Interview with deeproot: The Next Misadventure or a Pinball Revolution?

Interview with deeproot: The Next Misadventure or a Pinball Revolution?
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Interview with deeproot: The Next Misadventure or a Pinball Revolution?
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Interview with deeproot: The Next Misadventure or a Pinball Revolution?
Published on
November 30, 2017
Updated on
November 30, 2017
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deeproot Pinball has been quietly making progress on their path and plan to become a major pinball manufacturing company. They have been in licensing talks for several major pinball titles. They are currently looking to hire a Pinball Game Designer and a Game Writer (click here for the openings and descriptions including salary). They are hoping to have their manufacturing facility finalized in the next 2-3 weeks. Before we explore where deeproot is currently and what their plans are going forward, let’s first take a step back and look at deeproot’s timeline.

Early 2015

deeproot Tech starts its pinball division – deeproot Pinball.  They contact several pinball designers and manufacturers.

Summer 2015

The deeproot team decides to shelve the pinball project until a later date.

October 2016

deeproot begins implementing their internal plan of action to become a pinball manufacturer.

Late 2016 – 2017

deeproot begins reaching out to several pinball designers. After spending significant time weighing pros and cons, deeproot decides that pinball designer John Popadiuk (“JPop”) is the best option available. They decided this knowing there would be backlash from some in the pinball community, and knowing they would need to address John’s past mistakes with Zidware.

John Popadiuk’s backstory and timeline

  • Here is the short-ish version (apologies for skipping over a lot of details):  A few years back, Popadiuk owned a company called Zidware, and planned to build three titles in limited quantities: Magic Girl, Retro Atomic Zombie Adventureland (RAZA), and Alice in Wonderland (AIW).  (Note: Magic Girl was to be limited to 26 machines, and RAZA limited to 124 machines.)  Zidware customers paid in part or in full for machines that had not been built yet (the “pre-order” model).  Popadiuk ran out of funds before any games were delivered.
  • American Pinball later built the Magic Girl machines and they were shipped to customers, however, despite the efforts of American Pinball, the game was incomplete.
  • Pre-order customers of RAZA and AIW have yet to receive a refund or a machine.
  • For more details on the timeline of JPop from July 2011 through 2017, click here.  You can also read 23,500+ posts on this Pinside thread.
  • John does not have money to refund Zidware customers or the means to build the Zidware machines, so any form of restitution would have to come with significant financial and manufacturing help of an outside source.
  • More Info
  • For gameplay and an in-depth look at Magic Girl, click here.
  • For more on Magic Girl, check out this article (lots of pictures) from Pinball News or this one from Popular Science.
  • For pics of Retro Atomic Zombie Adventureland, click here or here for side art, here for backglass, and here for possible playfield layout and playfield artwork.
  • For more info on Alice in Wonderland, click here.
  • For more info the unlicensed KISS pinball machine, watch this one minute video.
  • For more on the timeline of John Popadiuk and Zidware, click here or visit his Wikipedia page here.

June 2017

deeproot begins to move forward with their plan to deal with JPop’s past and provide help to Zidware customers.

Early September 2017

Plaintiffs of the lawsuit and deeproot agree to terms on a settlement. This settlement with the Plaintiffs will be essentially the same for all other former customers of Zidware.

September 14th, 2017

It is discovered on deeproot’s website that John Popadiuk is part of their team with the title Lead Game Development.  Confidential terms of the settlement are leaked to podcasters and others in the pinball community.  A thread is started on to inform many in the pinball community that JPop has resurfaced and is working with deeproot Pinball.  Notably, Jeremy Packer (aka Zombie Yeti) makes a post which includes: “I have been asked to sign over all copyrights free and clear as if I was fully compensated. I simply refuse.”  Podcasters released podcasts with harsh criticism of deeproot.  All of this, of course, caused severe negative reaction to deeproot since John Popadiuk still owed many Zidware customers refunds or machines.

September 18th, 2017

This Week in Pinball speaks to Robert Mueller, the man behind deeproot Tech, and posts “A Conversation with Deeproot“.

Robert shares:

  • deeproot plans to make Zidware customers whole
  • Robert: “Jpop is someone who needs to be managed”
  • deeproot does not plan to take any pre-order money or deposits for their machines deeproot may change the title or tweak the layout of John’s already designed games
  • Robert believes he can build machines in a different and better way than other current manufacturers
  • deeproot hopes to make a public announcement in the coming weeks, then go dark for a long time until everything is ready

October 13th, 2017

deeproot retracts its settlement offer to the Plaintiffs. 

October 21st, 2017

Robert Mueller and Jeremy Packer (Zombie Yeti) speak for the first time.  Jeremy verbally agrees to sign over the rights to the games in exchange for undisclosed consideration.

What is Happening Now

  • The deeproot web page launches TODAY (see below).
  • Zidware and deeproot are attempting to settle claims with American Pinball.
  • John Popadiuk’s title has been changed from Lead Game Developer to Game Designer.
  • deeproot started their AV Department with a Visualization Artist.
  • In addition to the two current job listings, in the coming months deeproot also plans to hire:
  • At least three new Mechanical Techs
  • Another Game Designer or two
  • A Scenarist (AV Dept)
  • A Sound Engineer (AV Dept)
  • Two Graphic Artists (AV Dept) or Animators
  • deeproot plans to contract out their Illustrators.

As of today, the deeproot web page is now public:

It includes the background of their pinball division, Goodwill Terms for non-Plaintiff Claimants, details of the attempted settlement between deeproot and the Plaintiffs of the lawsuit against Zidware, and over twenty FAQs.


This Week in Pinball:  Hiring John Popadiuk meant deeproot would either have to attempt to help the Zidware customers or face backlash from some in the pinball community.  Why start in pinball with that burden, why not go with a different designer?

deeproot: Other established pinball manufacturers had the opportunity to make the Zidware customers whole but declined. deeproot is about doing things thought to be impossible.  deeproot will prove that it is possible to do impossible things, even in pinball.  We did try to work with multiple designers.  It is often overlooked that most of the designers (past or present) have been retained by other pinball companies.

TWIP:  Which other designers did you try to work with, and why didn’t those situations work out?

deeproot: I appreciate the follow up question but I have to honor confidential negotiations. I also have to respect requests that some of these guys could get fired if it became public.

TWIP: Were you surprised by the backlash of hiring JPop?

deeproot: No.

TWIP:  If you could go back, would you still choose to work with JPop instead of a different designer?

deeproot: John Popadiuk was the right decision at the right time.  It would have been nice to have had a little better luck with timing and PR, but it doesn’t change the decision being the right one.

TWIP:  Were there any considerations to hire a designer that was not established or did not have previous experience designing pinball machines?

deeproot: Yes. For example, we reached out to Scott Danesi not realizing he had already signed on with Spooky. Most of the newer designers aren’t real established and it is hard to determine their ability to fit into a ‘structured R&D’ process or what their long term performance might be.  We are hoping our job posting will encourage some newer blood with limited design experience to step up.

TWIP: Why was John’s title changed? Was he demoted?

deeproot: John was not demoted.  With John still residing in Illinois, it quickly became clear that we needed a full time in house designer to tackle the work load while John is between his visits.

TWIP: Why were the settlement terms with the Plaintiffs in the lawsuit retracted?

deeproot:  We addressed the reasons why the settlement failed on the website.

TWIP: What is the current situation in the lawsuit against John Popadiuk and Zidware?

deeproot: The Plaintiffs chose to continue to pursue litigation rather than accept deeproot’s reasonable settlement terms.

TWIP: Is there any chance of a settlement with the Plaintiffs at this point?

deeproot: The Plaintiffs had the power to accept or refuse the offer. If given a second chance, we do not know what they would choose.

TWIP: Similar settlement terms would still apply to Zidware customers that were NOT involved in the lawsuit though, correct?

deeproot: That is the objective, but we don’t know how many actually want to be made whole.

TWIP: Why do you think some may not want to be made whole?

deeproot: We have been contacted by more people interested in buying the machines than are Zidware customers. We are not confident about how many of the Zidware customers will actually file a claim or not.

TWIP: Has Jeremy Packer (Zombie Yeti) been paid in full for his work with Zidware? Is he owed a Magic Girl game?

deeproot: Jeremy and I agreed to not discuss these issues in public while the negotiations were ongoing.

TWIP: Has pinsider Applejuice been paid in full for his work with Zidware? Is he owed a Magic Girl game?

deeproot: We have not heard from Applejuice.  According to Zidware records that we have seen, Applejuice was paid over $100k, and has been in material breach of several terms of his agreement with Zidware for some time.

TWIP: In breach of what terms of his agreement with Zidware?

deeproot: At this point it is up to Zidware to enforce its own contract with this vendor. We will address this situation in the appropriate manner if this vendor continues to be defamatory or Zidware’s contractual rights are transferred to us.

TWIP: When we spoke in September, you said your first priority with deeproot was to “take care” of Zidware customers.  Can you give an update on these plans?

deeproot: The plans have been in place since June-July.  The reasons for the delay in announcing the plans were to give time to reach agreements with Jeremy, American Pinball, and the Plaintiffs.  We felt that it is the right time to release the plans, but will wait for those agreements to be resolved before taking claims.

TWIP: Is there a general time frame for when agreements will be met with Jeremy, American Pinball, and the Plaintiffs?

deeproot: I think these parties would be better able to answer that question. We have tried to be reasonable, but the ball is ultimately in their court.

TWIP: What claims still need to be settled with American Pinball?

deeproot: The arrangements between Zidware and American Pinball were a convoluted mess. To our knowledge, only a few people really know what happened.  Zidware and deeproot have both attempted to reach a settlement with American Pinball for months.  Dhaval has refused to negotiate or has stonewalled an amicable resolution.  We are discussing with our counsel how best to proceed.

TWIP: What options are on the table?

deeproot: In the many years I worked as an attorney, I found it hard to reason or negotiate with people who don’t know what they don’t know. According to Dhaval, their attorney has been looking at our proposed documents for three months now.  We would prefer they sign the reasonable docs and go about their business selling Houdini’s to their hearts content without a disruption of their business with injunctive action.

TWIP: Is it possible that deeproot could delay Houdini manufacturing?

deeproot: We wish American Pinball the best in their pinball efforts. However unresolved legal issues they helped create need to be addressed and resolved. Right now their arguments have no apparent contractual or legal basis.  They put themselves in this position and have the power to take themselves out of it.  There is little to nothing they can blame John for, though I’m sure they will try.

TWIP: It appears that deeproot is involved in many different ventures. Why choose pinball as a new venture?

deeproot: We wanted to do something in the tech arena, and pinball was a passion that made sense.  Plus we figured we could be a fresh voice of reason in a small, very dysfunctional industry.

TWIP: Why do you describe the pinball industry as dysfunctional?

deeproot: There is ample evidence of the amount of drama that this industry experienced over recent years. It is hard to believe that any current participant in this industry would be able to thrive in a more mature or competitive industry. I’ve built businesses and competed in multiple industries much more crowded and cutthroat than the pinball industry.  That’s what makes doing pinball so easy for us.

TWIP: Do you have the capability, expertise, experience, and financial resources to manufacture pinball machines in large quantities?

deeproot: Sure. Why not?

TWIP:  I ask this question because, as you know, in the last few years, this community has had several start up pinball companies not delivered what was promised, and several other startups that are having significant struggles in trying to manufacture pinball machines.  It seems like nearly every company that has started since 2011 has had significant hurdles, significant delays, and in many cases had to be bailed out by bringing in additional investors.  What makes deeproot different from the other startups?

deeproot:  Unlike everyone else in the industry who shows off something shiny and then does the immediate take away, we simply are not going to tell everyone what we’re doing.  When the masterpiece is ready, we will unveil it for everyone to enjoy. It is hard to believe that we (who arguably have more capitalization then all the other pinball participants combined and having accomplished the impossible in other industries) would not be able to find a way to do something as easy as pinball.

TWIP: That is twice you’ve said pinball is “easy”. Do you think manufacturing pinball machines will be easy?

deeproot: I’ll let people decide for themselves when they can see what we’ve done.

TWIP: Do you think deeproot can be the largest pinball manufacturer at some point in the future?

deeproot: That would infer that we intend to compete as the market currently dictates. We think our end product will speak for itself.

TWIP: What do you mean when you refer to “the masterpiece”?

deeproot: Our technology, standards, and products at launch.

TWIP:  Do you still plan to not take ANY preorder money from customers?

deeproot: I think we were very clear that that will never happen.

TWIP: In our previous conversation you mentioned deeproot would manufacture pinball machines “in a different way” than anyone. How so?

deeproot: Unfortunately this will be something that will make the most sense when we launch…

TWIP:  Looking at the Goodwill Terms on the new web page – will new deeproot pinball machines cost less than $5,000?

deeproot: Each of the major pinball manufacturers have a different cost/profit/quality profile.  We will have our own as well. We will weigh the retail price of each machine based on its own profile. The market will have a strong influence on determining retail prices as well.

TWIP: Do you plan for the quality and depth of the machines to be similar to, for example, a Stern Pinball machine, Spooky Pinball machine, or Jersey Jack Pinball machine?

deeproot: We intend for our final games to be better quality than what currently exists, more profitably made.  We will not be selling more than one model for each title which will simplify a lot of things behind the scenes.

TWIP:  Better quality machines than any other current manufacturers, including Stern and Jersey Jack?

deeproot: Quality is subjective. People typically don’t judge a Ferrari by the gas cap it uses. It’s equally difficult to judge a pinball manufacturer by a particular title. Or a range of titles. Each manufacturer will have its own style and product profile. While some people might currently think that JJP is better quality than Stern, it wasn’t always the case. Our view is this… what’s the point of making a Ferrari with Ferrari prices and Ferrari costs. Ferrari already does that. We would love to make a Ferrari with KIA prices and KIA costs. No offense to Ferrari or KIA in this example. At the end of the day it would be hard to imagine any existing pinball manufacturer able to compete with us on the deeproot perfect blend of product line, price, costs, and quality.

TWIP: So going with the car analogy, you’re planning to make Ferrari-quality machines, and sell them at a discount “KIA” cost? That seems unrealistic, how would that be possible?

deeproot: Two responses. First, I was using the example as an analogy or metaphor (take your pick) to the current pinball industry players. Second, it is easy for the pessimists to dismiss this as aspirational silly talk.  We are ok with this. We aren’t holding our breath for apologies when we prove the pessimists wrong.

TWIP: Who is your target market for deeproot pinball machines?

deeproot: We think our goal is to epitomize our company motto, “Every family needs a pinball, every pinball needs a family”.

TWIP:  Does that mean everyone will be the target market, from hardcore pinheads to very casual pinball fans?

deeproot: Even that is too restrictive.

TWIP: What does that mean – are you looking at creating a “new” market?

deeproot: People will understand this more in time after the 5 days of deeproot.

TWIP: What is the 5 days of deeproot?

deeproot: 🙂

TWIP: Is deeproot looking to be a type of “disruptor” in the pinball industry, similar to Uber in the automotive transportation industry?

deeproot: We don’t like the fad, overused ‘disrupt’ determiner.  We intend to launch with the “5 days of deeproot” when everything is ready to go.  We will leave it to the market whether to regard our entrance into the pinball industry as a “disruption”, “revolution”, or something else.

TWIP: If you settle with American Pinball and secure rights for the artwork from Zombie Yeti, do you plan to produce Magic Girl, Retro Atomic Zombie Adventureland, and Alice in Wonderland?

deeproot: That would make sense. I personally think all three of these titles are amazing and should be enjoyed by people all over the world.

TWIP: Can you share anything about any other titles or licenses you are pursuing?

deeproot:  No. For many reasons we’re not going to discuss titles prior to launch.

TWIP: As part of the Goodwill Terms on the web page, you state “deeproot Tech will deliver elected game(s) no later than June 30, 2019″.  Is that when we can expect to see a deeproot pinball machine for sale?

deeproot: When the masterpiece is ready, we will let everyone know. By the very terms, that would be the latest date permitted.