, so after awhile it’s not enough to own them, you want to do things to them. And so we start to do things, and we get more emboldened by our successes and sharing the tips in how you do this and that. And before you know it, well, we have what we have, we have a lot of people who know how to restore really well. Having these games out there, it’s only natural in the way the hobby’s going. The fact that we stick with the original means that we’re not in step with that part of the hobby.
SS – Which is a little bit different from, wasn’t it during WWII, where their resources were rationed, the companies would take their games and re-theme them themselves?
JS – I’m glad you brought that up! And we thought about that, “what’s the difference there?” Well, for one, they’re historical, for two, they’re dead and they’re not trying to make money, you know, so we can find a way to draw the line there.
SS – They probably also made more than one.
JS – Oh yeah, they did plenty. They advertised in Billboard and places like that, so, we still view them as historical manufacturers. Even though there may be a company that only did one and folded! [laughs] But yeah, they did do re-themed games. But we called them “conversions” back then. Today’s stuff are “re-themed.” Those are “converted” now. We can mince words but that’s the separation we’re giving it.