The Predator pinball disaster

This is the first post related to pinball that I’ve made to this blog. Given what I usually post here, I’m kind of hoping it’s the last.

Pinball News, among others, broke the story of a company called Skit-B Pinball and their flagship title, Predator, based on the movie of the same name. Skit-B has been developing this game since 2011 July. I, personally, didn’t know about it until sometime in 2014, just because I wasn’t following the pinball scene. I didn’t even know there was much of a pinball scene to follow anymore; I knew Stern Pinball was somehow still in business, even after Premier Technologies (the last company to make games under the Gottlieb brand name) bit the dust, and later WMS Industries (owners of the Williams and Bally pinball labels as well as the Midway and Atari Games video game labels) exited the pinball business after releasing a grand total of two titles on the much-heralded Pinball 2000 platform. This was back in the late 1990s, and I had just happened to be on a pinball-related IRC channel when news broke of WMS leaving the industry.

Anyhow, so it was with great interest that I began following the companies trying to keep pinball alive, one of them being Skit-B of course. I had expected, any day now, to read news that this great game was going to ship. And then the above story broke, and it’s obvious now that the game in its present form is unlikely to be made commercially available at all. I’m going to keep the quotes to a working minimum, because the story is very long and convoluted.

The important crux of the story is that Kevin Kulek, one of the founders of Skit-B, did something incredibly foolish: instead of approaching Twentieth Century Fox Licensing (hereinafter Fox for brevity) and getting the proper licensing in place, he decided he would just make the games unlicensed, in a low quantity, before Fox and their lawyers found out. That’s sort of like taking a trip of some distance in a car with no license plates, and hoping┬ánobody notices. Even if a cop doesn’t notice, someone will probably call it in.

It turns out Fox found out about it. At first nothing nasty happens, but sometime in 2013 they got their first cease and desist letter from Fox’s attorneys. As the story says:

it now appears Fox had sent Skit-B a ‘cease & desist’ notification, requiring them to remove all Predator-related materials and stop promoting or producing the game.

This was the defining moment where whatever notion of implied consent Skit-B may have thought they had was shattered. If they ever thought they had an agreement, this cease & desist proved they did not. And without an agreement from the [copyright] holder, the game could never go into production.

This was in mid-2013. As the story rolls on, things start happening, like a group of potential Predator buyers approaching Pinball News. By the time someone representing the buyers write this anonymous letter to Pinball News, Skit-B had already announced a second game, Experts of Dangerous featuring the likenesses of Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman (of the TV show Mythbusters). The buyers became suspicious, and many had paid deposits already; they requested refunds as they suspected Mr. Kulek and Skit-B had no license to make the game. This hunch would be confirmed a short time later.

The anonymous contact would make Pinball News privy to a phone call in 2015 January between himself and the senior copyright lawyer at Fox Entertainment Group. That lawyer said not only was no license in place between Fox and Skit-B, but that Mr. Kulek had been told several times to stop work on the game and that Fox was “looking to escalate matters” regarding the game, which could only refer to a lawsuit of some type (certainly injunctive relief, and quite possibly monetary damages as well).

It’s disappointing to read the story of the demise of what could have been a great pinball game, which appeared to be made in the style of the classic Williams/Bally dot matrix games of the 1990s to boot. I would hope Fox comes around, and Skit-B passes the work they have done to a reputable pinball manufacturer who can secure the licensing and finish the project.┬áI’m not holding my breath, though, as it is entirely possible this episode has made the pinball community look like a bunch of lawbreakers, and we may not see a Fox movie licensed as a pinball theme for many years now. It’s quite likely Fox will at least refuse to license Predator for any pinball, whether the one that Skit-B started or a brand new one. I hope they don’t do this. The law-abiding pinball players and hobbyists, such as myself, don’t deserve to suffer for one rogue manufacturer’s First Class Foul-Up.

Moral of the story: when planning a licensed work, get the licenses first. Don’t expect the copyright holders to grant licenses later.