This article was written in 2006.
This time Pinball News hands over the keyboard to prolific contributor Todd Andersen to give his view on the state of pinball today and how we got here.
During the 1930s through the 1940s, at least a dozen manufactures were making the predecessor to the modern pinball machine. Companies such as: ABT, Gottlieb, and Stoner Mfg. were churning out less complex pinball machines than the modern technical marvels. Game manufacturers move out of their homes and into small (what was now becoming pinball) shops. Though many and various shops were located across the country, many of these companies were located near what is now named “Chicagoland” - the area around Chicago, IL, USA. These pinball companies used innovative toys and colorful art to attract perspective players to their machines. Just one year after battery power was first utilized to operate the simple lights and toys of the first set of more complex games, the games were wired so that they could be plugged into a standard wall outlet. In conjunction, the price for playing one of these more colorful and entertaining machines increased. This was the first golden age for pinball.
During WWII in 1942, the need for raw material, supplies and men to fight the war took parts and staff away from many early pinball manufacturers. Consequently, many of these companies ceased to exist. The people left on the home front hadn't the time or money to play pinball. Because of these factors, this time period marked one of the first downturns of pinball.
The last down turn happened to pinball when, in the middle 1970s, the technology making the games work changed from electromechanical (relays, motors, and advance units) to solid-state devices (transistors, SCRs, and computer chips). The repair force for pinball knew how to troubleshoot relays and ladder logic. But, that same work force did not know how to troubleshoot transistors and Boolean logic. Currently, anyone with the skill set to work on electronic circuits can make more money in other fields; with the benefit of not having to be out working in old, dimly lit, smoky bars. Those with electronic skills can work in new, clean, bright manufacturing plants.
With its first game of 2006, World Poker Tour, the only current pinball manufacturer has again recently changed the technology that makes the games function. This time the S.A.M. system is a change from through-mount electronics to surface-mount electronics. Again, the change in operating hardware is sufficient enough to cause a technological gap between those who manufacture the machines and those who repair them. This final change may be the last nail in pinball's coffin.
Two - “Toys”
Another misconception is that pinball machines are everywhere. This is nostalgia talking. See for yourself. Try to find a pinball game in your local: arcade, coffee shop, drug store, or restaurant. There are actually few coin-op arcades currently in existence. And news of yet another arcade closing seems too familiar on the pinball news group, RGP. One happy exception is SS Billiards. But, it is the great efforts of the owner, not the customers, which keep this small suburban arcade open.
From Andrew Smith:
I've just read Todd Andersons piece on Pinball News. Pinball isn't taking its last breath. Technology moves on so new Pinball machines will have new technology. This technology is also cheaper to make than the old stuff and will permit things like bopard changes for quick fixes. Less down time and easier to repair means that it will be more attractive to operators.
From Brett Barry:
The article was a little simplistic. Pinball future has a lot to do with the home environment, and I saw no mention of that idea. More and more people are putting pinball in their gamerooms, and I just had a client last week stop by home and he loved my games. Today he called me and said that HE now plans to buy a pin instead of the pool table he was originally thinking of.
This, in a nutshell, is a big part of the future of pinball. Word of mouth from enthusiasts, and young kids who have never even seen a game before who's eyes light up when they see their fisrt game. That sense of wonderment, when some of us older pinheads first layed eyes on a game, still exists.
Hats off to Gary Stern, and people like Jack G. from pinaballsales.com who are pushing the home gaming envelope. Pinball isn't taking it's last breath, its just taking a deep breath...
From Bret Malone:
WOW! Thanks for the postive outlook on the future.
But of course, we do still have Stern over here, which, alas, is about to out sell both LOTR as well as the Simpsons games compared to Willimas last gasp at air like CC and CV.
I simply have zero idea why you would both print such an article like this one unless you were short on info or breaking news! True, arcades arent what they once were, but the HUO market has expolded. I think in the future it would both benefit yourself as well as the Hobby and business overall to not pen such a very daft and stupid article on the future death of pinball.
Wise words: "Dont bite the hand that feeds you!" Sad article, very, very sad, and not worthy of your fine website!!!!!
From Steve Cooper:
Some of the replies you have from the article are quite funny!
These people are clearly home only pin heads! They just don't understand that pinball is a game made for operation to make money from! And if operators don't buy them, then Gary Stern can't make enough money to survive! I really can not see the home market being able to hold up pinball factorys! can you? Second hand pinball sales (over here anyway) have slowed down for the home owner!
Because there were so many dot matrix pins made in the '90s, then there are lots to keep the second hand home market going for a while yet! But the real future is mabee not that great!
I know alot of other operators here in Australia and only two including myself buy brand new pins, if any at all. They operate video product that, lets face it generates more money (on the overall average) then pins!. Don't get me wrong I love pinnys, that's what lured me into a being an operator 13 years ago. But to be real I think pins really need to go to another level to go any futher. What more can they do with a pinny?
This Ultrapin will be a very big test of the state of pinball mate, I really believe that! I know a lot of operators that are very keen on the sound of it! VERY KEEN! So that said lets see what happens!
Anyway you are doing a great job on this site and it is clearly not for financal gain so I can't see how you are biting any hands!!
The good old pinnys will always be around(they made 'em pretty darn good, to last) so let's not all get too upset and chill out a bit mate, life is too short to stress out about pinny's!!!
From Graham O'Connor:
I am 38 yrs old and have been playing arcade games for not only longer than I can remember, but also have owned quite a few for some years now (ranging from 1957 to 1990's). I still enjoy playing them all as much as i first did, when just a kid in a small rural town at the local cafe.
Over the more recent years with their now being only one manufacturer left, the hype about their value (collectabillity) by some people around has amazed me. I am sure a lot of us will remember when you could have bought a kizz out of your back pocket.
Although I see the home market going strong (still reasonable, have a look on ebay), I agree that this will not help Stern to stay afloat as it does not put money in theirs or operators pockets. I do have some machines sited and as much as it pains me to say this, a good arcade machine has no peer!
As to the current generation coming through. One thing that does give me a great deal of pleasure when we have friends come over is watching teens actually be shown how they really play and getting hooked, albeit for free. I too am hoping that the Ultrapin can help to lift the interest of this great pastime that has allowed us all to dream at one time or another of immortality with that high score never to be beaten!!
Bring on the next evolution.
From Lincoln Whisler:
The issue of how to breath live into pinball seems to come down to demand. Home use owners will be a factor, but for pinball to gain demand, machines need to be in front of the public.. and they need to be well cared for.
The mechanical beauty that is a pinball machine
one thing you cannot create on a home video game machine. It
done. You can simulate it, but thats it. And I'm not saying I'm not
interested in seeing ultrapin or other simulations of it, I just
money and commitment to care and keep a machine in tip top operation.
Arcades killed themselves by holding on to tightly to those money
video games, they let the console steal the day, and while they
the numbers go down they also let pinball go with it. Bowling
billiard rooms offered something you cant get at home for pennies
physical experience. Pool and bowling are the physical
The Pin manufacturers would be wise to find a way to get more machines in front of people at those locations (lease options, trade ins?) grow the demand back.
a classic arcade with some partners, we charge a flat fee to get
in and play
unlimited video games and pinball for a quarter, the pins continue
If pinball fans are the only people buying pinball machines, we will be in trouble. Ask the manager at your local hang out to get a new pin, and those of you that know how, buy and old pin and put it into service. If we dont ask for Pinball and grow the demand for pinball, it will die.
Lucky for us, it's an easy thing to grow.
From Doug Redfarn:
For me, Pinball has simply reduced down to a hard core centre where it can still flourish. When you look at the many sites selling reproduction parts & spares, etc that tells you that the Pintable is still live and kicking.
From Kyle Wren:
I really enjoyed Todd's article on the history of pinball, and his thoughts on its future (or lack of). The fact is a bunch of collectors like me buying, selling, and trading 5 to 15 year old machines back and forth does not make much of a thriving industry. We may somewhat be propping up Stern sales, but until there is widespread acceptance of a whole bunch of collectors to drop more than 4k for all the newest models off the line I have a bad feeling for the future.
From Bob Golby:
I read the article and was somewhat bemused I must say.
© Pinball News 2006