Can Pinball Be Saved?

The Who sang of a Pinball Wizard while Sesame Street once taught numbers using pinball visuals, but those glory days were long ago. At least one pinball maker reckons that the time is right for pinball to make a comeback in a big way. I hope he's right.

There's only one large-scale pinball manufacturer left in the form of Stern Pinball, but Slate reports on the efforts of a smaller, New Jersey-based manufacturer, Jersey Jack Pinball and its proprietor, Jack Guarnieri.

He's been working rather tirelessly on a next-generation table based around, of all things, The Wizard Of Oz. Guarnieri has assembled something of a Who's Who of pinball designers for a table designed not only for dedicated pinball collectors, but also in an attempt to get pinball back into amusement arcades and bars, on the basis that there isn't a large enough market purely in providing tables for collectors. Guarnieri is throwing pretty much everything into the game, right down to a crystal ball, telling Slate:

"When you look into the crystal ball and see a moving image" he explains, "you say, Holy shit, how much more could you put into this game?"

So far it seems to be going well, with the article noting that the theme of the table also means it's attracting a higher-than-usual proportion of female players. If Dorothy's travails through Oz don't compel you, it's worth noting that the next table that Jersey Jack will be working on is based on The Hobbit, although that's not due to ship until next year at the earliest.

Pinball is a bit of a passion of mine (although sadly I've never had the right combination of space and/or funds to own a physical machine), so I'd love to see him succeed in making pinball generally more popular. Also, if any of my relatives are reading this, The Wizard Of Oz machine ships this year well before my birthday...

That aside, the Slate article is an excellent potted history of pinball, and good reading for anyone keen on silver balls and economics behind them. [Slate]


    The I freakin love pinball. I used to be obsessed with it as a kid, but totally forgot about that obsession til a couple of years ago when I had an opportunity to buy a table for myself. Which is now woefully underused thanks to a lack of organisation :P Though chancing upon some great places to play the machines has been fun too (anyone near Cabramatta, go check out Time Gone near the station - it's great!).

    The only thing about the Stern tables is they just don't look as nice as the old ones. The way all the art on the machine is from these big labels that always seem to have a really low printing resolution... just looks awful. They don't feel like they have the build quality of the old machines.

    Oh man, now I'm wandering around, singing "One Two Three FOUR Fiiive, Six Seven Eight NINE Ten, Eleven Twee-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-ELVE!"

    As a pinball fan, it makes me sad that pinball in arcades has declined considerably... but as someone who maintains/restores machines, it does unfortunately make sense that arcade operators no longer see the value in pinball.

    As pinball machines are mostly mechanical, they do require near constant maintenance, especially in arcade environments where they do get a fair beating, and parts can be fairly pricey. Much easier to maintain an arcade machine, even though the initial cost of some arcade machines these days is well above the cost of a brand new pinball machine.

    Also, most Stern tables suck... I admit, there's a couple that I like.. but nothing will beat the Bally/Williams machines of the 90s. I'd rather play Twilight Zone, Theatre of Magic, or Star Trek: The Next Generation, than any machine Stern has released.

    I remember when I was younger we had the best pc Pinball game called Balls of Steel, it had a duke Nukem table in it, that game was so sweet, I wonder if you can get a torrent of it

    Honestly, you know what the problem I always had with pinball? There's a huge learning curve to being able to actually engage with the machine; you've got to be good enough at making the ball go where you want it to go for the unique features of the table to really present itself. Most of the time what happens is you flail around randomly, manage to hit some ramps, and then it goes straight down the middle and you lose.

    Most arcade games these days ramp up the complexity as you go so that you get a good run, then inevitably get overwhelmed and have to buy another credit. Pinball machines can't do that - they can't build a machines that starts off with you just trying to get the ball on one side of the table or the other, and then start opening up ramps and things, because you have to physically build those ramps on the board.

    Arcade Heroes has been covering it quite well. The good thing about the licence is that it's recogniseable and timeless - there is no rush. The Hobbbit is shaping up well, its a great licence and will hopefully see the new company compete with the likes of Stern (who are making an awesome looking Avengers Pinball). Surprisingly Stern showed up at CES as well (and their limited edition Avengers made me drool). Its nice to see that the Arcade is still supported by die-hards and fans, and its good to see a start up attempt to break into the market.

    sorry to say but working in the industry with technicians and knowing that Stern are the biggest manufacturer of Pinball machines makes me sad, they are known to make the shittest ones around whilst they look awesome they are horribly built, 1 week into having X-men pinball and you can tell how badly designed they are, the balls get stuck on the giant Wolverine in the middle (not supposed to happen)... and the game freezes up with "Looking For Balls" haha i will say they have made some beautiful cabinets though in recent years, Avengers/ AC DC / TRON LEGACY / Transformers etc
    but if there will be a pinball renaissance we need better quality manufacturers out there!

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