What technology can be used to improve the pinball viewing experience for the casual observer?


It’s tough to strike a balance, particularly with the pinball crowd. There’s a lot of players who more or less know pinball and then there are those who know nothing. In my case, when I see a familiar game, I never “notice” the commentary (in a good way) because I know what the player is likely shooting for. But take a game like Mustang that I’m very unfamiliar with, and I immediately notice the commentary because I’m lost on what the player is going for.

In pro spectator sports there’s typically a play by play announcer and a color commentator. The play by play guy actually does state all the obvious (maybe we’re so used to it these days we don’t notice it): “Wind-up, fast ball to O’Donnell, swing and a miss, strikes out, and there’s the turnover.” “There’s the snap, Brady, no options, throws it away. Ball will go back to the Jets with just over two minutes to play.”


Here’s a good example of air hockey championships streaming. Their commentary style is VERY similar to how we have been broadcasting pinball. They explain things to noobs, talk about competitors, speculate on outcomes, and even reference where to find info on the sport online.


As someone who is emerging into the pinball see and has watched most recorded PAPA footage, I can tell we’ve come a long way. Starting in the days of post-tournament recording where the big plays were known and the winner was determined, only a limited amount of technology and casting experience was available. One camera over a game was the norm, and a handful of events and games got recorded.

Compare that to today, where we have Telestration, multiple setups with multiple cameras for players/tilt bobs/DMDs, software that allows for a variety of during-production changes, Twitch.tv, and casters with years of experience on the IFPA and PAPA crews. We should be using these tools and toys to their maximum potential, for the benefit of casual and competitive players alike.

But first, I have some ideas for one of the big suggestions mentioned a few times in this thread: storylines.

If you look at modern successful Esports, which is primarily broadcast on Twitch, you can see various games with players who become household names even to the casual viewer. I don’t play competitive Super Smash Bros, but I watch every major to cheer on folks like Hungrybox and see a new chapter unravel in the scene’s lore.

The Smash Brothers documentary did a lot of this work, and pulled people out to watch. Now while this is an extensive project and not feasible for a short-term goal, once some baseline interest and lore comes out the pinball community can look towards a project of this magnitude. How can we get there? First, using the aforementioned technology, put together player profiles for the key players in a tournament. Show a picture, name, key tournaments, IFPA rank, seeding, and so on and swap it over a camera (player cam, most likely) for a few seconds while the casters discuss the player. Some people might find a player is local to them and get drawn in, others might hear of a cool story and will go check it out.

Another way to bring more people to the lore is to make it digestible. Twitch has an amazing highlight system that can ration off series, flashy saves, or crazy balls into bite-sized content that’s easy to market instead of 8+ hour videos where the highlights aren’t prevalent. If there’s time between matches, show some highlights of the upcoming players using this footage as well!

Now that a lore is set up and people might be drawn in, it’s time to hook them by helping them understand what is going on. I’ve had a few ideas tossing in my head, with two major concepts sticking out. First is to incorporate explanations and core concepts into the broadcasts. Have a “teaching” caster who specializes in knowing rulesets and pinball mechanics who can explain them in an efficient and easy to understand manner. Prepare cheat sheets or rulesheets on every game in the tournament bank for the casters to utilize. For all casters, be observent of the state of the game. Many a time I sighed to myself saying “that’s not right” when a mode is falsely believed to have started or a strategy-altering change to the game state is missed. Note taking is good!

The second option is to have a “beginner-friendly” stream or set of videos that caters to the beginner player and talks about pinball mechanics, strategy, and rules. Splitting the stream base might not work for smaller broadcasts, but youtube videos in post-tournament could work! I plan to do something like this in the future to help someone in my shoes a few months ago.

On that second stream conversation, there are a lot of games wired up in a tournament bank. Unfortunately, only one game can be cast at a time. If broadcasts get more viewership, a second stream could be added to show other games with/without commentary to provide choices for viewers. And for those who don’t wish to choose, Multitwitch allows them to watch both simultaneously!

I can ramble on about this, but it comes back to two things: enticing viewers to watch and drawing them in with stories and easily accessible content, and using the power of technology and design to drive up production quality and make the experience more enjoyable for everyone. I’m willing to help with or discuss any of this, especially the PAPA folks since I’m a Pittsburgh native. I want to see pinball grow, and I feel this is my way to do it.


Solid post. I agree with pretty much everything. It’s funny you mention smash bros, because I don’t play the game either but I’ve recently been watching some sets of it on YouTube. You’re right that they do a really good job of hyping matchups/storylines and providing coverage of every game in later rounds by staggering matches.

Another good thing they do is uploading individual matches instead of huge 8 hour videos like you said. I would much rather watch a great 30 minute match then sift through 4 hours of event coverage looking for the good games. Pinballvideos has helped a lot with that problem, but the average person who might stumble across a YouTube pinball video of an 8 hour stream doesn’t know where to find the highlights.


Okay, I figured it might be worth it to bump this topic after reading this article which was supposed to be about the PAPA World Championship, but ended up being just a critique of the broadcast.

Before I comment on it, I want to preface this by saying that I deeply appreciate all the work that goes into the stream. I realize that it’s a difficult, thankless, and unpaid job. It’s easy to sit back and criticize, but the people who actually step up and pour their hard work into streams such as this are totally vital, and should be praised and bought beers at every concievable opportunity. All that being said, I do think there’s a productive discussion to be had about possible changes that’s both honest as well as respectful of the people who work so hard on this stuff.

By and large I think it was a very professional and well done stream. The quality of the video, the commentators, transitions, sound, etc, was all very high. I think the main problem the author of that article had wasn’t with any of those things. The problem they had was that the stream was geared toward insiders. They saw something they wanted to get excited about, but couldn’t, becuse they lacked proper context. I agree with this assesment with some caveats.

Most people watching the stream understand the PAPA format. They know who Bowen is. They’re checking the bracket on their phone. If someone randomly stumbles upon this, they don’t have ANY of that. They see this thing, they’re intrigued, they want to know more. But if they can’t figure out what round they’re in, and who’s potentially moving forward and why… I couldn’t blame them for being frustrated. The commentators did a fabulous job explaining strategies, flipper techinques, giving a little color here and there. But the basic basics, like how does PAPA scoring work, what does the bracket look like, who’s playing and what’s their background. I think that could probably use a little work. It’s easy to forget not everyone watching knows all this stuff.

My caveat is that you don’t need to beat people over the head with it. If you’re watching football, the announcer isn’t going “and the score is still 7-3” or “Tom Brady, multiple Superbowl winner” every 5 minutes, but a little goes a long way. The player profile overlay on the INDISC stream is so perfect for this kind of stuff. You don’t need to overly dumb it down for the people who already know what unlimited qualifying is, but the new viewer just needs a little extra context.


CliffsNotes in the booth! Every good commentator on ESPN has a bunch of papers and lists. I usually get hand fed results from @phendricks at most local events I cast, and they help catch up immensely. But yeah, a few bio notes about each player in the booth would be cool, along with some reminders on what to say.


You also have only a few people like Bowen who know almost every player and a little bit about them and know the rules on every single game. The problem with that is a player like Bowen is going to be playing in the PAPA finals instead of sitting in the booth to do commentary. D’oh!


Ooh, I forgot my one big pet peeve. Remember the game state! I tend to be frustrated when I know that say Player X has a big multiball coming or that everyone is on ball 2 but the casters miss it. I almost feel like a casting notepad could be a great asset.


I will gladly fly to a couple circuit events a year to take 24th/16th and do full commentary for finals instead of playing them if events pay me. ;)…or is that a :slight_smile:


I haven’t had time to scroll up in this older thread, or if it was in others… but the lack of a scoreboard on the stream is a valid critique – even more so because we’ve discussed it before as a community and there is a solution to fix this that’s been successfully used in many major tourneys (PAPA included) in the past. I’m confident that PAPA will implement/integrate this for the future, but it was quite frustrating to take a significant step backward on this crucial element.

In my case, I know the format and I know all the players. But I pulled up the stream on my phone when I had the chance, and I was frustrated to not know what the state of the match was or current round until the commentators mentioned it or someone in the chat clued me in. I didn’t want to stop watching the stream so that I could switch to Safari and pull up the finals status.

An updated, live match scoreboard with player names is a “must have” for a stream of a significant championship.


Same here. I would totally like to be a dedicated caster for some events! The issue is that it’s hard to have dedicated casters when they don’t get compensated and most of them are heavy competitors.

Perhaps that can change in the future!


Some games are easier to broadcast than others. TZ you can look at the playfield and tell what is going on which each player. WPT was a nightmare as nothing is obvious by looking at the PF other than No limit lock is lit or poker corner. Trying to keep track of 4 players in your head gets to be a bit much. Next time I will be taking notes :wink:


It would be neat to have some telestrator use during gameplay explanations to highlight particular shots (e.g. sets of drop targets, scoops, or other playfield features) that players should be aiming for, similar to how plays are illustrated freehand during NFL broadcasts. It can be hard to understand what commentators mean when they verbally describe a shot or particular combo on the broadcast, especially on more complex tables with lots of nicknamed shots (something like RBION might be a good example).

I think this type of freehand function is available using the whiteboard plugin for Xsplit, so it might be possible with a little practice!


Would love to see an attempt at a proof of concept for this. Take an older stream, and re-commentate it with all of the things being talked about. Then show it to some non-pinball people (like, the author of the “13 year old boy wins world championship” article) for feedback.


Actually 5 minutes is probably about right. I have heard that radio stations are on a 3 minute cycle on station identification during interviews. It is important there as people scan, but even in these broadcasts it should be assumed that new people have shown up in the last 3 minutes and need to know the state.


I’m not referring to any broadcast in particular but having watched a few live, the following were all issues I experienced or had struggles with.

  • There’s usually no set schedule for when events will be live. This probably also hurts the live viewer counts. Which leads to…
  • It’s very difficult to find out what’s going on if you join a live broadcast late. As others discussed, having a way to give updates on a set basis (every 5 minutes or so) would be very helpful. After every game I’d like to see the bracket, hear results from other games and brackets, etc.
  • An overview of game strategy when moving to a new game would be great. Some announcers do this or at least discuss what the strategy for the day has been.
  • In early parts of finals, I’d love to see other divisions and especially their finals. Seeing the A players do their thing is great but what about all the other divisions and games? Seeing more than just the same handful of games played over and over would be really cool. I get there are logistics issues with this but just providing extra feedback.


A few points:

  1. Viewership during PAPA was way up during finals from any other broadcast this year - I think it neared 400 at some point. Great work by the whole crew!

  2. I have an idea which I admit I am ripping directly from another sport (golf) that I think would go a long way to getting casual viewers to understand what they are watching - the hole flyover at the start of a game on a machine. We predevelop 15-30 seconds of footage for each game utilizing pointers and a script to explain the general tournament strategies that players will follow on the game. While we are cutting from one game to another, we run that footage. The viewers know what to expect. On most games this is not going to present any problems, but even on very complicated games, like WPT, we can outline how to get to the 3 main multiballs. This will bring viewers the basic knowledge they need in a completely comprehensible manner (because we can make sure we get it right), plus we don’t have to rely on announcers to cover the basics every time.

  3. The PAPA broadcast should be very special. 12 hours of unannounced qualifying footage would have been a mistake (in my opinion) and I am glad that everytime PAPA goes live it is a high quality cast. Broadcasts are archived and become representative of the PAPA brand, and I believe that PAPA rarely puts a bad foot forward.

  4. Paid announcers are a great idea, and I am all for it. I guess we better hope that the changes coming to our sport bring in the sponsorship $'s so we can afford it :smiley:

I had a great time participating and watching the stream, and can’t wait for next year, wherever PAPA takes place.


Hey @PinballProfile, you have just a wee bit of broadcasting experience :wink: and have been using it to do very high quality, well-produced podcasts.

What general and specific pointers, suggestions, or pie-in-the-sky ideas do you have when it comes to broadcasting pinball streams?


Hi, first post on TiltForums, been around on that other pinball forum for years though. :innocent:

This is an excellent idea. Two thumbs up and should be doable given the games in the tournament are known well in advance. I struggled to stay engaged watching WPT as I’m not familiar with it (not the most exciting game to watch anyway).

Lots of good suggestions here, many based off of other sports broadcasting examples. The main issue with most of these I think is that pinball moves fast when a player is at the machine. It is more like ice hockey than golf, certainly. Periods of intense action with the occasional short break between players or games. For that reason I think the broadcast narrative should be mostly play-by-play during play, and then really take advantage of the downtime between players and games to present the background story, ladders, and game strategies, etc.

A lot of the current issues that have been mentioned could be addressed with a bit more structure to the broadcasts, with specific information being presented at predictable times (between players, between games, if the TD has to intervene, and of course, during play).

Anyway, love that I have the opportunity to watch these streams, things have improved so much over the last several years, can’t wait to see the broadcasts evolve rapidly in the future as well! :slight_smile:


I’d recommend that a broadcast team agree on different roles for their “shift” in the booth. Other sports broadcasting, each broadcaster has a fairly well-defined role.

  1. Play by play
  2. Rules/strategy/tactics
  3. Color commentary (player background/profile, game information, tourney, updates on other groups or divisions)