Handling a Game Malfunction

I run a league of about 26 players and although I don’t own the games, the operator has given me keys to handle stupid things like stuck balls. I had an issue the other day with Rolling Stones wanting to intermittently load two balls into the shooter lane.

The player told me, I opened the machine and dropped one of the balls into the trough. As soon as I closed the machine, the game fired the ball out of the shooter lane, loaded another ball and then fired that out as well. The player was able to let the first ball drain and then play the second ball, so no harm done.

A few minutes later, it happened again. Thinking ahead, I decided to drop both balls in the trough, hoping the game would think it didn’t load anything into the trough. As soon as I closed the coin door, it loaded two balls in the shooter lane and fired them out into the playfield.

How should I have handled this so it doesn’t load two balls? The operator is working on resolving the problem so it doesn’t happen anymore, but sooner or later I’m going to run into this one again.

Another issue I ran into was last night during league play. A player was on Star Wars. He shot the Death Star shot, but the post didn’t capture the ball correctly and it starting rolling down the play field. Unfortunately, the game had disabled the flippers so he could choose a mode, meaning he couldn’t play the ball which resulted in a drain.

My ruling was “sorry, that’s the mechanical nature of pinball”. Was that the correct ruling?

No. This is a Major Malfunction and the player should have received a consolation ball. Without keys, this would typically be playing the remaining balls on a fresh game with those points added to the prior game. Since you have the keys… on newer Stern games, you can go into the menu and change the number of balls per game to 4 so that player could continue their game without losing progress. Then just change it back to 3 after the game is over.

The “mechanical nature of pinball” line is great for most other situations like a ball jumping the flippers, flying off a ramp return or a failed kickback, so you’re on the right track by wanting to screw the player!


Section VI, part 3 if you want to read more about what constitutes a Major Malfunction and how to handle it.


I assumed since things like a kickback failing to work, or a ball saver failing to work were not considered malfunctions, than a post that failed to capture a ball would fall under that category.

That wasn’t my intention. If I was out to screw the league players, I wouldn’t be here asking if I made the correct decision.

A quote in your link has this line “Note that unrepeated physical failures, such as kickbacks or balls jumping off ramps, balls flying over flippers, or balls moonwalking into the outlane following a successful shot do not qualify as major malfunctions. This is the physical nature of pinball.”

Wouldn’t that be considered an unrepeated (it only happened once) physical failure (the post) and therefor not be qualified as a malfunction?

It wasn’t the post failing to stop the ball, it was the fact that the flippers were dead and the player had no chance to recover from the situation.

Nothing personal, I was just joking in reference to @PAPA_Doug and @pinwizj who love making rulings where they tell the affected player they’re effed.


Oh. Sorry. I took it the wrong way.

But the flippers went dead due to the way the game is coded, not because there was a mechanical issue with the flippers.

I edited my above post while you were responding.

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Sure I see your point, but that’s how I would rule on it, and if it was ruled differently against me I would be pretty upset about it. I’m sure others will weigh in, but I see it as a Major.


Anytime the game kills the flippers when it shouldn’t, you’re likely looking at a major malfunction ruling. A flipper disabled by misbehaving software is no different than a flipper disabled by a broken plunger link or blown fuse… if the player cannot flip, the player cannot play. There are plenty of ways a game can screw over a player, but killing the flippers generally crosses the line.


There’s just about nothing you can do in the middle of the game, unless the problem is too many balls in the game. In that case, put one in your pocket. The fact that you said it was an intermittent problem suggests that reseating the trough connectors might help address this problem.* But, that might be above your level of responsibility, and it’s not something I’d do on someone else’s machine with the power on. I probably wouldn’t do it on mine with the power on either.

*Fairly common in these Sterns, but far from the only thing that could be causing your problem.


This is exactly what I thought upon hearing the problem. If I don’t have a tech on site to take a look at the trough switch, I usually pull the machine, because the intermittent nature of the problem will otherwise lead to complex rulings that can be avoided by just…not playing the game. If you don’t have the luxury of being able to pull games, I would recommend the following: if two balls are in the trough, the player is instructed to plunge both and let one intentionally drain. If the flippers die when the first ball drains, they’ll get a compensation ball, otherwise they can play on with one ball in play (if the intentionally drained ball is ball saved, plunge and let it drain again). But that’s, like, worst case scenario town.


If you run a league, no matter the size, you should probably know how to reseat Stern trough opto boards. If needed, ask the owner of the games or anyone else knowledgable how to do it. Open coin door and the outer connector is easily visible up and to the right of the opening. Two pin connector on the outside, three pin on the inside. The inside connector is harder to see, but accessible enough.

You don’t want to reseat the connectors mid-game. That would likely confuse the game. Won’t hurt to do it with the power on between games, but best to shut the game off, then do it.

The president of my league leans on me a lot for issues like this, which I don’t mind. If you have someone in league who’s capable technically, see if you can recruit them as a tech, when needed. Most guys (and women techs) don’t mind showing off their repair skills. Even if you do have that person, learn how to reseat trough connectors. It’s easy and two balls in the shooter lane happens way too often on Stern’s. WMS trough boards can also sometimes be ‘fixed’ by reseating the connectors.

Thanks for reminding me about this very common issue. I’m running a large tourney tomorrow and I’m going to take the time to reseat the trough connectors on every Stern before we begin.

Also agree the Star Wars was a major malfunction and a compensation ball should be awarded. Any time the flippers are supposed to flip and don’t, resulting in premature loss of ball, they should get a compensation ball.


How is the Star Wars issue any different from the STTNG issue where when you start multiball and the ball blasts into the left outlane instead of feeding the cannon - ball over and too bad so sad?

For the sake of argument. The flippers were not suppose to flip. The player was in a software controlled mode that disabled the flippers until a timer expired or the action button was hit. If it is the case that hitting the action button immediately reenables the flippers (I don’t know if it does, or if it needs to finish the animation), one could argue that it was not a flipper malfunction, and it was in the players control to save the ball.

While this question seems to have been answered, I’m adding some lines from the PAPA/IFPA tournament rules for posterity (I’m reading up in preparation for Pinburgh):

1.2 Minor Malfunctions - A minor malfunction is any incident without external cause which deviates from the normal course of gameplay, without directly causing a player’s loss of turn

1.3 Major Malfunctions - A major malfunction is a gameplay problem with a machine that results in the premature loss of ball in play in a fashion that is not a normal feature of the machine’s gameplay.

If the major malfunction can be fixed without resetting the machine, the player will be provided with one additional ball of play at the beginning of a new game, after the current game has been completed. The player’s total score on the additional ball will be added to his or her previous score, and the new game will be terminated.

The Star Wars post issues (left ramp, left mini-loop on Pros) are common issues that fall under Major Malfunctions. Flippers die, you can’t do anything (trust me, I’ve button mashed as hard as i can to try to remediate the issue via quick mode selection), and you lose your current turn. Since its not an intended game feature and it caused an uncontrollable loss of ball, you should get a compensation ball.

By comparison, Game of Thrones had this same issue but I believe the flippers were still active; this is a minor malfunction since you’re still in control (albeit in a weird state).

There’s a SWLE on location nearby that’s had kind of an iffy hyperdrive, so it may have been jury-rigged to only do one “lap” each time you shoot it. The problem is - if you have Death Star modes lit and ready to start, and then collect a Hyperspace hurryup, you have until the ball drains from the inlane to furiously hope that you can at least start your mode in time, knowing you can’t flip during that time. Pretty much every time you can kiss your ball goodbye.

Code is up-to-date too.

Sounds like a decent catch-all solution for game coders would be to never kill flippers during gameplay if the game is set for tournament mode. Or add a separate adjustment “never deactivate flippers” on/off. No big deal if they’re flapping away as people choose modes, and this would allow for continued play regardless of bugs like we’re seeing in SWLE. Video modes might be noisier but they pretty much suck anyway…