Pinflation (pinball machine pricing compared to 2020)

We stopped into a Florida pinball machine dealer. He said that he went into the business as a labor of love, but has recently been making more money than he ever dreamed possible. “Prices for new machines are up 30 percent compared to 2020,” he said, “and the used machines have pretty much followed the new prices.”

New or old? “The new machines are much more engaging for home use,” he responded. “You could play one for an hour and not finish every mission. People get bored quickly with the older machines.”

How about the super wide super complex Jersey Jack machines? (Dialed-In is a prescient 2016 design about a city under attack.) “Remember the Fisker Karma? It looked great, but hardly any were made. Tesla, on the other hand, is still here.” (He wasn’t a believer in the maintainability of the Jersey Jack machines.) What company is the Tesla of pinball? “Stern.”

What if you’re not good enough to complete these complex games with 3 balls? “You can set them to up to 10 balls per game,” the expert responded, and explained that it was also possible to customize the amount of time within which the machine would provide a replacement ball for one that drained.

The Dialed-In game, above, made me think that a Coronapanic machine could be a lot of fun. The player would have to spell out R0, PCR, mRNA, Fauci, Wuhan, and WHO. The history section of the game would feature Robert Malone inventing the idea of an mRNA medication, being interviewed by Joe Rogan, and then being memory-holed by the New York Times. A wheel-o-masks would spin to bandana, cloth, surgical, and N95 locations. The virus would start spreading and the player would have to hit targets and ramps to #StopTheSpread. The successful player would shut down commercial airline flights, quarantine cities, order the general public to wear masks (slowing down the spread imperceptibly), order schools shut, etc. Hit the 14 Days to Flatten the Curve spinner once and then it inexplicably would continue to spin until the machine was powered down.

The Canadian Freedom Convoy would get its own subsection. The player would take on the role of Justin Trudeau. Don Blackface would be the first level. No matter how many times the player hit the trucks that converted in the center of the playing field, they wouldn’t break up. It would then be time to Invoke Emergency Powers and freeze the bank accounts of anyone who donated $20 to the truckers.

Separately, I wondered why pinball machines aren’t made in China. Everything else electronic is. You wouldn’t buy a smartphone assembled by clumsy Americans, right? It turns out that Homepin set up a factor in Shenzhen (factory tour video; the machine gets terrible reviews, but mostly because of its rules and layout, not because of the way it is built).

8 thoughts on “Pinflation (pinball machine pricing compared to 2020)

  1. I don’t necessarily want to encourage your obvious talent at pinball machine imagineering/evangelism (combined with your real-world engineering abilities) but I can tell you this: I have a good buddy of mine from a Rod and Gun Club who, a few years ago, was looking to do something a little less abusive to his body in his later years. Thanks to his many years of work doing everything from fine woodworking and electrical installation to pouring concrete, he’s got a wide variety of skills. Anyway, he stopped by my building one day about five years ago to discuss a project on his mind, saw what I was doing at the moment and the conversation digressed:

    My father and I were busy reverse-engineering the wiring diagram (which we did not have for our model) of a Pitney Bowes mail inserting machine that had gone balky on us. He said: “It’s like a pinball machine a little, isn’t it? I have a friend in Virginia who is going into the business refurbishing old pinball machines and I can’t believe how much money he makes on a good one. You think that’s bullshit?”

    I said: “NO! If I had about 30 grand in disposable money laying around to buy the equipment, that is EXACTLY what I would be doing right now, in addition to this. I’d set up a room upstairs and line up some vendors to help refurbish the machines completely, then saturate the Rt. 128 corridor with direct mail advertising them. This is a big Nerd thing – wealthy dotcom and computer nerds – but also people into classic stuff – LOVE these things. You can make honest money doing it.”

    Congratulations to everyone who carves out a successful niche here.

    The COVID-19 Pinball Adventure is a risk, to be sure – but it’s also a game that people with any decent sense of humor should be able to enjoy. And one thing’s for sure: the U.S. still knows how to make (and remake) incredible pinball machines.

    • > Why aren’t pinball machines made in China?

      I have not looked, but I would not be surprised if some of them are. However, the entire concept of a lot of pinball machines involves shooting down or contradicting narratives so each one (at least for the home market) would have to be officially approved. It’s only a matter of time, though. The Chinese are making a good, affordable Tourbillon watch now. In the 300 dollar range. And yes, they are semi-sponsoring (by donating the watch) to a semi-professional watchmaker in Britain, who is a great resource for people who are into that kind of thing:

      It’s quite impressive as a real Tourbillon for the price. As the video shows, the manufacturing quality is “OK to good” with some fingerprints and smudges, but for the most part that’s only visible under magnification.

      So I expect that a Chinese manufacturer will be (or maybe already is) able to build a good pinball machine, maybe one that needs to be partially assembled upon arrival, ship it here, and do what they are also attempting to do with certain kinds of adventure motorcycles. This is a relatively “low end” bike with just 400 ccs of engine power, but it is a very surprising thing to me. About $5 grand shipped direct and fully assembled to your door. Whew.

  2. Love pinball machines, especially old style, fully mechanical. Did not realize that there were a lot of money in them.

  3. A local bar has about 40 pinball machines, along with food+drinks. $10 buys unlimited play, kids are allowed until 8pm. It seemed like a great concept and was always busy, until covid. Now its ghost-town as our mayor still insists on masks, vax, and limiting customers.

  4. Pawn Stars and Detroit Pawn offer $50 to $200 for pinball and video arcade games. Put one in your house and two weeks later it is pushed up next to the ping pong table train set & bowflex.

  5. @Philg: All these machines can be set up to play without cash (or bitcoin!) – which is good – because in the cashless society of the near future and with Emergency Powers like the ones the Canadian government enacted to hobble the Nazi Truckers and their White Supremacist Supporters, anyone who participates in or donates to such a protest in the future will have a tough time using anything to pay with.

    Go to the wrong protest? Send the wrong protest movement money? No more money for you, Mr. Stupid! Can’t pay your child support as a result? You know what means!

    It sure sounds to me like the technocratic/ideological dystopian thoughts people think are increasingly justified. As history has shown us, it repeats itself but nobody listens.

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