Date: 24th April, 2021

Back in 2011, there was consternation amongst those who fix pinball machines at the loss of a valuable source of repair information. The website (a.k.a. Clay’s Guides or Marvin3M) was the go-to place for repair and restoration guides, but large sections of it covering the most popular systems were removed from public access in April of that year.

Soon after, the PinWiki website was launched not just to fill the void but also to provide detailed crowd-sourced, peer-reviewed information about how different manufacturers’ games operate and to offer repair tips gleaned by professionals and enthusiasts who regularly fix machines.

PinWiki was the brainchild of Casey Gardner, and when the site launched Pinball News carried an in-depth report on ethos behind it along with the aims and ambitions for growing both the level of detail and the scope of manufacturers’ systems covered.

The Pinball News article from ten years ago
The Pinball News article from ten years ago

As PinWiki completes its first decade, Pinball News looks at how the site has developed in the face of increased demand for repair help, the advances in technology and a seemingly never-ending growth in the number of pinball manufacturers, each with their own unique components and control systems.

We asked Casey why he started PinWiki at a time when there was so much negativity and hostility towards repair websites in the online pinball community.

Casey Gardner
Casey Gardner

He told us, “There were a lot of mean things being said and disagreements between people in the community, which at the time was mainly on Rec.Games.Pinball. I wanted to refocus the energy of the community to a more positive one, towards an effort that addressed the complaints at the time. About 6-8 months prior to all of this I had already had the idea of wanting to launch a wiki format central website about pinball information, but it was more of a fantasy of mine at the time than a plan to do anything. When all of this went down I immediately stepped into action and within 8 hours had the website active, and from there begun promoting it.

Although the wiki format was well-known as a means of collating collaborative contributions thanks to sites such as Wikipedia, it was still a new concept for pinball resources. Online discussion forums such as Rec.Games.Pinball and, more recently, Pinside have promoted a more personal and direct question-and-answer solution to pinball repair problems.

Is a wiki format, which relies on contributors writing articles and users proactively searching them to find the relevant information, the best way to access repair information?

Casey thinks using a Wiki format has a number of advantages. He said, “The world has seen that wiki can be a proven method to gather a mass of information in one place when implemented correctly. No single person has all the repair knowledge to write it all themselves. Some of our contributors focus on clean up or formatting details, or finding holes
of information to fill. The information on PinWiki was able to fill in quickly due to the support of many in the community contributing their specialties. I was also already familiar with MediaWiki and assisting in running and maintaining active wiki format communities from prior projects. It was a natural fit for me to get going and feel most comfortable keeping active and supporting the community with. Pinball is not something of the past that is documented and completed. There is always new information that comes up and pinball continues to march on. Static pages, or a ‘book of pinball’, will only be able to capture a moment in time.

The early days of PinWiki
The early days of PinWiki with 37 articles

Once the idea had been turned into a wiki website, what happened then? How do you start creating content?

Case told us the starting point was to define how the content would be arranged. And what was the first article to be added?

He replied, “Technically the home page, but there is no true way to define the answer to that question. Before I went live with PinWiki, I created a lot of placeholder pages just to help structure the formatting and location for the information to go. While PinWiki is most active on repair information, we do maintain other information, such as an active pinball
show schedule page, “Will This Machine Fit In My Car” info, a history of pinball page, and more.

As Casey said earlier, nobody has all the repair knowledge. So, in order to start collating that knowledge through the wiki, a good number of knowledgeable repairers with a breadth of experience was needed to contribute tips, sections or entire articles.

We asked him who were the early contributors who helped establish PinWiki as a valued resource.

He said, “I’m too afraid to miss someone’s name trying to recount a timeline of who stepped up and contributed early on. I have always deeply appreciated anyone who has taken time to contribute in any shape, way, or form to PinWiki. There are a few people that really stand out off the top of my head that really were/are core supporters. Chris Hibler and Jim Palson belong at the top of any shout out list. Both jumped on board with PinWiki from the earliest days and are still active to this day. I simply can’t say enough praise about them. They have been on the forefront of documentation, helping address any issues, and even getting permission to source certain information. We would not be where we are today without both of them, and 10 years of support has not gone unnoticed. Other people that really have contributed over the years in no particular order (still sure I’m forgetting names and if I do, I’m really, really sorry!) Chuck Hess, Kerry Imming, Lloyd Olson, Richard “Firepower” Harvey, Steve Kulpa, Ken Layton, Inkochnito and ForceFlow to name a few. If you’ve used PinWiki to look up information on ANY page, one or more of those people have helped shape that page.

A sample of the repair information on PinWiki

After being established for ten years, Casey is still the one managing the hosting, the software, the backend database and the site’s security and resilience. As far as content goes, many of those early contributors are still helping manage, update and expand the information available.

Casey explained, “From the front end, Chris Hibler, Jim Palson, and ForceFlow are the 3 major contributors on a frequent basis, whether it is reviewing edits that have been made, keeping show information up to date, or writing new documentation from their finds while doing repair work. I do contribute to information as time permits, but my focus is typically on ‘bigger picture’ items. Currently, we are reviewing some of our formatting processes and how we may want to evolve them going forward, as well as some other layout items to help make information easier to find.

As anyone who has run a website with a significant number of users, multiple image-rich pages and high data bandwidth knows, there are not insignificant financial costs associated with making all this information available to the public.

With free access being one of the founding principles, who pays to keep the site up and running?

Casey told us, “PinWiki does accept donations to help cover some of the costs involved in keeping PinWiki running, however the majority of costs are covered by myself. 10 years ago we made a promise that there would never be any costs for the information, and we would not sell advertising space on the information hosted in the wiki, and I hold that as a core value to PinWiki. A lot of time has been spent streamlining backend services to keep the wiki running smoothly, stable, and still maintaining backups, but there is only so much that is possible. With our next server upgrade costs to maintain the website are going to increase some, but I do this for the passion of pinball, and PinWiki is here to stay.

The current front page with 484 articles
The current front page with 484 articles

When PinWiki began, Stern Pinball were the only mass manufacturer of pinballs. Since then Jersey Jack Pinball, Spooky Pinball, Dutch Pinball, American Pinball, Chicago Gaming, Heighway Pinball, Suncoast Pinball, Multimorphic, Quetzal Pinball, Homepin, Team Pinball and Pinball Brothers have all manufactured games, all with bespoke parts and their own unique issues.

How does a site like PinWiki keep across all these in addition to building the knowledge base on earlier manufacturers, while at the same time pushing ahead with the other ambitions for the site? Where is the most help from contributors currently needed?

Casey explained how the team hope to get more hand-on experience with some of these newer systems so they can produce more definitive repair guides.

He said, “PinWiki’s slogan is ‘THE place for everything pinball’, and while there is a lot of other information than just repair, there could be a lot more detail on the pages that exist, and more topics covered. I personally would like to see the History section filled out. Currently as it sits it’s more a stub than a fully documented page. For the pinball repair section, more modern pinball machines have less documentation simply because its newer, has broken less, and therefore isn’t as well known yet. We have an open offer to any manufacturer that if they would be willing to ship a game to us to strip down, document with detailed pictures of mechanisms, and ability to document deeper repair information, we will get it published. We see this as a way to document these newer games now to help support them for years to come. Some other holes come from some of the more rare games. Atari and Capcom repair guide do have good information on them for example, but they do not have the complete polish that, say, our Williams WPC documentation has.

We asked if any of the manufacturers have provided help to document their system and learned that Spooky Pinball have been assistance to include details of their games.

Casey explained, “Spooky Pinball has helped us in the past, and we are going to be reaching out again soon to get more information. Charlie was an open book for questions and information and we greatly appreciate it, and everything they do. We are going to be reaching out again soon to get more information. Other manufacturers that we have reached out to have helped here and there, but not in a significant way. The company who owns the rights to the Gottlieb documentation gracefully made an agreement with us so that we can host additional information that otherwise would not have been legally able to be hosted.

The WPC repair page to which Casey referred above is also the most popular page on PinWiki. He told us so many games used the WPC system and many of them continue to be very popular. As a result, he said, there is a wealth of knowledge about that particular system out there.

But to help bring the information about other manufacturers’ systems up to a similar level of depth, more contributions and assistance will be needed. There have been more than 580 registered accounts created in the past decade, with many offering help of various kinds.

Casey told us how to get started. “Anyone can sign up and create an account and begin contributing. There are several members along with myself that monitor edits and will make changes as needed, or give feedback to new members. Contributions can be documentation or simply helping clean up, keep up-to-date, or format pages.

Looking ahead to the next ten years, we asked if there are plans for any new features on the site or improvements to existing ones?

Casey revealed, “There are several avenues that I have interest in visiting. More interactive content such as video and better diagrams are in the works. Continuing to grow the ‘other’ content beyond repair would be phenomenal. In the early days we had experimented with hosting a forum but shut it down to focus on the growth of the wiki, which took a lot of time. The idea of relaunching a forum to host a heavily moderated repair focused discussion forum is being considered if the demand is there.

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