IN 1998, THE MANAGEMENT OF Williams Electronic Games issued a challenge to its team of designers: reinvent pinball, or watch the entertainment form they'd poured their hearts and souls into over the past six decades disappear.

Pinball had emerged from the videogame onslaught of the early 1980s and in 1992 celebrated its most successful year ever. Since its inception in the 1920s, never had the industry sold so many machines, and never had those machines brought in so much money from the pinball-playing public. This great achievement, however, sowed the seeds of failure. By the late '90s, the pinball market was saturated, with a glut of machines still in working order and still producing revenue, reducing the demand for new pinball and forcing all but two of the world's manufacturers to close their doors. The decision facing Williams—whether to exit the pinball industry to focus on the more lucrative electronic gambling market—could eliminate the industry's senior player and place pinball's continued existence in doubt.

From this challenge came Pinball 2000(tm), a new concept in pinball from Williams' designers that hoped to fuse the dynamics of a video game with the classic pinball experience. Bringing this vision to fruition was a team of dedicated designers working its hardest to keep pinball alive. The Future of Pinball is the story of these designers, and their efforts to reinvent the pinball experience for a new generation.


The Pinball 2000 logo (Copyright WMS Industries, Inc.)

The Pinball 2000 team faced an enormous challenge, and beat the odds by creating a completely new kind of pinball machine that was not only visually striking, but entertaining as well. More surprisingly, the January '99 introduction of Pinball 2000 was a hit, leading the Pinball Division to realize its first quarterly profit in years. Yet after only ten months in production, Williams mysteriously pulled the plug on its pinball business. Did Pinball 2000's strong sales belie an impending failure? Was pinball too much of a distraction from the lucrative electronic gambling market? Was Williams truly committed to saving pinball at all?

Through interviews with key players at Williams and in the pinball industry, The Future of Pinball will cover every aspect of the task confronting the Williams designers: the creative challenges, the engineering challenges, and the business challenges both inside the company and out.

This documentary will address:

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