This article was written in 2004
For business confidentiality reasons the operator has chosen to remain anonymous.
OK, Pinball News has given me the chance to tell you the way it is for operators right now. Perhaps this only applies to the UK or perhaps it's the way things are across the whole operator world but these are my opinions as an operator and you should take them or leave them on that basis. I hear Stern are building a new operating system so this goes out to them too.
First of all, pinball is a really bad game to operate. Not just now - it has been for many years but it is still profitable - just! But us operators have to make the effort to clean and maintain their games. Players will find the good locations and they will play the games, but we have to build a good reputation and maintain it.
But the best games to operate are not new games - they're late 90s Williams Bally games. You can pick them up for half the price of a new game and they earn at least as much and have a proven track record. Buy a new Stern game and it's a gamble whether you'll end up with a Simpsons Pinball Party or a Ripley's. Lord of the Rings did well too but nobody knows about Ripley's nor do they care about Nascar. If you're betting the farm on a license, it had better be a good one. Attack From Mars and Medieval Madness were - and continue to be - excellent earners and where's the license there? That's got to be a big problem for Stern. Their only solution is to build better games and make some kind of technological leap not seen for 14 years. Big displays wasn't the answer. Pinball 2000 could have done it but Star Wars wasn't good enough and Williams pulled the plug so we're back in 1991.
No, a great game is not necessarily one with hundreds of modes or thousands of shots, it is ultimately one that earns well. If it earns, it sells. That's always been the way for operators.
So obviously the question is, what earns?
As I said before, pinball is intrinsically a bad earner. It costs way too much to maintain and offers almost nothing to help the operator promote the game. Here's an example. When a player walks up to the game, what do they want to know? Answer: the price, the scores to beat and the number of credits left? What they do *not* want to know is who did the wiring loom, what sound system is installed and whether to take drugs or not!
That display is a valuable piece of real estate and it's not exploited at the moment.
So first of all, always show the number of credits on the display.
Also, show the price. Make the text operator adjustable. Show it always. Putting too much information in different places on the game is suicide. No-one reads rule cards or pricing cards unless they can't find the information elsewhere and by then they've probably walked away.
A license on a game has to work for the operator. Stop giving us themes nobody's ever heard off. We are the ones paying the licensor and we don't know what for. Look what the rest of the games industry is doing. Can you really imagine an Elvis video game doing well? An Elvis pinball may sell well to the home market but it won't do anything in a bar or arcade where you can't hear it. If we put a poor performer in a street location the owner will tell us to take it away and don't come back.
Next, make it easier for operators to run tournaments. Not through some $300 add-on but put it right there in the software and on the main display. Pinball needs all the help it can get and charging operators several hundred dollars per machine just to do that is crazy. There's just not the money to support it. I ran a tournament recently and it's a nightmare keeping track of who won and came second and so on. Stern's tournament system would probably help but pinball isn't earning enough to support that extra purchase. Put it in the game and try to boost game sales, not sales of an extra display most people won't even notice.
Next, bring back the six player game. Or more. In some locations groups want to play the game but they are restricted to four player games. That's losing money for the operator for no good reason. It's just laziness on the software side.
Finally, help us operators. Stop designing games with ludicrous layouts where there is no chance to clean large areas of the playfield without taking the game off site. This is not rocket science folks. Balls hit onto ramps push down and away from the flippers. Design a locking mechanism for ramps and upper playfields like the apron which - with the removal of a couple of screws - slides forwards and up to allow access for cleaning and bulb/switch replacement.
None of these ideas cost much money but they are the things to keep operators interested in pinball despite falling earnings.
OK, that's enough ranting from me. Pinball will only survive if operators like me continue to buy and put games on location. Fewer and fewer ops are willing to invest the time and effort to make pinball pay, so help us out or get used to selling games through QVC.
From: Dave Hegge
I was glad to hear that an operator actually cares about pinball.
It seems to me that pinball are a big hassle for them to maintain. I think a lot of locations that have them, it is that the location wants a pinball and the operator puts one there just to keep them happy.
Also, I do not think there are a lot of techs that know how to do a lot to them. How many times do you go somewhere and the flippers are weak, not angled properly, an important switch is out, and important lamps are out. Try making a ramp shot on a lot of the games from the last 10 years with a flipper with 80% of its power.
Someone commented to me that video games allowed operators and techs to get lazy. Just empty them out and clean the screen(optional), and they make a lot more money. Plus at a location(bar etc), if there is a problem with a game who do you tell?
A big percentage of the people that work at the locations will have not idea what you are talking about! Just my opinions!
Reply from The Operator:
You got that right Dave. For many locations, pinball is a loss leader but we've been picking up a few contracts where other operators refuse to supply pinballs despite the location's requests. In effect, we're sub-contractors.
We not only maintain or games but we pre-empt problems, replacing worn looking parts before they fail or at least getting the spares ready and inside the game.
But don't kid yourself, videos are just as bad as pinballs and in some ways even worse. Kids can play videos at home on their consoles. That's as many games as you want, in a safe environment on a big screen for a one-off price. Arcades can only compete on choice and low sample game prices. At least with pinball, a half decent game costs far more than most people can afford, so arcade play is the only option.
As for getting the lazy operators to do something about fixing game, try this. If you're going out to play a game, take a small pre-printed form with you and a pen so you can note the problems and either give it to the cash desk person or place it on the glass. I found a game like this and it made diagnosis much easier.
Hey, Pinball Gary here in Pinellas County, Florida, replying to the letter writer in the
He is right in many ways. Especially about how dot matrix customers want to read what
I operate pins for many operators here because they do not want anything to do with them. Very much mostly WMS pieces. Not that Stern break more or anything but WMS have more legs as we call it down here, and what about that sound quality from Stern? I was thinking Elvis would rock but still tin can sound.
I shop my pieces to the hilt at the shop. New white rubbers, end-of-stroke switches, sleeves etc and put them out on the route. I have a couple of spares of course. We clean glass on every collection and wax the playfield on location.
Rotation is important to me - every 7 to 9 wks. Some locations require easier pieces like Jackbot or Cyclone, these games still do very well in smaller bars where they like, its hard to say, slower games? Newer, complicated pieces like Champion Pub go to other areas.
My top earner still out there today???????? Elvira, Scared Stiff! There's an incredible following for this game.
Thanks for listening,
© Pinball News 2004