Is pinball still perceived as "vintage" to people outside the hobby?

So I was scrolling around the Internet today and found this AMC post, from just a few days ago:

And it got me thinking about the common perception of pinball to people who aren’t actively involved in tournaments or the hobby in general. Ghostbusters came out back in 2016 so I wouldn’t quite say it’s a “vintage” game, and (at least at my local location) I’ve been seeing younger people enjoying these newer machines as much as older people. Of course there are still people who look at me funny when I say that I play pinball competitively, but it hasn’t been happening as much to me lately.

Would love to hear your experiences with how others view pinball. It’s especially weird to me because I’m the youngest person at a lot of my leagues, but I’m really into this stuff.

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While worded poorly, they could be referencing the fact that the movie “Ghostbusters” is vintage.


i think the average non pinball person sees that and thinks it actually did come out in the 80s. we all know dmd pinballs didnt come until the 90s, but dmd displays were around to a degree in the 80s, and only us who are really into it could tell you the difference between rgb led lighting and regular lights or the other high tech things on that game.


Most people see pinball as vintage, yes.
Every time I have new people coming to my place and they see the games, they always ask if they “still work”.

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RE: this ad specifically, I think the “vintage” is used in reference to the condition of the machine (it is stated in the prize description that it is a “refurbished” 2016 Pro Ghostbusters.

But I agree in general the perception is still in the “other/vintage/novelty” category in the gaming/amusement world. Which is funny because I think VR is “vintage” because it was all the rage in the 90s but never panned out…


These days anything greater than a year or has hit people’s short term attention span and memory can fall into a category of “vintage”.

Oh look puppies…

I’d like to chime in, as someone who came in from pinball having been in video games for a longer amount of time:

Yes, most people in the general public have no idea that pinball is not dead. No pinball machine has ever penetrated the mainstream since the 90s (and likely never will in the foreseeable future considering the demise of arcades and the decentralization of bars), and as a result, popular depictions of pinball are predominantly hybrids of styles from the 1970s to the 1990s, when pinball was at their peak.

Look no further than the 2018 Gravity Falls episode “Soos’s Pinball Adventure,” in which the fictional “Tumbleweed Terror” pinball machine has EM-type rules but with a talking head that taunts the player and habitrail ramps.

There are two major things here that I feel contribute to the “vintage” reputation. The first is that outside of pinball-centric cities like Portland and Seattle, there aren’t many pinball machines set up in highly visible locations. It would go a long way to convince people that pinball is still being made for a Stranger Things or Rick and Morty machine to be placed in large public locations, like shopping malls, train stations, universities, hotels, and convention centers. The second is that there seems to be a tendency for pinball machines made in the 21st century to focus on themes from decades prior. This is particularly true with music-themed pinball machines, which is almost entirely licensed from musicians from, well, the 1970s to the 1990s. We have pinball machines based on Iron Maiden and Queen, but where are the ones based on Imagine Dragons, Dua Lipa, or The Weeknd? Make something based on something that truly speaks to young people today, like My Hero Academia or Hazbin Hotel, so that anyone who sees it thinks, “This was something made recently.” Both of these point the same way: there is no concerted attempt by the industry to market to the general public of the 2010s-2020s. Without that, no one in today’s general public will notice pinball exists except on an individual basis short of a breakout hit on the scale of Undertale, Cuphead, or Five Nights at Freddy’s (if you ask me, all of them can make for interesting themes for pinball).

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I think the larger reason most pinball manufacturers go for older themes is simply because they’re a safe bet in many respects.

As far as I’ve seen, most people who buy new pinball machines for home use are people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. I always figured this is part of why nearly all music-themed games are based on rock groups whose heydays were no later than the 1980s or early 1990s – it appeals to that particular demographic. The other side of the coin is also important to consider here: operators obviously want something that the general public would recognize so that they can make more money off of their games, and regular Joes are more likely to go for a band they recognize and like over a newer one they may have never heard of. (Likewise, it’s difficult to tell which popular acts of today will end up having lasting popularity – financially speaking, it’s a no-brainer to go with a tried and true group that still attracts fans decades after the fact.)

Moreover, the fact that the market’s shrunken significantly from its '90s peak makes it more difficult to justify taking a risk and making a game based on a newer, unproven license. The days of Congo and Johnny Mnemonic are long gone – put bluntly, brand recognition is important for a game with any sort of wider release. (Of course, machines with more limited runs have some more leeway here: Rob Zombie and Primus are good examples, since their followings aren’t large enough to warrant something like a Stern cornerstone title.)

To me, it seems like a quiet but vicious cycle: the market’s just small enough that a major title that’s not recognizable to a significant portion of people is a risky proposition, but continuing to rely on familiar brands from decades past constrains pinball’s audience. I think Stern hit upon a decent compromise with Stranger Things (a series replete with '80s nostalgia) and The Mandalorian (a modern installment in an immediately recognizable franchise), and Spooky managed to get an immediate hit with Rick & Morty, but I’m not sure the state of affairs will change on a larger scale in the near future.

It’s interesting to see people on Pinside debate about what would make a good “modern” theme that would appeal to younger audiences today. Pokemon gets brought up a lot, and while it stretches the definition of “modern”, I’d say it’d have a lot of potential and has quite a bit of cross-generational appeal. Minecraft and Fortnite could also work - they’re undeniably popular if nothing else. I think something that constrains a lot of other popular themes is that they haven’t quite hit the mainstream in the same fashion all three of these have. (That said, My Hero Academia might have enough recognition to break that mold.)

(Side note: part of me wants to see what Spooky would do with Hazbin Hotel :stuck_out_tongue:)


In the case of the music themes for the modern age, Imagine Dragons, Bruno Mars, and Taylor Swift have been topping charts for over a decade by this point, so I would say they would be firmly safe bets. They’re definitely not obscure. (One could argue Eminem has been hitting the charts even longer, but he’s not as active as he used to be.) Admittedly, The Weeknd is probably at or near his peak at this moment (but I do expect that peak to go on for a while), whereas Dua Lipa had just broken into the mainstream last year with “Levitating” and is currently figuring out what to do with this newfound popularity; choosing either of these would be a gamble as to if they’ll have enduring name brand recognition.

I think we’re currently at a crossroads. I hang out with a lot of people in their 20s and 30s, and when I ask them about these bands Stern keeps getting licenses for (AC/DC, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Aerosmith, Queen, etc.), more often than not they have no familiarity with any of them or their work besides what is referenced in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. In this demographic, for instance, show them the phrase “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap,” and more of them will recognize it as the name of the antagonist’s powers in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Steel Ball Run than a song by AC/DC. That is, we’re reaching the point where these music groups are starting to lose their mainstream recognition.

In other words, continuing to pick music groups from this era is not sustainable. The audience is limited and will grow smaller with each year. There will definitely be future generations of fans, but they won’t be nearly as large as the audiences who listened to these bands when they were new. Based on my own experiences, the only act from the 80s that still carries a huge listenership today, including among younger audiences from before their time, is Michael Jackson, a music theme that’s still conspicuously missing in pinball. Granted, musicians in their prime probably carry ferociously expensive licensing fees, but Stern got one based on The Beatles, which is notoriously pricey and difficult to get ahold of. (Activision spent a long time trying to get a Beatles license for Rock Band, for instance.)

I can definitely see what companies like Stern are doing though. (Especially Stern). Including the non-musical themes, they are decidedly aiming at older audiences but carefully looking for themes that appeal to younger ones too. They’re finding movies and television series that have very wide age demographic viewership, or, in the case of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a franchise from decades past that continues to appeal to children today, albeit done in a legacy art style rather than the most recent ones. Every licensed theme Stern has chosen is one that taps into nostalgia for the 1970s to the early 1990s or based on media with large appeal to people who were young during that era. I think this is the crux of it: movies and television can have an audience with an age gap that big, but music does not. The people of the age range Stern aims its pinball machines at are watching modern movies and television programs but are unlikely to listen to modern music.

By the way, Pokémon is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary (Pokémon Red and Green came out in Japan in February 1995), putting it just after the era Stern is focused on. They’ve had two digital pinball games, Pokémon Pinball and Pokémon Pinball R/S, but considering the Pokédex collection appeal of the video games, I honestly have a hard time seeing how this can translate to a physical pinball machine unless they have a way for individual players to save their games and pick up where they leave off in subsequent visits. There are also currently about 900 Pokémon species, with more of them debuting this coming January, so “catching 'em all” is not feasible without a LOT of time. (This isn’t getting into if we decide to focus on the games’ plots instead; we’re at 8 generations, so there’s also a very large number of characters, locations, and stories to pick through. That being said, Pokémon Masters EX, as unfortunate a name as it is, did have a premise for uniting all of the major human characters together in one place in one large crossover, with all of them fully voiced by professional voice actors.) One last factor is that The Pokémon Company does not hand out licenses easily, and they will impose a lot of rules on what you can and can’t do, especially if you’re not a Japanese company.

All in all, for a modern popular theme to be released, you probably need a small pinball company to do it, as the larger ones wouldn’t want to take those kinds of risks. At the same time though, a small pinball company might not be able to afford the licensing fees unless the license holders have some emotional stake in it, and their manufacturing would be slow and in small quantities, thus being unable to make much of an impact. One of them might go viral, however. Pinball is still universally recognizable, and everybody understands that you push the buttons to move the flippers. The thing is that most people have not seen a pinball machine in years, if ever, or they keep seeing ones themed on old stuff that makes them think the industry has vanished.


I thought so too, until I noticed a young woman trying to play Funhouse last night. After we told her where the start button was, she started the game and after a few seconds successfully launched the ball. She and her companion then proceeded to watch the ball bounce around the playfield not knowing what to do next. They pressed the lockdown bar a few times hoping to influence the ball in some way. I had to tell them there were buttons on each side of the cabinet that controlled the flippers.

It was definitely a lightbulb moment for them, but unfortunately the game didn’t keep their interest - they abandoned the game after ball 2 :disappointed: .


Very nice posts from both JamOn and SunsetShimmer, I think the big reason why we aren’t getting themes based on more recent properties is because of the risks involved. A lot of the pinball community that Stern & JJP are trying to appeal to are people in their 30s or 40s who are interested in older themes, and if you make a game that doesn’t really appeal to those people or has a direct link to a nostalgic franchise, it’s not going to sell well - but at the same time, if you keep making these games that are clearly meant for an older demographic, it might turn the casual demo off and I don’t think that’ll have a positive impact on the industry.

I think it’s good that Stern is finding a way to compromise by making themes that are nostalgic, but also remain relevant today; plus, there’s a case to be made for pinball machines introducing people to properties. I hadn’t watched Mandalorian until I played the pinball machine and ended up loving it, and the same thing is happening with Godzilla. It’s a good business strategy to me, but with music themes, there often seems to be a lot less interest and you’re appealing to a much more specific demographic.

I admit that my opinions should be taken with a grain of salt considering I’m one of the youngest people involved with tournaments and the like, but I’d love to see Stern continue to do themes that hit the balance of relevance to nostalgic customers and current audiences.

(SunsetShimmer, seconded on Hazbin Hotel, though I like Helluva Boss better tbh.)


At my location I’ve noticed a wide mix of younger people playing - and the majority actually seemed to know what they were doing on the games. In particular I remember overhearing a conversation on TMNT that you should choose Donatello for the easy multiball and there’s clearly some people who are interested in these games. Pinball isn’t for everyone and it just isn’t for her, but at least you tried to help.


Vintage is a moving target. For people in the 1960s, the Bingo machines were vintage and now most people don’t want them because they are boring machines without flippers. There isn’t the connection with nostalgia like it has been stated in the posts above.

Regarding 1950s and 1960s machines- They are not desirable by people outside of the hobby. The first go-to statement from someone outside of the hobby is “I bet they are worth a lot of money”. Generally speaking, they aren’t.

In late “hotness” the 1970s and 1980s machines have gone up and price and as much as we love them, they are not desirable to the general public unless they ave a nostalgic connection (played it as a kid, with family, etc).

Now, vintage and “hot” machines are machines from the 1990s Bally/Williams. I expect that to continue for maybe 10 years. Then - who knows - machines being made from 2000s to now?

Manufacturers play it safe with licenses that they know they can sell similar to movie studios making films that they know people will want to see or stream.

Barring some media events or circumstances to get pinball mainstream for a brief period of time, I see the hobby becoming more and more niche.

As to value of pinball machines, that is market driven and I am bad at timing markets :).
i know that old Bingo machines while considered vintage are generally not worth a lot of money (again generally speaking) so who knows what will happen in the future.


In the actual antique world, the term antique is generally considered to describe an item 100 years or older, vintage 40 or older and retro 20 or older. Anything newer than 20 years old is simply “used.” In the guitar world (the only other collectible market I have some knowledge about) vintage is typically thought to be 20 years or older. But these terms are basically thrown around with reckless abandon in most collector circles these days as the used goods trade has mostly been coopted by direct sales marketplaces online.


Previously (about 15 yrs ago) I was a manager at a number of Chicago Rock Cafes (a late night bar and restaurant chain) in the UK. It’s USP was that they only played music pre-1986 - the idea being that it was to attract 30+ customers as they had more disposable income and were less likely to get wasted and start fighting and taking drugs (plus EVERYONE knows the music was better then than ‘today’s noise’).
They were very successful - until it came to the stage that the people coming into their 30s, simply didn’t relate to the pre 1986 music. By the time that they changed their policy and started playing newer music they’d lost the opportunity to attract new customers and the brand was sold off and shut down as they weren’t making a profit.

I don’t think that Stern is quite in that situation yet, by incorporating more modern themes such as Marvel, Stranger Things, etc. but I would suggest that they need to start incorporating more themes which are now nostalgic to 30 year olds, rather than the 50 year olds they rely on so much now.


Heh, you’re right–now that you’ve brought it up, I have seen people not know you can control the flippers, though it’s mainly little kids without an accompanying adult. The second point you bring up reminds me of something I also see pretty often: people don’t know there’s a 3-ball standard. I occasionally see people walk away from the machine after their first ball drains.

Good point. Any pinball machine with Loona on it is a plus in my book.

My experiences may be different than yours though, but the era of music Stern is focused on, I’ve seen, attracts a demographic higher than the 30s to 40s. I am part of that age range (30s, to be more specific), and except for the very tail end of it, it was before my time. During my formative years, we’d hear stuff like Eminem, Britney Spears, Shaggy, and Christina Aguilera. There are at least two oldies radio stations I can get signal from my home that plays all three of those. (Granted, they also play music from Stern’s preferred era, though one of them stays away from the rock and metal bands characteristic of Stern’s music preferences and goes instead for pop, rap, and New Jack Swing, with artists like Prince, LL Cool J, Michael Jackson, and Lisa Lisa. Makes me wonder–why are THESE artists not used?) That being said, I find the stuff made in the 2010s and 2020s more interesting to listen to, so maybe I’m guilty of the same thing, appealing to personal preferences.

(Speaking of which, I wonder how well a Jojo Siwa pinball machine would fare.)

Yeah, I have absolutely no issue with Stern’s choice of franchises for movies, TV shows, and other non-music themes. They are aiming for as wide an age range as possible, frequently going for themes that children can enjoy alongside their grandparents. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the best example of that. They’re not always the themes I like the most, but I can understand and fully respect their approach. If I ran a pinball company and I wanted to maximize sales via licensed themes, I’d do it too.

Would’ve liked to see the TMNT table use the more modern Nickelodeon character designs over the original 1987 ones though, or at least provide an option with different artwork based on the different interpretations. I wonder if there was a lot of arguing with ViacomCBS over this, considering Ludosity spent a lot of time and energy to do the same thing for Nickelodeon All-Stars Brawl:

(On a tangent, I find it very amusing the Ludosity representative uses an avatar of Adagio Dazzle.)

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Would love to see Stern TMNT done in the art style of Rise of the TMNT, loved the art style of that show.


Nintendo would be a perfect licensing partner. A lot of their brands like Mario, Pokemon, and Zelda are BOTH nostalgic to 30-40 year olds, but ALSO relevant to modern 10 year olds.

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The difficulty lies in actually getting the rights in the first place, as Nintendo is incredibly protective, almost as much as Disney. The rights would be sky-high, and they would be calling all of the shots in how the machine is designed and what it looks like. (You can see it in how Nintendo steadfastly refused to let Mario make an appearance in Wreck-It Ralph, allowing Bowser instead…who was, in turn, not allowed to speak. Though technically, they DID allow Mario to make an appearance, but the asking price was too high for Disney to pay, which says something considering the depths of the Walt Disney Company’s pockets.)

The Pokémon Company (which is the real owner of the Pokémon franchise; Nintendo is just one of the many co-owners) is even more so. The Pokémon Company actually gets to decide how Nintendo uses Pokémon characters in their own games, like the Super Smash Bros. series. It is what is known as a “production committee,” an alliance of various companies from separate industry with representatives who all collectively physically meet every day and have the final say in all decisions pertaining to usage of the franchise (both from a production standpoint and a licensing standpoint). There would need to not only be someone from a pinball company who can speak Japanese and understands Japanese business customs enough to not be shown the door immediately (they’re very different from western business customs), but they would need to convince enough of the company representatives of The Pokémon Company to agree to even consider rights in the first place, let alone deciding on a price. Pinball is poorly understood in Japan, particularly by the generation of people running businesses like The Pokémon Company; they would likely force decisions that don’t always make sense under threat of pulling the license otherwise (without a refund).

If we’re going to have something Nintendo-themed, as they’re very defensive about their brand image, it may be easier to go for a franchise not near the top but perhaps risen recently. Animal Crossing could work, with the recent success of Animal Crossing: New Horizons; as would Metroid, with the recent success of Metroid Dread.

Bear in mind, also, that based on my observations, Nintendo consistently would most likely ask that any licensors be up-to-date with character designs, art styles, and scenarios. If we’re to have a Metroid-themed pinball machine, for instance, you can bet that not only would Samus need to have her current appearance (more muscle tone, current equipment on her Power Suit), but Raven Beak would likely be required to show up at some point (as the most recent popular character). There won’t be any retro art direction like Stern got to do with TMNT.


Someone actually made Undertale as a homebrew, it looks pretty awesome:

The issue with pinball themes is it had to sell and the people with the disposable income/$ are generally older. But hey if this IGN article about the Banning auction is to be believed, we’ll soon have crypto millionaires getting into the market more haha

I wonder how much a Dragonball or Power Rangers (or Kamen Raider / other sentai) license would cost. From my observation at comic con, those are 2 of the fanbases that might actually have enough people with enough disposable/entertainment $ to buy a pinball machine haha (although as prices keep increasing and the market rises…)

There probably is a lot of viability in doing what Spooky did with Halloween/Ultraman: Same code/playfield but art/sound/graphics/etc swap with 500 of the more niche theme.