Date: 16th March, 2020 - updated 21st March, 2020

Is 2020 going to be the year that wasn’t?

The Coronavirus is sweeping around the globe causing hundreds of deaths and paralysis of normal society. Towns, cities, even entire countries are in lock-down, transportation is slashed or cancelled and gatherings of any size are either strongly discouraged or outlawed.

In the face of all this, it’s no surprise pinball events have been hard hit. While many big shows held on to the hope they would be able to go ahead despite the oncoming storm, nearly all have succumbed to the viral tidal wave and had to hit the off switch.

Pinball hits the off switch

The Texas Pinball Festival at the end of March was due to be the launchpad for several companies’ new releases. Deeproot Pinball were due to have their public launch of their Retro Atomic Zombie Adventureland game in Frisco in a week’s time. Chicago Gaming were expected to reveal their next remake title. Multimorphic were due to unveil their next P3 release. American Pinball were due to show their new Hot Wheels game. Spooky Pinball were scheduled to have their new Rick and Morty game for visitors to play.

Last weekend the Texas Pinball Festival (TPF) organisers, Ed and Kim Vanderveen and Paul McKinney bowed to the inevitable and called off the show. Vendors and attendees had gradually dropped out as guest and speaker worries about viral transmission and a Presidential ban on overseas visitors meant it was no longer viable.

The previous weekend’s Arcade Expo 6.0 at the Museum of Pinball in Banning, California was also called off just a few days before the first visitors were due to arrive.

The Midwest Gaming Classic was scheduled for the weekend following TPF, but it only took a few more days after the Texas show was cancelled before MGC show organiser Dan Loosen was also forced to call off this year’s show.

Stern Pinball were expected to reveal their next title – widely expected to be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – at the MGC, while it would also have presented the opportunity for those who didn’t make it to TPF to see and play all the new game reveals as well as experience the wider gaming community.

Those shows – along with many other events – now have to pick up the pieces of a year’s planning which not only led to nothing but left the organisers with stacks of merchandise, along with vendor stands and advance ticket sales to refund. That’s not counting their contracts with the venues and affiliated hotels. Some might be partially-covered by event insurance. Not all were though.

Deeproot Pinball were due to have a big press launch event just prior to the Texas Pinball Festival. This too has been cancelled with invitees either unable to attend or unwilling to travel. Deeproot Pinball may launch their RAZA game online instead, or may defer launch to a more suitable time.

These were one-off or annual events, but there are plenty of year-round pinball museums, exhibits, leagues and tournaments which have been forced to close their doors to paying guests.

Pinball PA, the Olympia Pinball Museum, the Seattle Pinball Museum and the Pacific Pinball Museum have all announced their closure with immediate effect until the Coronavirus storm has blown through. The Dutch Pinball Museum has done likewise, so have many pinball clubs across Europe and North America.

Numerous arcades and barcades such as Cidercade in Dallas have closed, while in Seattle all bars and arcades are to close from tomorrow. In Italy all social gatherings are banned, as they are in several other countries. France, Spain and Germany are the latest to adopt such stringent measures.

In recognition of the potential harm which could come from pinball gatherings, the IFPA has suspended its sanctioning of pinball tournaments and leagues worldwide. No more WPPR points will be awarded and no results can be submitted for the indefinite future.

Germany has already cancelled numerous tournaments. The IFPA Pinball Olympics at Bulls & Balls and Pinball Universe’s PU-Battle have been cancelled. In the Netherlands, the Dutch Pinball Masters has been cancelled at the NFV Clubhouse, while in the UK Flip Out London and Special When Lit pinball clubs are shut.

In every one of these cases, the income stops when they close but the outgoings don’t. Staff may be laid off, but the rent, business taxes, electricity, insurance and licence fees are relentless. For some businesses, the off switch might never be switched back on. The effects of the great Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 will almost certainly extend beyond the devastating human casualties before it starts to subside.

Some of the many pinball event cancellation or closure notices
Some of the many pinball event cancellation or closure notices

So, what can we do to help?

In some cases, advance-purchase tickets can be rolled forward to next year’s show – an option which alleviates some of the financial pain for the organiser and helps to ensure the show can continue. In others, some of the 2020 show merchandise – T-shirts, swag bags, posters, etc. – can be purchased. Again, this is a huge boost to the show’s finances and could mean the difference between survival and collapse. Check the individual shows’ website links in this article for details of how you can help.

Free Play in Texas are struggling with the closure of their four locations. They, like many other arcades, barcades and museums are asking supporters to buy gift cards or branded merchandise to provide some income while their doors are shut.

While it’s crucial for the sake of our loved ones, friends and communities not to do anything which might cause the Coronavirus to spread, it’s also important those pinball-related events and businesses which are suffering – as well as those who run them – have our support to make it through these tough times.

Please comment below about any other pinball locations being impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic so fellow readers can help support them through these tough times.

UPDATE – 21st March, 2020

From today at 5pm local time, the Governor of Illinois has effected a mandatory ‘stay at home’ order, closing all but essential businesses. With Stern Pinball, American Pinball, Chicago Gaming and now Jersey Jack Pinball all having their manufacturing in the state, no new games from these companies will be built for the immediate future.

Design and management staff are still able to work from home developing game designs, software, graphics and sounds, but the production lines will be silent and the factory doors locked.

Not that keeping their manufacturing base in New Jersey would have helped Jersey Jack Pinball. The Governor there is expected to close all non-essential businesses later today. The same has already happened in Nevada, with the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas closed since end-of-business on Monday.

Deeproot Pinball have postponed their planned launch event, originally scheduled for this coming week. After scaling it back and then moving to an on-line only launch, the entire event was then postponed indefinitely with the intention to keep it online when it does take place.

Although Spooky Pinball are based in Wisconsin, they have several employees who live in Illinois and so cannot travel. Also, their main parts supplier is Pinball Life, also in Illinois, so getting any new stock they need is likely to be problematic over the coming weeks and months.

Elsewhere in the US, restrictions on movement or gatherings are much more diverse. California has already instituted a lock-down, banning all non-essential travel. New York is doing the same from Sunday evening, with Connecticut and Oregon planning to do the same. This effectively closes the three largest US cities, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Around the world pinball arcades, barcades and museums are closing, while shows and tournaments are being either postponed or cancelled altogether for 2020. Some events are hopeful they can merely delay until later in the year, while others have pulled the plug on their 2020 plans and started working on 2021’s show instead.

Check our Diary page for updates on which shows and events are still planning to go ahead and which have been either postponed or cancelled. We are updating it regularly as announcements are made.

If not issued automatically, refunds are usually available for those shows which have been postponed, although many organisers have asked that ticket-holders hold on to their pre-purchases if at all possible to help fund the re-scheduled event.

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