Pinball machines are set to make a comeback, if manufacturers are to be believed, thanks to the popularity of pinball games on smart devices and consoles. A raft of new companies are making themselves known as the classic bar machines enjoy something of a resurgence.
Of course, pinball machine makers have a vested interest in talking up another wave of physical arcade gaming, and it’s their bulk makes it difficult to imagine them regaining any significant purchase on the market, but the figures tell a clear story.
“We’ve seen sales up by 30 per cent in the last year, so there is absolutely a resurgence in interest,” Stern Pinball president Gary Stern, whose company has been manufacturing pinball machines for the past decade, tells the BBC.
But it’s not just commercial sales that are on the up – private collectors are also growing in number as evidenced by veteran pinball repair man Andy ‘The Legend’ Netherwood who says he’s carrying out repairs at least four days a week compared to the one or two jobs he was handling when he started 12 years ago.
The new generation of machines won’t just rely on the flashing lights and tinny speakers of old to catch players’ attention though. Rather than a static image on the playfield, some now integrate an LCD screen that can display explosions and other graphical effects as the ball bounces off pins and obstacles. Basic social elements are also creeping in, such as the introduction of online leaderboards fed by player sign-ins – and machines will even be able to post scores to Facebook.
“There’s been a huge boom in pinball smartphone and console games over the last few years,” says managing director of new company Heighway Pinball, Andrew Heighway. “Many of the kids that play them have probably never seen a real pinball machine. A whole generation has missed out – but thanks to these video games, there are plenty of kids that have been primed for the real thing.”
The feedback loop echoes the one taking place in the boardgame industry, with smart device conversions attracting new players to the physical versions of the game, and driving industry innovation. We recently looked at how boardgames are finding new life on phones and tablets, and altering the medium forever as a result.