I’ve been closely following the twin utter debacles of both Skit-B and Zidware, two boutique manufacturers that have hit the mat in a bad way. Before checking out their websites, know that Skit-B long ago scrubbed any reference to its Predator pinball game, and Zidware removed its entire site, replacing it with a static front page that simply says Zidware is ‘reloading’. In addition, John Popadiuk’s two facebook identities (The Pinball Inventor and John Popadiuk) have apparently been removed or gone private.
Strange things have occurred on both fronts. First, for Skit-B, the latest news is some victims have received refunds via Paypal, ostensibly initiated directly from Skit-B (as opposed to credit card charge-backs, which is the only way anyone had received a refund prior). These refunds seemed to signal that Skit-B was finally coming through with refunds they’d promised a few months ago, but then went silent on. However, a few people contacted Skit-B/Kevin Kulek’s lawyer and he denies that Skit-B initiated any refunds and doesn’t know anything about it! He maintains Skit-B is still pursuing a legitimate license from Fox and the plan is still to produce the games! Adding to this head-scratching turn of events is that not everyone has been refunded in this manner, only a few, and none who paid via check.
On to Zidware. And this story just can’t get much weirder. As I mentioned in my last post, a 3rd party named Pintasia has stepped up to license the Zidware intellectual property, and initially the legal terms for victims to stay in the project were ludicrous and bound for failure. The initiator of the purchase has come on to Pinside to state the new agreement was somewhat premature and will be revised, as will the pricing, after jaws dropped at the $16,000 price tag.
Another question about the Pintasia/Zidware partnership is what are the terms of the licensing. So far, Pintasia has ignored this question, but unsurprisingly, pre-order victims are insisting on complete transparency if they’re going to gamble new money with this company. Additionally, most pre-order customers appear opposed to John making even one more thin dime at this point, so if the agreement results in his personal profit, they’re adamantly opposed to it. In the thread on Pinside, Pintasia have been asked for this information over a dozen times and continue to ignore it.
Then a bombshell was dropped. Some sleuthy sleutherson did a bit of detective work and learned one of the principals on the Pintasia team, their head of Finance, Sabrina Wei, was (or is – last video was posted on May 10) associated with several Ponzi and high-yield investment program (HYIP) scams.
I swear, you cannot make this stuff up.
The evidence is pretty overwhelming, and when the head of Pintasia, William Brandes, was asked about it, he downplayed it and basically said he didn’t know much about her past. Also, this post as a response to questions about Sabrina is certainly suspect, neither identifying the author of the post nor categorically denying the allegations, about Sabrina, and then jumping into victim mode at the end. All of these are common tactics of persuasion I’ve seen related to various scams and frauds.
Folks, I don’t know about you, but if I found out the head of Finance has a ponzi/HYIP scheme pedigree, that would be it for me. I’d be out. Do not pass ‘Go’. And that’s what’s especially perplexing. By and large the outrage and shock from the community on this point has been surprisingly minimal. I don’t know what to make of it. Maybe in this story, filled with so many missed promises, u-turns and disappointments, what’s a little ponzi scheme cherry on top, right? All we need now is a Scientology connection and this thing is a Hollywood screen-play.
Some Zidware customers aren’t waiting to see how this crazy story ends and have already joined a class-action lawsuit. This has to a certain degree split the community down the middle of some endorsing the hail-mary effort of Pintasia to somehow, someway get the games built, and insisting suing Zidware is pointless because there’s no money to recoup anyway. The other side seems convinced the Pintasia effort will not only lead to no games, but possibly victims being duped into handing even more money over to an unproven entity with an extremely questionable back-story. Even with slim chances of economic return, they see suing Zidware into the dirt represents at least some amount of justice and closure.
But let’s set aside the lack of disclosures, ridiculous legal agreements, class-actions and ponzi schemes for a second.
The first milestone for the game on the Pintasia front is to get it out in the public eye to gauge whether or not there’s even interest in seeing it completed. No one has ever even played a beta test of the game. Are the shots satisfying? Does the lights, sound and art package come together? This weekend we’ll finally see as the game debuts at the Northwest Pinball and Arcade Show in Seattle. And it was no small effort to get it there.
First, despite apparent assurances from John Popadiuk to the new IP-licensees that the game would be ready for the NW show, it wasn’t. A couple of local pinballers went to John’s shop and worked for nearly two days straight to get the game into flipping condition. This also required a fabrication company to custom-fab the vacuum formed center ramp assembly pro-bono. Finally, the game was driven 30 hours non-stop to the show by a player supposedly on three hours of sleep over two days.
In other related news, the artist for the games goes by ZombieYeti on Pinside. That’s correct, John Popadiuk didn’t do the art for Magic Girl, Retro-Atomic Zombie Adventure and Alice in Worderland. Of course, for a long time the art was presented as being done by John, and no one questioned it. After all, his Williams-era games were known for their distinctive look and art. It wasn’t until ZombieYeti came on Pinside and identified himself as the artist, and that he hadn’t been paid for some of his work, that people realized the truth. Oh, and if I forgot to mention, he’s just one of several who haven’t been paid. Cointaker and the Hardware/Software Programming companies have also come forward and stated the same.
To recoup some losses, ZombieYeti offered a limited edition (50) print of the Alice in Wonderland backglass art. They sold out in a hour but I was lucky enough to snag two. One will go in the auction at Pin a Go Go next year. It’s quite possible that ZombieYeti might offer additional limited prints, but if they sell out anything like the first, you’ll need to keep a close eye on the pinside thread to have a shot at one.
So, was this ‘Quest for Fire’ effort worth it to finally get Magic Girl in front of players? Have a look and judge for yourself. Pinball News has some high-quality shots of the game. Check them out here.