Pinball Makers See a Comeback in the Making

The arcade as we once knew it is dead, but pinball is making a comeback--at least according to the companies who make the machines.

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Daniel Munoz / Reuters

The arcade as we once knew it is dead, but pinball is making a comeback–at least according to the companies who make the machines.

The BBC’s Paul Rubens reports:

Gary Stern, president of Stern Pinball – the only company that has been manufacturing pinball machines continuously over the last decade – confirms the trend.

“We’ve seen sales up by 30% in the last year, so there is absolutely a resurgence in interest,” he says.

Now Stern has competition from a few newcomers. Andrew Heighway, managing director for U.K.-based Heighway Pinball, says pinball smartphone apps and console games have sparked interest in the real thing.

The article notes that prices on used machines have shot up lately as well, and cites a U.K. pinball repair man who says business is booming.

I do wonder who’s buying the new machines. It’s not really a comeback unless pinball starts becoming a mainstay in bars and casual restaurants. As for home use, going from a $1 smartphone app to a $5,000 machine is a pretty big leap for most people. But even if  pinball isn’t in the midst of a full-blown resurgence, “not in danger of extinction” is still good enough for me.

Flipping heck: Is pinball about to stage a recovery? [BBC News]

4 comments
ntropiano
ntropiano

Pinball is a great game --- I actually consider it a precision sport like darts, but more fun and enjoyable (to me anyway).  A 30% sales increase for Stern is phenomenal.  It's also nice to see new manufactures making pins, such as Jersey Jack.  I think the reason for the increase is two fold.  Pinball gave way to video games in the 80's.  Video games were something new at the time --- pinball seemed archaic compared to these new "computer games".  Then home game systems killed off  arcade video games.  Now things have gone full circle and pinball, a "real" physical, non-digital game is fresh and new again --- digital is becoming somewhat passe. Additionally, Farsight Studio's Pinball Arcade --- which makes (near perfect) digital recreations of classic tables, has sold very well on a variety of game systems, Android and Apple phones and tablets.  Those I know who enjoy the Farsigh digital recreations of - say, "Monster Bash" (asone example) are very curious to play the actual tables.  Locally, there is an arcade that has dozens of tables.  It's packed evey time I go.  I don't know that a table at a bar will get much play, but I think that there is definitely a market for any number of "destination point" arcades that specialize in pinball.    

LorienGreen
LorienGreen

I have felt there was a pinball resurgence happening for the past 6 months (it's been going on longer than that, but that's when I joined in).  I posted my list of evidence here: http://keepingmycool.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-case-for-pinball-resurgence.html

The biggest barrier to seeing pins in public spaces is intimidating licensing logistics that deter the home owner/enthusiast from putting their machines out on location.  Believe me, many want to, and it would provide the public with machines in great condition (also critical).  Even with that barrier, more and more barcades and pinball venues ARE opening up.

There is simply nothing that compares to playing a well maintained machine.  It's a joy to experience.

jonnynacho
jonnynacho

@LorienGreen I run pinball tournaments in the SF Bay Area (pinballbayarea.com).  I can say with certainty having dealt with several operators in planning tournaments that licensing isn't the issue.  Also, like la_pinball, I have several friends who route their games.  

Pinball games are maintenance-heavy and in most cases they simply don't earn well.  Operators can make much more with low maintenance items like jukeboxes.   In certain pockets around the country, pinball has grown into its own little sub-culture and some venues earn well with pins. Portland is the best known example.  

The growth in sales is probably due in part to sales to operators, but a lot of the increase is because the home collector market has exploded.  I own two games but several of my friends, who are Gen-X'ers, have 10+ games.  Gen-X is now old enough to afford a home, college debt paid off, etc. and we were the last generation to experience the arcade.  At the same time, baby boomers are retiring in droves and they lived through the Tommy days of pinball.  They're also getting in to the hobby more than ever.  

la_pinball
la_pinball

@LorienGreen That's interesting, Lorien. I know a bunch of folks who've put machines on route, and I don't think they've known that there are licensing logistics. They just put them on route. I feel like the biggest (known) logistical problems relate to maintenance.