On ball saver in high level competition

I was watching a bit of footage from IFPA WC and I notised that a lot of the - already pretty difficult setup - games had ball saver turned off. I understand the desire to keep game times as low as necessary to maintain a schedule. But personally I see no ball saver as pretty drastic. And potentially a major influence on the lock/skill balance.

On a game like The Walking Dead I do not like the randomness it adds to a match, that every player is not ensured a reasonable chance of getting the ball on a flipper for every ball. The PAPA final round Cirqus Voltaire game was likewise somewhat anti-climactic to watch for me personally.

Even on a game like The Shadow, that feed plunged balls to a flipper, I like ball saver as it encourages players to a more broad strategy. You know you get a few free chances of game progress towards goals you would otherwise abandon. On The Shadow it could be going for the skill shot or taking a shot at the light lock or the battlefield standup. Ball saver may in fact be the key that allows survival through three light lock shots on a difficult game and a reasonable option to play at least one multiball.

And now for the second part about ball saver that puzzles me. When turned off, as seen on the IFPA footage, I notised that games still utilise ball saver for multiball and such. Isn’t it in fact incorrect, when talking fair competition game and game times, that an adjustment for no ball saver do not cover ball saver in all aspects of the game?

PS. I also notised that IFPA allowed lengthy warm-up time prior to each game. I conscious decision I am sure. Still, lets hear opinions on ball saver or no ball saver.

No idea which I prefer. House balls suck, but I guess you have to deal with them on games that don’t have a ball saver. If I had to choose I would say keep the ball saver on because…more pinball!

For me (and Zach) personally when setting up for any official IFPA events, it’s not a timing issue, but rather an issue of fairness for all players when playing a given machine. It’s also not an issue of trying to balance out a skill to luck ratio problem (as seen by the fact that 3 out of the top 4 qualifiers at IFPA12 were the top 3 overall finishers - we won’t talk about the one player that didn’t make it) :slight_smile:

When you add a ball saver to the game, let’s say 3 seconds, this situation now becomes available:

Player A --> Plunges, ball comes down to the flippers, player gets two shots, drains out the right outlane in 2.8 seconds. Their reward = EXTRA BALL

Player B --> Plunges, ball hangs out in the jets, sling/sling/outlane in 3.3 seconds. Their reward = END OF BALL BONUS

IMO Player A doesn’t deserve a reward nearly as extreme as an extra ball in play over Player B in this situation. The idea behind ball savers is to eliminate house balls from the equation, but it doesn’t guarantee that it does. House balls still happen after the ball saver timer ends, and balls that weren’t “house balls” (player had control of the ball) can then drain before the ball saver timer ends.

The only options we feel keep things as fair and balanced for both players is to either A) offer no ball saver if possible and start the ball in the plunger lane, or B) offer no ball saver and always place the ball on a flipper to start the game.

Seeing how option B is a giant pain in the ass, and option A is how pinball has been for decades and decades before the 90’s, we prefer option A.

Pinball has always been about trying to control a ball that is out of control, with no guarantee that a player will have a minimum of 1 opportunity for a flipper to make contact with the ball on any given ball in play.

With respect to ball savers in multiball, most games don’t have a setting to turn those off.

After IFPA7 in Minnesota we received a ton of player feedback that it would be nice to be able to practice games before the match begins to be able to help those players get comfortable (learn tilts, kickouts, angles for shots, etc). While we have a 90 minute practice session prior to the tournament, players don’t get the opportunity to really get comfortable on games compared to tournaments with unlimited qualifying opportunities. It’s been an overwhelming positive change from the players perspective (from what we’ve heard) since we put that in 5 years ago and will continue to do so.


As long as its the same for every player it doesn’t matter to me whether its off/on. As Im getting more experienced this is one of the items on my checklist before I plunge the ball. It lets me know how aggressive I should be if Im going to lose the ball in the first 3-5 seconds. If there is no ball save Ill be as aggressive as I can to save the ball with the hopes of getting a single danger at most. As it comes to The Shadow, thats just typical risk/reward of any shot. Whether its a skill shot or 10 seconds into regular play, i don’t see a difference.

I see the point of turning off ball saver as means of making games equally less rewarding. On some games at least. For instance Bram Stokers Dracula, that leaves players no option but to plunge to pops. And with pops that regretfully do not halt the ball saver timer. On a BSD in a local arcade I actually extended the ball saver (from 2 to 4 sec) for exactly this reason. Different scenario, I know, operated game vs. high level competition. I felt it was more fair for the players with an almost guarantee of the ball reaching a flipper with Shoot again still lit.

I guess I bring this up as I have experienced games both as a player and as a spectator that I felt left players a little opportunity to get on a groove and utilise some skilful play. With very short ball times. Ball saver being only one of many factors on this of course.

Congratulation on the newly succeeded IFPA.

“Almost guarantee” is still the issue here because no matter how long you increase the timer you can’t guarantee someone the ball on a flipper.

You would be better off IMO switching a game like BSD or other auto plunge to pops games to a 5-ball game with no ball saver. This still guarantees an equal game for both players with respect to the number of opportunities of plunged balls, and helps increase the chances of skillful play being displayed by extending the game by 2 balls.

BSD on 5 ball? Better get that 50M Bats on ball 1!

Welllll… there are few guarantees in life, and most of us here aren’t in the business of death or taxes. :wink: You could turn this into a statistical problem, and try to assign a ball saver per-game that provides, say, a 2SD (95%) chance of the ball being in range of a flipper. For games that serve the ball to the flipper in an orderly manner (e.g. WCS, Shadow), that would be a zero ball saver. For games that generate chaos on launch (e.g. BSD, IJ), you could empirically calculate a ball save time that would provide a 95% chance of the ball arriving at a flipper before the ball saver expired. (And of course, some games suspend the ball save timer when the ball is in the pops, so you’d want to take that into account.)

I don’t see anything too wrong with a “(Almost) No House Balls!” tournament concept.

I like turning ball savers off on some games to add a dimension of skill in regards to trying to successfully get the ball into play and not reward flailing with free points. Although there is merit to allowing players to skillfully use ball save time to make shots they never would normally, I personally feel that more often than not it just turns into free flail points. For tournaments I organize, I generally turn off ball save on any game that either feels the ball straight to the flipper or has a manual plunger that is either three switchable or skillfully controllable. Auto plunge games that have a tendency to house (BSD comes to mind) get to keep their ball savers.

Keep in mind for BSD it’s actually impossible to turn the ball saver off (there’s a nasty bug if you try). So technically we had a 1 second ball saver on it :smile:

Interesting. I didn’t know this.

But it reminds me that configuration is not black and white for pinball. No ball saver on one model might mean something else than on another model. Extra ball can also be tricky to turn of completely on some games.

Plus there bugs to be found here and there. The more likely the more you step away from the factory default.