Bay Area Amusement has been a key supplier of a diverse range of pinball parts for more than a decade, but it is not Rick Bartlett's only pinball enterprise.
In 2010 Rick teamed up with Matt Christiano to form Planetary Pinball Supply, Inc. which acquired the Williams rights from Mr Pinball Australia and has since manufactured and licensed numerous Williams-branded products. In 2013 they announced their plans to produce of their first full pinball machine - a remake of Medieval Madness.
Interview by John Greatwich
Name: Rick Bartlett
Owner of Bay Area Amusements and co-owner of Planetary Pinball Supply, both based in San Jose, California.
Age: Old enough to know better
When did you first play pinball?
Growing up I worked at a beach campground during the summers and the rec room had an old EM there that they used to play. That would have been my first experience … can’t recall what game it was, but probably was a Williams or Bally game ;-)
After that was in college as the rec room at the Campus Complex had a Gorgar and Flash, and those became some of my favorite games to play.
Where are your favorite places to play pinball?
Wherever I have time and can enjoy playing the games – can be at people’s houses, at my house, at my business, arcades, etc. So long as the games are in decent shape it is fine with me.
What types of pinball machines do you own (EM, solid-state, DMD)?
Predominately DMD games – for some reason that’s what I like. I guess being more in high-tech I gravitated to the latest and greatest.
How many do you own now, and what are some of your favorites?
I own probably fifty machines, although I’m not sure where all of them are - LOL. Favorite ones are; Theatre of Magic, Monster Bash, The Wizard of Oz, AC/DC, Big Bang Bar, Jurassic Park, Pirates of the Caribbean and Twilight Zone. Not sure I have an overall favorite.
Do you still have any local commercial locations to play pinball?
Yes, there are some locations in the area, supported by the local BAPA pinball club with league play. Additionally, Santa Cruz boardwalk arcade still has pinball machines. A bunch of other small locations with a couple of machines are in the area.
Are there any restrictions on operating or playing pinball in your area?
None that I’m aware.
Which shows do you attend?
Pin-a-Go-Go (Dixon, CA in May), Texas Pinball Festival (Texas in March), NW Pinball Show (Seattle in June), Pinball Expo (Chicago in October), and California Extreme (San Jose in July).
We are seeing more pinball machines being developed by small companies other than Stern Pinball. What is your opinion on this new interest in the game?
The more the merrier!
Where would you like to see the pinball machine technology go in the future?
I would like to see them evolve to include new features which make them more fun to play and can relate more to the new people that might want a break from home game consoles.
Do you like mods for pinball machines?
Sure, mods are great and allow people to add their own little flair to their game.
How do you like new lighting technology?
LED’s done correctly look really great, and help update the game as well as should help the games live longer with lower electrical drain, less heat, etc. RGB’s look really cool especially with what the new pinball companies are doing with them! Can’t wait to see what’s next in this area.
What do you think the cost per play of new pins should be?
Whatever will reasonably keep people playing, as opposed to making people money.
What annoys you the most about pinball on location?
A great game that I’ve not played before, or not played for a long time, being broken or worse yet, putting the money in the game and then realizing that something major (flipper, pop bumper, major feature) isn't working!
How can we get more new people interested in playing pinball?
Make it easier and more open for people to come into the hobby – advertise shows outside of the ‘normal’ pinball people, create welcoming locations that non-pinball people want to come to, make the games more intuitive and easy to understand, make the games easier to service and/or ensure that we have pinball repair people in all locations, have the community embrace new people vs. scare them away, which can easily be intimidating.
Do you think we need to return to simpler and easier to understand pinballs?
I think we just need to have games which capture the ‘fun’ element to a game – a fun game doesn’t need to be complex. There are plenty of fun games I have that are by no means complex.
How do you think pinball manufacturers can make a more playable and friendly game?
Great games seem to need to find this formula of being intuitive and entertaining for the casual player, yet deep and technical for the experienced player – this is what great game designers to me are all about, figuring out how to do that with a theme, and this is truly to me why great game designers are great.
How annoyed do you get with missing balls or hang-ups on games?
Do you think pinball manufacturers should get smart and kick out another ball quickly if there is a ball missing or not scoring?
I think they’re doing that by having the ball search, and trying to dislodge a missing ball. A ball is not supposed to be missing, so I think if you kick out another ball that would require a lot more thinking about how to handle all sorts of cases that probably make it more complex. Hopefully games should be designed better to not have balls missing or not scoring.
How do you rank yourself as a player, and do you play in tournaments?
I like to play for fun. I’m a little competitive, but I don’t generally want to have pinball become too stressful. I do like to win when we are playing multi-player, but I’d prefer to keep it as a way to socialize and hang out. I’ve not played in tournaments for the same reason, as I want to keep pinball as a low-stress part of my life!
The cost of new pinball ownership has increased greatly over the last few years. Does this stop you from buying new machines?
I’ve not purchased a lot of games recent years, as I think the prices of used games (especially in my area) has gone thru the roof and you have to move quickly to get one when they pop up.
Depending on the game, if I can find for a reasonable price and I want it, then I probably will end up buying it. The price of the game has to translate to the value and how fun/entertaining the game is.
With the introduction of new technology, do you think pinball machines have become easier to service and more reliable?
I hope they are. I’m sure with the zillions of moving parts they will always require a lot of service compared to other things, but making it easier for casual owners to service and even repair I think will help. I’m sure all those making games work to make them easier to service and more reliable.
Pinballs machines are heavy objects to move around. Do you think they need to be lighter?
I’m not sure they are getting heavier, except with The Wizard of Oz which is heavy because it’s packing so many additional features and capabilities in the game. P2K games are heavy and bulky, as well as a bunch of other games.
Of course it would be great if they were lighter, but then if that came at the expense of build quality or features, then I think we know people would say no. Also, the game is only heavy in most cases in the hour of bringing it into a location and the hour of taking it out, so way overblown of a topic.
How do you like the warranty offered for new pinball machines and parts?
I think the warranties are different depending on where you go.
Seems like the warranty should benefit the original owner, and then - depending on circumstances - possibly owners after that, although that is a huge burden on the manufacturer to figure that out and manage it, which then becomes a huge cost.
Customers would like a lifetime warranty on everything for every condition, and manufacturers need to manage the after-sale cost, so I think the trade-offs result in a warranty that covers the game electronics for a certain period of time, as well as certain non-consumable parts that may break for a certain period of time, and usually benefit the original purchaser.
Additionally, if parts prices are reasonable then this also helps.
Does traditional mechanical pinball need more radical changes?
If you mean moving to more simpler games, or removing ‘digital’ features like LCDs or crazy features, etc. then the key to me is if there are products that are being built that people will spend good money to buy. So if you follow the market and what people will pay for, that will generally drive you to the answer. It’s a huge gamble to make a ‘simple’ or more ‘traditional’ game, especially a ‘new’ title, but if someone comes up with a formula that works then why not?
Any other thoughts?
Way too many.
Tell us a little about your companies.
I am the co-owner of Planetary Pinball Supply, Inc. a.k.a. pinball.com, and the owner of Bay Area Amusements, LLC. There are always many new products on the site at pinball.com as well as WMS/BLY merchandise, and I'm working with others to enable new games to come into the market.
How do you promote your companies' products?
Web site, shows, advertising, word-of-mouth, forums, and actually talking with people on the phone or face-to-face.
Thanks for your time Rick.
© Pinball News 2014