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Interview with IFPA’s Josh Sharpe

Gordon interviews IFPA’s Josh Sharpe about 2018’s new endorsement fees for IFPA points. Josh talks about reasons the IFPA changed from a free to paid service and what they expect (or hope) will be the result of this “experiment”. This is the long version of the interview that was originally published in Skill Shot issue 48…

On April 1st the International Flipper Pinball Assocation (IFPA) announced that beginning in 2018  they plan to start charging a $1 per player “endorsement fee” for any tournament that awards IFPA World Pinball Player Ranking points. Skill Shot’s Gordon (SS) sat down to a Facebook Messenger chat with IFPA President Josh Sharpe to ask a few questions about the controversial proposal. This is the lightly edited long-version of the interview published in Skill Shot 48.

Skil Shot: When did the IFPA first decide on the endorsement fee for 2018?

Josh Sharpe: Like the first of internal discussions, or the moment where we were actually like “We’re doing this”?

SS: Both. I had heard about the discussions happening behind the scenes before the announcement but I am curious on how long it was discussed internally beforehand…

Josh: I know really since the State Championship Series (SCS) kicked off there has been a plan to try and raise the profile so to speak of that campaign. We never thought the community would be interested in supporting it, and figured at some point we would be ‘ok’ risking a shrinking market of events to make this happen. So whether we grew things to 25,000 players in the database…
like at what point does there need to be ‘more’ for the sport in terms of it being a serious thing? We figured 50,000 was that right number to give this kind of campaign a shot. We also knew PAPA was implementing their new Circuit $5 fee and waited for them to be the guinea pig with respect to having events fund this ‘prize pool for the elite’ and the feedback they received was positive enough for us to give our campaign a shot. State Reps were roped in on things in early February prior to the State Championship tournaments from this year and there was some good discussion there that went on, and that ultimately helped shape things. Originally it was 33% split between the States/Nationals/World’s and that morphed based on the feedback – we dropped the World Championship funding because of some tax issues with collecting money in Europe for the IFPA and focused more on keeping those funds “IN STATE”. So a majority of the money collected isn’t redistributed to the ‘elite elite’ most of it goes back within that state and that allows us to make it a “successful thing” for more players. We’re able to pay off 752 players as a result rather than just the 40 that get paid in the PAPA Circuit or the 47 at Nationals.

SS: The State Championships and IFPA Nationals began in 2014?

Josh: 2013 was the first season, finals were Feb 2014.

SS: While you are checking find out how many participated in the first one compared to this year.

Josh: 4940 participated that first year. We had just about 10,000 this last year 2016 season.

SS: And that is the number of players that were in the actual State Championships? (including Canada/Provinces)? Or just the number of players involved in IFPA events all year?

Josh: That was the number of players involved in the SCS qualifying along with Canada. There were 448 finalists that first year, now there are 752 number of players involved overall is a different set of stats.

SS: Does the 448 include Canada? I believe that their championship was held seperately the first year if I am not mistaken.

Josh: You are correct, year one did NOT include Canada (there were only two provinces) and the winner of those provinces actually played a match against each other out in Denver as an exhibition but they weren’t integrated until year 2.

SS: From what I understand the players in the State Championship Series have been paying an entry fee to compete in them each year? $20 I believe is the amount I read. Oh yeah, are there more than two provinces participating now?

Josh: Yes to the $20 – that was the amount we settled on after wanting to make sure that people wouldn’t pass on their right to participate -originally the talk was $100 each. Canada is now up to 7 Provinces.

SS: When deciding on charging the new endorsement fee was this a way to have the players in the State Championships not to have to pay to be in that tournament, or will they still expect to pay the $20 to participate in it?

Josh: Not knowing how things were going to play out, we’re keeping the $20 fee for year 1. That was for marketing purposes. We can guarantee a bigger prize package we KNOW it will be bigger, cause every $1 added will truly be added. Assuming we hit a level we are satisfied with, we would then most likely waive that $20 fee going forward with all 16 players getting paid out, that $20 fee will be subsidized. so if I win $47 in illinois just for qualifying then i still win $27.

SS: When you say “that” was for marketing purposes do you mean originally or going forward?

Josh: For year 1. If we didn’t charge the $20 fee, and this fell flat we could end up generating less than the $320 per state and we didn’t want that to happen, so if a state raises $100 for the year it’ll be $420 for the pool that year.

SS: I’m not sure I understand, do you mean in 2014? (for year 1)

Josh: it’s been $320 per state every year since year 1 – $20 per player X 16 players. Going forward with this new plan the money raised through the endorsement fee will be in addition to the $320 generated at the championship itself from the 16 participants.

SS: So you are hoping or expecting to generate at least $100 from each state next year to add to the prize pool?

Josh: I’m saying we have no expectations. If $100 is generated we can say it’s an ADDITIONAL $100 rather than saying what once was $320 is now $100 and by this change we just slashed the prize package by 67%.

SS: Yeah I guess it will depend on the state and number of events they host. Some states like WA would certainly exceed the $320.

Josh: Exactly we’ve run models based on 2016 data but that can’t be taken seriously as TD’s (tournament directors) will adjust things.

SS: But others (states) probably don’t have that many tourneys?

Josh: Either choosing not to have their event sanctioned or reporting differently to be more efficient with respect to the fees…

SS: Is that what is meant when the fees are described as an “experiment”?

Josh: that’s exactly right . . . there’s so many variables at play we have no expectation as to how it’s going to go, we just know we want to find out. Some people took offense to us “experimenting”, and that was probably not the best word for me to use…

SS: How are the National Championship entries paid?

Josh: Currently? (pre-endorsement fee)

SS: What does that mean?

Josh: it means RIGHT NOW this fee doesn’t exist. it didn’t for 2016 and it doesn’t for 2017 either. it starts with the 2018 season. So “How are the National Championship entries paid?” is a different answer if you want the 2018 answer or the 2017 and prior answer.

SS: So if a player can get to the event they don’t have to pay entry fee? Currently and in the past. I am assuming that if they are currently paying an entry fee they will continue to do so for at least the first year same as the State.

Josh: Correct, there is no entry fee for Nationals. the prize pool is currently covered by fees taken from the States along with sponsorship dollars. (Stern sponsors it with a NIB Pro machine as top prize.)

SS: What do you expect to change in 2018 in the regard?

Josh: Prior to 2018, of the $320 generated we pulled $100 from each state for the Nationals prize pool (roughly 31%). In 2018 we’ll be pulling 25% of the endorsement fees collected to feed the Nationals prize pool since we are still taking at least the $100 from the $320 in 2018 we can guarantee that the prize pool for Nationals will be LARGER than ever before.

SS: Going back to the Edorsement Fee discussions IFPA had, how was the 75/25 split decided?

Josh: Once we removed the World concept we had a 67/33 split and the State Reps talked it down arguing to push more of this money back to the local level and less to the elite national level and through that discussion I agreed with their comments. We have a private message board for all the State Reps where IFPA related items get discussed.

SS: What does the word “elite” mean in this context?

Josh: Most often I would say it’s the top 50-100 players in the world – are sort of that group. But if you dive into the data of who is actually playing at Nationals there aren’t many of those 1-100 ranked players, so the whole SCS/Nationals concept is really designed to not favor the world’s best players (by design).

SS: Well some of the top 100 don’t live in North America…

Josh: Sure, but the top 60 of those 100 do, so it captures that level to me. So for example WA State had 6 participants out of 16 ranked in the top 100 this past year. 63% of the players fell lower than that rank. At the national level, 16 of the 40 participants were ranked in the top 100 this past year so 60% of the players fell outside of that ‘elite’ group.

SS: I hope you’re not counting Cayle!

Josh: He was too busy playing the in ECS 🙂. However it would be possible for a Euro to qualify through their play in the US like what Jorian or Daniele have done with the PAPA Circuit.

SS: I don’t believe they have bothered to travel for a State Championship have they?

Josh: Nobody in Europe has, but the prize pool also hasn’t been that enticing, if it was higher? You never know 😉 at some point it’s proven they WILL travel.

SS: Why did you decide to announce the Endorsement Fees changes on April 1st?

Josh: Because I’m an asshole 🙂. For years we’ve made April 1st announcements, maybe the past 4 or 5, and it just lined up well to do the April Fools April Fools – the meta april fools joke.

SS: Do you think that that added to the blow back you received about them?

Josh: Ultimately I don’t . . . I think those that had/have a problem with what we’re doing  would have had the same issues whether it was April 1st, December 25th or ‘random day’.

SS: What is the difference between IFPA Rankings and WPPR points?

Josh: It’s one in the same. WPPR is the IFPA rankings system there is also the IFPA RATINGS system that is a separate thing, but WPPR rankings, IFPA rankings, IFPA points, WPPR points people use those terms interchangeably. “Whopper Points” were sort of the ‘currency’ in terms of how people talked about them for the past 11+ years.

SS: I read on the IFPA website that there will be “No Points” events listed on the IFPA Calendar where no WPPR points will be award but the results will impact the IFPA ratings. What does this exactly mean?

Josh: Back at the end of 2011, we announced a secondary ranking system and that was the IFPA Ratings System you can read that announcement here: it’s a completely different way we rank players at events that don’t reward WPPR points, still have an impact on this IFPA Ratings calculation. So for example if you beat me in a non-points event there’s no credit given to you in our WPPR system however in the IFPA Ratings system you would increase your rating for that victory and my rating would decrease

SS: So it’s a similar system that has been running alongside the main ranking points all this time? Or at least since 2011…

Josh: Correct. Most people haven’t noticed but we actually have THREE rankings systems all running concurrently. Most people only care about one of them and that’s the WPPR system of course.

SS: How does the rating system differ from the ranking one? Do players stay pretty much in the same order in both?

Josh: They are completely separate metrics, so while there are similarities in that the “best players” are at the top there are different ways they get there for each different system. So take you for example your ranked 1688th by WPPR Rank but 4326th by IFPA Rating that’s a pretty big difference and it’s based on those two calculations being completely separate ‘things’ You’re 2206th in our 3rd different system which is “Efficiency Percentage” but you can get lost in those ‘other ranking systems’ we do because like I said, most players don’t follow them or have any interest in them.

My points changed slightly since the interview!






SS: Does the rating of a player have any effect on their ranking?

Josh: The IFPA Rating impacts the ‘strength’ of that player, with respect to the value they add to the tournament they are playing, so it does have some impact on the WPPR points awarded at every IFPA sanctioned event.

SS: Ahh I’ve sometimes wondered about that! Is it the same with someone’s Efficiency Percentage?

Josh: It really came about because there were good “local” players that weren’t highly ranked because they didn’t play enough. The Rating metric doesn’t require that high level of play in terms of quantity it, makes it’s best guess at your skill based on the data it has available. The Efficiency Percentage isn’t used at all in the WPPR formula at this point it’s strictly a ‘for fun’ metric.

SS: So for those tournament directors that are hesitant about paying the Endorsement Fee they can still register as a non-points tournament and still get some useful information from it? Say for our (Seattle) Monday Night Pinball league where there are certain WPPR Points restrictions concerning how many highly ranked players can join a team?

Josh: Absolutely. They can register as a non-points event, and those results will impact the IFPA Rating of all the participants based on that data that will continue at no charge from the IFPA.

SS: But this would not impact anyone’s State Rankings?

Josh: Correct. State Rankings are based solely as WPPR points earned as the metric for those standings.

SS: It seems like you need to get people to start paying attention to those Rating Points since it would be a way to relieve some of the pressure off tournament directors to always feel the need to have WPPR Points awarded to get people to come to their tournaments.

JoshYou’re exactly right, and that’s why we announced this:

SS: I saw and read that but the non-points tournaments seemed hidden in the last paragraph… As well as being something different that the IFPA Challenge matches. It seems like something that should have a post of it’s own.

SS: Do the same rules apply when submitting to the IFPA Calendar when holding a non-points tournament? 30 days in advance, etc…

Josh: The non-points events will still need to go through the 30 days in advance rules but other than that it’ll be pretty loose. What we won’t allow are events to submitted ‘after the fact’. If this endorsement fee is the catalyst to the Ratings system taking off and becoming a more meaningful looked at metric then that’s great for us to continue serving ‘everyone’ at their various levels of interest.

SS: Like any sort of format? Skill Shot runs a tournament every month where we allow a guest host to run it and decide on a playing format or style (one handed etc) would something like that qualify?

Josh: We don’t include any tournament formats that aren’t ‘normal playing’ so no one handed, no teams, no blindfolded, Etc.

SS: Clown noses required?

Josh: haha we’ll consider it 🙂

SS: Then we may consider registering.. Anyways back to the IFPA Challenges, so anyone can challenge anyone else correct? Does it have to be in a public venue?

Josh: Only players with full IFPA profiles can challenge or be challenged. it does not have to be in a public venue it can be anywhere at anytime.

SS: If someone doesn’t have a profile yet how do they get one?

Josh: They could email us to have one createdand then they would have to update that profile here: that would register their account with us

SS: Do the Challenges need to be registered 30 days in advance also?

Josh: No you could literally decide to have one on the spot at the bar with another random player as long as both are registered the challenge matches need no advanced warning to register. You would submit it to the calendar most often AFTER the match is done and then once we accept the match, results could be submitted.

SS: Do the Challenges need to be registered 30 days in advance also?

Josh: We wanted to make sure the flexibility was there on our side. I understand most people don’t know where/when they will be at a location and if I show up to a bar and some guy walks in and you want to ‘play a match we want to support that level of casual competitive activity.

SS: I am assuming that each player’s ratings will affect the amount of Rating Points obtain?

Josh: you are correct with respect to the Ratings impact i’m not up on the Glicko calculation but my understanding is that the better rated player risks more ratings pointsto lose than the lower rated player in that match.

SS: But it has to be all 7 games? or can they quit once someone has won 4 of them?

Josh: Once someone has won 4 games the match is over. We don’t use that match detail in the results submission it would simply list the winner as 1st place and the loser as 2nd place

SS: Will there be a separate results page for these on your website?

Josh: It’s being discussed.

SS: Back to the Endorsement Fees, what was the thinking behind making charity events needing to pay for their points? That seems to be a controversial decision.

Josh: it presents a loophole to the system that would then have to be managed. Can I say I’m running an event and donating $.05 per player to Project Pinball TECHNICALLY it’s a charity event, so does that ‘check the box’ for us in talking with the pinball charities. They run into expenses all the time – paypal fees for donations taken online versus cash in person – and with us not forcing any event to be endorsed we leave that to the charity and the organizer of the event to figure out – if they think that is a worthy expense for the cause.

SS: Well Points do add value to events so I guess it could be looked at as an operating expense such as renting a venue…

Josh: Correct for some events it won’t be worth it, where for other charities they may think it will be – to draw more players out to donate.

SS: How do you feel about Bowen taking himself off the IFPA Rankings? From what I’ve read it seems like that was at least part of his objection to the new system…

(Past pinball champion and previously highly IFPA ranked player Bowen Kerins recently had himself removed from the IFPA ranking system.)

Josh: I felt it was a bit hypocritical considering his support for PAPA doing the same thing with their Circuit I made a post about that on Tilt Forums but outside of that, I ultimately have no opinion on anyone wanting to remove themselves from the rankings for ‘any reason’ it’s something that is available for those interested. I don’t spend too much time worrying about those people NOT interested.

SS: How many “supressed players” are there anyways? I’ve heard that there are a few more for other reasons. Are there any others because of the Endorsement Fees?

Josh: Looks like there are 34 in total we don’t often hear the reasons so I couldn’t tell you I haven’t seen anyone else on Facebook post something about it as some sort of ‘protest’ or anything but you could tell me 🙂 if I’m missing something…

SS: I haven’t seen anything. What about women’s tournaments; will Endorsement Fees apply to them as well?

Josh: No. We had a plan to do the ‘same thing’ and feed the Women’s Championship prize pool but we’re still in the growing phase of the Women’s rankings similar to what I mentioned earlier waiting for that right moment and 50,000 players in the database feeling like that ‘right moment’

SS: So once there’s 50,000 women players?

Josh: That would be a good goal 🙂 Right now there 1688 women in the WPPR rankings let’s try to take it to 5000 first at least.

SS: Hopefully it comes soon – Seattle is doing its part to increase the ranks!

Josh: Damn straight! I would hate to slow down that momentum in any way and actually emailed with a bunch of the top ranked women about it in advance.

SS: Just to let them know that women’s tournaments won’t have to pay?

Josh: No, to get their feedback on whether we should do it or not back in the discussion phase and a bunch of them were in favor of starting it in 2018 ultimately I decided against it.


SS: What about for states that have restrictive playing or gambling for money rules? I’ve heard that Wisconsin has some complicated ones…

Josh: We will deal with those issues as it comes up. Right now the IFPA operates on sponsorship dollars and we can put THOSE dollars to use for states where this can’t be done and treat their money collected towards our operating expenses and ultimately if nothing can be done, we’ll take those funds and just keep them for our operating purposes. We operated at a slight loss last year, so at some point if I had to dip too far into my own personal pocket book, this fee would end up going towards us operating as well. Fortunately our sponsors keep us going for the most part.

SS: Speaking of which, many have expressed surprise that you just didn’t promote the whole Endorsement Fees as being used for operating expenses in the first place and then kick back some of the money back to the SCS/NC if the first place. Why not?

Josh: I like to be transparent about what we plan on doing with those funds. Ultimately I’m not out to make money with the IFPA I’m not out to lose money on the venture but it’s my way of giving back. If we NEED these funds to survive you would see that announcement where the IFPA takes 10% of the endorsement fees collected (for example) for operating and ‘pays out’ the rest. Right now we can run at keeping 0% but I have no idea what the future holds. For those that want to sleep better at night, they can rationalize the fee in that manner and ultimately that is true – WPPR points were free (and) they are no longer free; it is a “paid service”. If you are interested in it, you’ll have to pay for that service whether we keep the money, pay it out, light it on fire IMO is irrelevant we’re simply changing a service that was free, to a paid service.

Image taken from Phillip Grimaldi’s An Empirical Evaluation of the IFPA Endorsement Fee

SS: Do you think it is fair for states like WA to pay so much more towards the Nationals?

Josh: I do 🙂

SS: Many seem to see it as a way to reduce your work load…

Josh: And you’ve made a great assumption there because WA is also the state where we plan on losing the most events with respect to endorsement sooooo how do you know? 😉

SS: I don’t for sure.

Josh: Assuming WA is still ‘larger’ than most states for 2018 I like that it will create a separate motivation for SCS qualifying. There is debate as to whether out of towners that may qualify for WA will now CHOOSE WA because of the large State prize package even if that means a tougher path to Nationals, where as right now the best choice for a ‘good player’ is to choose the easiest path to Nationals since every State pool is the same financially.  I like the push-pull mechanic that (it) creates. I also like the ‘right sizing’ of events with respect to the world rankings of players in the larger areas. If a weekly tournament chooses to submit monthly or annually or ‘whatever’ that brings down the number of points that event is awarding over the course of the year, and for most of the world, they can’t compete with these larger areas so now these larger areas will ‘right size’ to deal with more appropriately sized fees – or subsidize that pool for the smaller areas and I’m completely fine with that strategy.

SS: I don’t think that WA/Seattle is a particularly large area compared with much of the country, we just have a large pinball scene.

Josh: When I talk “area” I talk scenes, I talk about ‘impact on the WPPR rankings’ in terms of points distributed and WA has distributed nearly 50,000 WPPR points to anyone that has played within the boundaries of that state. Whereas NY, even with NYC is at 18,000. Much of that has to do with WA being a more mature scene.

SS: Well it is a big social thing as well here.

Josh: Absolutely and that’s the best part of trying this for us. “IFPA play” isn’t the only way for people to play, so to think that we could somehow “destroy” a scene is ridiculous and gives IFPA far too much credit for what’s going on. We’re simply focusing the players/organizers that are interested in us rather than simply counting ‘everything’ we could. If a weekly continues as a non-points event, I think that hits on the most important point in all of this that the weekly event CONTINUES.

SS: I agree in a way, but people love those points!

Josh: There are certainly a large number of players that do. Now do they only love them because they were “free” or do they love them enough to pay for the right to earn them? That is what we’ll find out because I don’t know the answer yet.

SS: Well they pay at least $5 at a time for them currently… How long do you plan on keeping this experiment going before you decide yeah or nay? Was a time line discussed during your initial plans concerning this?

Josh: We implement changes every year, and typically after the first 3 months we have a solid idea on whether that change is meeting the goals of the change I don’t imagine this being much different.

SS: Do you having any closing statements or is there something that you wanted me to ask?

Josh: Not really . . . I know that it’s a tough topic to discuss from a ‘neutral’ perspective, everyone tends to have an opinion that shapes their comments. I will say I’m not one who is afraid to TRY THINGS so all the hypothetical fears of this or that happening doesn’t phase me one bit. I think you’re destined to die if you’re not actively looking to make things better and there hasn’t been a change the IFPA has made in the past 11 years that wasn’t met with some disapproval, so I’m quite used to dealing with that. My biggest hope is that people understand that we come at this with the intent to make the sport BIGGER rather than strictly serving trying to pad the pocketbooks of the world’s 25 best players. Believe me, I’d much rather hear dissenting opinions than NO OPINIONS. When we make a change to the Efficiency Percentage calculation and NOBODY CARES that’s my biggest fear 😉

For more info about the International Flipper Pinball Association:

Josh, Zach and Roger Sharpe (photo by Jim Schelberg)

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