New Shit Has Come To Light And–Shit, Man! Is The Big Lebowski Pinball Game In Trouble?

As we mentioned, Dutch Pinball recently unveiled their progress on their hugely anticipated, The Big Lebowski Pinball, game. The footage went worldwide across the web, boosting pre-order sales and reaffirming everyone’s faith in the table. Then oddly, something unexpected happened. Over the next couple of days, seemingly random American pre-order customers were getting refund notices for their pre-purchase of the TBL table.

Immediately, American pre-order customers began flooding pinball enthusiast website, Pinside, demanding answers for the bizarre notices. The message board forum thread, “DP USA Refund – Still Want the Game”, would become the lighting rod for these complaints and the subsequent pandemonium. Customers began noticing that the notices were marked with the return e-mail address of Philip Weinberg, Dutch Pinball’s Director of Marketing and Communications.

One pinside user immediately e-mailed Dutch Pinball and posted his response e-mail on the forum. He later deleted the response e-mail, so out of respect we won’t name the pinside member in this article.

“We did everything in our power to settle issues in a normal way with Phil, but unfortunately he decided to take matters in his own hands and is doing whatever he’s doing for reasons we don’t know. We really regret your involvement in this situation and we hope we can settle this as soon as possible so we can focus on fun things again.” – supposed e-mail response from Dutch Pinball

Then, Philip Weinberg (known on pinside as Phil-DP-USA) began unloading a volley of revealing posts exposing his position with Dutch Pinball, as well as the circumstances that led to the refunding of the pre-orders. Most of the accusations would revolve around Dutch Pinball designer, Barry Driessen, withdrawing money from the company for personal use and his unwillingness to modify unlicensed assets from the design of the table. Below are a series of messages from Phil’s Pinside account, that illustrate Phil’s position. Keep in mind, this is just one man’s take on events and there has yet to be any legal actions taken based on these accusations.

From the outset it seems that Phil was brought onto the project in order to shore up a myriad of licensing issues that had been bogging down the design of the table.

“Barry [Driessen] and Jaap [Nauta] asked me to come on board several months ago, when they were having some major difficulties with universal studios licensing.” – Phil

Yet, before Phil could get his feet wet with TBL licensing issues he was already getting customer complaints/questions about Dutch Pinball’s previous project, a Bride of Pinbot 2.0 Conversion Kit. It seemed that customers were not receiving their orders and Phil wasn’t getting straight responses from Barry or anybody else.

“So here’s the first problem… I’m getting flooded with emails, calls, messages… where’s my Bride [of Pinbot Kit]? I ask Barry. Jaap asks Barry. And all he says is, he’s working on it. Months go by, I have no idea what to say to the customers, until I find out that Barry had taken the €60,000. Jaap and I realized that we had no choice but to put back the money ourselves. I started buying parts from all over the world on my credit cards. Shipped stuff on my personal fedex account. all to cover his theft.

keep in mind, jaap and i had NOTHING to do with bride. this was a Koen [Heltzel] / Barry [Driessen] project, but we knew, if this thing didn’t ship, nobody would by TBL.” – Phil

With the Bride 2.0 issues seemingly resolved Phil now set his sights on the licensing issues. Apparently there was some friction with the NBC/Universal Brand Assurance Manager, Julie Margules. The team’s loose usage of film assets had caused some problems and were pushing the boundaries of the license of agreement.

“[Dutch Pinball] had been using unauthorized assets (screen grabs, other graphics), and had been using artistic renderings to make the translite, and Julie Margules [NBC/Universal Brand Assurance Manager] was fed up with them “pushing the limits”. I went in, worked hard to get the mess cleaned up, and step-by-step, layer by layer, we all worked together and got the translite with the oil painted style approved.” – Phil

From Phil’s perspective progress was being made and though there were some conflicts with the team he ultimately felt that they were addressing his licensing concerns. Keep in mind, at this point Phil owns Dutch Pinball USA, complete with his social security number attached to the business license. Any debt, penalties, or litigation in the US would fall squarely on his shoulders. In many ways Phil was all-in on the project and with his current cancer diagnosis (yes, cancer) all financial ramifications would greatly affect the life of his own family.

It was at this point that Dutch Pinball continually began showing the game with blatant licensing violations. Eventually, they had a very public display of their alpha build in New York City where members of PAPA (The Professional & Amateur Pinball Association) took turns playing the alpha build all while filming their gameplay and subsequently posting it on the internet. This ultimately was too much for Phil and he no longer wanted anything to do with Dutch Pinball.

“And as some of you know, I don’t know how many good years I’ve got left, but I am sure as hell not leaving my family with a crapload of debt for pinball machine refunds, and I am not leaving my legacy as someone who was involved in something like this.

I’ve been telling Barry since Nov. 1. Get a Taxpayer ID (ITIN) and take over DP USA. Or find an American to take over. I don’t care what you do. I even agreed to give up ALL the profits of both businesses. That’s how much I want to get the hell away from this thing.

Here we are, 6 weeks later, nothing. I bugged him a few times in November, not as much as I would have liked — blame it on oncology — and then a harsh reminder on Dec. 1.

But now, pics from NYC come out… Sorry, but I cannot assume this risk. They have no social security numbers [attached to the US business]. They don’t have the same risk in this.” – Phil

It was at this point that Phil decided to minimize his risk and reduce his/Dutch Pinball USA’s debt. More specifically, he decided to refund as many pre-orders as he could.

“That’s why I’m refunding all the money. Preorder money is NOT revenue. It’s not earned. It’s a debt. Only when the machine is shipped does it become revenue. I just want to reduce the amount of liability this company has.” – Phil

Dutch Pinball, Barry Driessen, or Jaap Nauta have yet to respond to Pinside or it’s members at the time of this article. At the same time though, it’s important to remember that this is just one person’s side to the story in a message board thread. Until all information comes in, we can’t be sure exactly what is going on, let alone what the fate of The Big Lebowski Pinball is. However, with the stakes so high and people’s lives on the line, caring that much about a pinball table being finished seems kind of ridiculous, no matter how amazing it looks.

UPDATE 12/15/14:

VIP Pre-Order purchases have apparently received the following e-mail correspondence from Dutch Pinball…

“Dear VIPs,

We want to reach out to you about the current situation involving the rumours on Pinside. We are aware of the thread and the worries over Dutch Pinball and The Big Lebowski project. It really hurts us that you are involved in this situation, which is something that should be settled in a professional, business manner. Unfortunately, we had no control over our customers being involved and we regret what is happening now. We want to assure you that we are very busy handling this situation privately and in the best possible way without discrediting anyone. As soon as we can share more information publicly, we will do so.

We know there has also been some recent speculation regarding the status of our very exciting pinball project and want to assure everyone that everything is under control without any problems. To that end, we have brought in Roger Sharpe, acclaimed licensing and marketing expert, to help us as we continue with our final approval process. Roger has extensive experience having worked on all of the Williams and Bally pinball licensing for over 12 1/2 years and his personal relationships with all of the movie studios ensures that we are right on target to bring everyone the best possible pinball product. Our apologies for any concerns that had been raised but know we are still on course and will continue to meet our deadlines and promises.

Please keep in mind that we are the guys that brought three awesome prototypes to Expo in October and to Modern Pinball NYC last weekend. We wouldn’t been doing that if we had any bad intentions or wanted to defraud anyone. The only reason this is happening now is because of something that shouldn’t be discussed publicly.

Again, we want to make an awesome game – and with this going on, we are even more motivated to do so.

We will answer all of your emails in the next couple of days/weeks, but we first need to deal with this situation and keep our focus on getting you your games.

Team Dutch Pinball”

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