Does theme play into the machines you like the most?

I bring up this question because I’ve been thinking about some of the recent games that have been coming out and how regardless of theme, I’m still into them (so that’s a “no” from me for the question posed above). I’m in my early 20s, but find myself preferring rules over theme a lot of the time; I’m fond of the TMNT series that the pin is based on, but the pin isn’t my cup of tea even though it does a lot right. Meanwhile I’ve never even seen a Godzilla film but the pin won me over through gameplay and concept alone. And as for Rush… my dad likes the band, I’m going into the pin completely blind, but maybe it’ll introduce me to their music and I’ll see what I’ve been missing out on. Pinball machines are just as valid as any form of media in introducing their source material to an audience.

Would like to hear your thoughts on this, because I’ve noticed theme tends to play a much larger role in regards to the casual crowd. At my local place I’ve seen casuals play TMNT, Star Wars, Stranger Things, and Mandalorian a lot while the other games tend to not get as much play time.

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I see just the opposite with my own preferences.

It’s way more common for a theme to turn me off on a game than it is to convince me to play a game I don’t otherwise like. I still haven’t really learned the rules to many of the stern old white guy band games, despite being on my way towards being an old white guy. Iron Maiden has amazing game play, but distaste for the theme means I probably won’t play it unless everything else in a location is busted.


Yeah theme works for coin drop mostly. I’ve bought games before because of theme, but it’s rare. Now just care about gameplay and rules like you. Doesn’t matter what the theme is for the most part.

I don’t care much for the source material in regards to Iron Maiden, but the game doesn’t really have much to do with the source material besides using their soundtrack - it’s largely a fantasy adventure.

I rarely care about theme. Every game I own, outside of GNR, was purchased because I like the way it plays. I need a deep game with multiple strategies to use. The only games I will purchase without playing are designed by @sk8ball.

With that said, I would purchase a Nirvana or Pearl Jam pin, but I feel those are at least 5 - 10 years away.

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It depends.

  1. I love gameplay. The game has to fun for me - regardless of theme.
  2. Some themes for me were grail themes. Case in point Godzilla. It has both great gameplay and the nostalgia vibe for me.
  3. Nostalgia theme - I played this as a kid, young adult etc and it reminds me of first kiss, joy of youth, whatever.
    Everyone has their own subjective preferences.

Have to agree though that some themes, if not appealing to me may prevent me from looking at the game until it shows up at a location and I can play it and then if I love the gameplay that may change my opinion.

Another point is I get tired of taunting call outs which is why some machines I wouldn’t want to own because I would have to turn off the volume to just play the games. This gets in the way of playing for fun.

I mostly care about gameplay (layout and rules). Many of my favorite games have themes that I don’t really care about at all (e.g. Iron Maiden, Whitewater, Shadow, Whirlwind). If a game is great, I do give it bonus points if I’m also really into the theme (e.g. LOTR, Star Trek).

For me, this cuts both ways. I really really wanted to love and buy The Hobbit, since I adore that book (less so the movies), but the gameplay just doesn’t do it for me.

I think “like” also depends on each owner’s goals. If you’re an operator, Super Mario Bros and South Park seem to be earnings monsters, so I would expect ops to LOVE these games… but as a player, I would be fine never playing these games again.


As a hobby operator, I’m a bit torn on this, actually. For example, on our location Stern Star Wars has a killer license which new players are drawn to. However, that game is so brutal, complex and sometimes unfair that I’m afraid that people are put off from pinball in general if that’s their first game. So on the short term the operator in me likes that game, but I honestly wonder what the long-term effect is. Impossible to say without tracking people’s behaviour, which we haven’t done.

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As a buyer, theme is important, but more that bad themes prevent me from buying. BBH is one of my favourite games to play on location, but the theme is a no go for me. In practice most of my NIB purchases were themes I really connect with, they get me to actively seek the machine.

On location, theme is irrelevant to me.

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Taunting has been a part of pinball forever. Before we had sound boards and speakers, flashing lights taunted us. Once sound arrived, all bets were off. Rudy has to be the best known smack talker in pinball. My second favorite sound call ever is a simple and dumb taunt, but I love it. Walk by an AFM in attract mode, tap a flipper button and you might hear a cranky Martian say: ‘Your shoe’s untied’. Makes me smile every time.

I updated an AC/DC for a customer last week that was on really old code. I asked the customer if he would like to enable adult language (swearing) and he said absolutely. Then I asked if he would like the insult level set to max (after explaining that the game designer was the one handing out the insults) and he wanted that too. Some games taunt more than others, but they all do to some degree.

To answer the original question, theme means very little to me. Never bought, sold or operated a game based solely on theme. When I operated games, most of my customers were experienced players. So I looked for more challenging titles, not specific themes.


Hmm, to me there is a difference between distractions - lights and bells versus taunting distractions.

I probably should have qualified the taunting as going from good natured or quaint from something like Martian’s shoe’s united to having call outs swearing at me. Again, personal taste. In small doses, it is hilarious. RIck and Morty comes to mind. Love playing it and the call outs.

Over the long haul I don’t want to hear it over and over.

Just a reminder that the things we end up loving the most can become the most annoying over time :). Think of relationships where cute, endearing things loved ones do start to become major things that bug you :slight_smile: (unless of course you really communicate well with your partner :slight_smile: ).


There are some really fun taunts out there. I love how the Black Knight in SOR gets gentler and starts pleading more and more with you the farther you go through the different monster modes.

A hilarious inside joke call out (and maybe taunt) is on JJP GnR if you scroll through patches with the action button too much and then Melissa shouts, “Captain, there is no more gold!” So funny

Good themes with good call outs are a real plus! The call outs that give TAF so much fun personality likely help make the game as popular as it is, particularly with beginners.


For the home collection, gameplay is probably the biggest factor in what to own. However, the games are off more than they are on, so if I cannot stand the theme or looking at it, it really makes no sense to own it. Space is always a premium and there are plenty of games for me that satisfy the gameplay and theme aspect.

In a tourney, sometimes the offbeat themes are the most intriguing and fun to play. Recently a tourney I played in had a Stern Disco in the bank. Can’t say I am a fan of disco, but the game was pretty fun.

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As a location player, yup, I find myself attracted to games with these types of callouts. They keep me coming back, especially with Sword of Rage considering the game is aggressive enough already.

Yes. Theme can most definitely turn me off as well. But there are games that play amazing that I wish had better themes and I probably wouldn’t be likely to have them in my home collection. Thankfully there are a plethora of good theme/playfield combinations out there though and the number of “good” games with bad themes is small for me.

I’m curious about this since there’s a TMNT on location and I fear the exact same thing. Great theme and new player draw, brutal game and not forgiving. I’m sure for random appeal it works(mass numbers) but not good for retaining someone because they won’t want to play another game.

On topic: Theme doesn’t matter to me, gameplay and rules matter way more to me. But I also play competitive not really for fun.

When operating games, if your location is in a tourist area and gets 95% casual players, theme becomes more important. That’s what lures them in. On brutal games (for casuals) with great themes, like SW and TMNT, bump the ball save time up to 8-10 seconds. Adjust outlanes, pitch, etc, to get to at least 2.5 minutes average game times.

Checking audits is important as SW can be long playing for experienced players. Haven’t played much of TMNT, but I get the impression it’s generally not long playing. Either way, the audits will tell you.


Family Guy or Shrek?
BMX or Hardbody?

Don’t these basically have the same rules? So, for the players that say theme doesn’t matter they would have no preference. I believe most players would at least have some preference if they had a choice. It’s just a question of how much the theme matters.

I look at it as theme plus rules integration. I really like the rules and game play of Jurassic Park. If it were rethemed as a music pin with the same rules somehow I don’t think I’d like it as much.

So, yes, theme does play into the games I like the most. Bad rules or playfield can override how much I like a theme, and good rules and playfield can make me like a game with a theme I don’t care about.

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I operated a Shrek while I owned a FGY. I bought the Shrek because I got a good deal on it and I’ve always liked FGY (the pin, never watched the show). I ran Shrek code on it for the first couple months, then updated it with FGY code. Earned about the same. I see what you’re saying, but you kind of can have it both ways with those pins.

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I’m in the minority, but a fun theme is more important to me than gameplay per se. If the theme is fun it makes me care about the gameplay even if it’s less than optimal, but if the gameplay is fun and I don’t care about the theme, I’m less interested. However, I’m much fonder of “themes” that are creative quirky weirdness than ones that are tied to licensed properties. I’m usually automatically less interested in something that’s based on a movie, TV show, or band (I make an exception for The Beatles).

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