Market bubble slowly bursting

By thetylander

November 06, 2021

21 days ago

Have you seen it happening in your area? 
Current events time! It's November 2021, this is hopefully something we can look back on and say "I remember the great pinball market collapse..." or it will be "I remember the great pinball price explosion..."

Only time will tell.

For the past year or so, our local Craigslist has been packed with one day ads. Blink and you'll miss it.

A destroyed Whirlwind for $2000, a Kings of Steel for $900, Charlie's Angels for $1200, Pinbot for $2300, a mint condition Doctor Who for $4000, Black Knights a plenty for $2000, Star Trek TNG for $4600, South Park for $2600, and of course the other many occasional cheap rare or top 100 game in need of a little TLC.
On and on and on.
These were all snapped up quickly, usually with four to eight (or more) interested parties calling on them before the ad got pulled.

There are also the never sell ads - overpriced machines that are listed and relisted for months (years?) without interest from anyone (except for a good laugh!!!) There's a Bobby Orr Power Play for $3600 in fair condition, a High Speed that started a year ago at $2300, has had nothing done to it and is listed by the same seller now for $3000, two beat up Harlem Globetrotter by different sellers in the $3000 range, a beat up "very rare so it must be valuable" Bally Atlantis which nobody has any interest in because it's way overpriced, a lot of different EM machines in need of overhauls priced well above current going rates for pristine examples, the obligatory Twilight Zones from $7900 to $13,000 in "meh" condition, a Guns and Roses CE for $20,000 (really!!!), and of course all the new release Sterns marked up by flippers roughly $1,000 above the MSRP right next to an ad from a local shop selling the exact same machines for the MSRP!

...and so on.

But lately, things have gotten very quiet.

The never sell ads are still there. They are permanent fixtures to classified ads and always have been. They are like that stereotypical guy with the 68 Chevy SS in his yard with the tree growing through the hood who thinks it's worth $20,000 because he watched a Mecum auction, or one of those "flip this hunk of crap" shows on TV or YouTube.
There aren't hardly any blink and you'll miss it ads anymore. We'll come back to that in a minute.

The flipper buy ads have gone underground too. There used to be ten to twenty "$$$$We buy Pinball$$$$" ads at any given time, now we are down to only one or two con artists and it's the same people everyone knows and avoids.

The local pinball shops aren't moving stock anymore either. It used to be that their inventory was constantly changing, but their listings have changed very little or not at all since June of 2021. 

So what's going on? A calm before the storm? A holding pattern? Did we suddenly run out of Pinball machines? Were they all bought up by covert government agents and sent to China in exchange to reduce our ever expanding and unbelievably incredible deficit? 

Or is it something more mundane, like they can't be sold until they receive an official label from the state of California that declares that playing pinball causes cancer and reproductive harm.

What surprises me the most is that the normal private party ads are drying up, The ones I call blink and you'll miss it ads. Even over on that platform which I never use that has nothing to do with faces or books, the marketplace ads are getting fewer and far between. Hoarding has something to do with that, and with the sudden "pinballs iz valuable and rare" propaganda by the drive by media during that overhyped museum of pinball auction, I can understand why Joe and Dorothy Noname are holding on to that broken F14 Tomcat their son left in their garage ten years ago for "just a little bit longer".

I am only guessing, but I remember this sort of thing happening during the comic book collector bubble. "Everything iz rare and collectible" entered the mainstream, publishers, flippers, shops, and private parties had a field day buying and selling their stuff. Millions of copies of the "very rare and collectible" Death of Superman were printed. eBay was loaded with Key X-Men issues as CGC scrambled to slab and grade everything they could get a profit percentage off of. Shop at home and QVC sold huge lots of "ultra rare" comics to people who lacked any common sense at 3am. 
Suddenly it stopped.

Comic shops closed their doors, publishers went bankrupt, buyers stopped buying and sellers were stuck with hundreds of worthless copies of Green Lantern volume 3 number 1 and Adolescent Radioactive Blackbelt Hamsters #1.

With other collectible items that have come and went, most are small and easy to store. Star Wars toys, porcelain figures and dolls, crystal knickknacks, beanie babies, comics, coins, sports cards, home video game consoles and cartridges. Those items are all very diverse according to taste and easy to trade for what you want. The exceptions are cars and pinball/arcade machines, both with a high cost of maintenance and storage space needs.

Collector cars even have a slight advantage as they are quite mobile and don't usually need to be stored in your house, but pinball and arcade cabinets are huge bulky pieces of indoor furniture that do one thing and need constant TLC. 
It makes me wonder if the disadvantages of pinball collecting is finally being realized by the casual collectors, investors, hoarders and flippers.
A lot of game rooms were created by the COVID lockdowns and martial laws that they sweetly called "mandates", and many of those game rooms are full. Being allowed by our benevolent dictators to go outside and enjoy a tiny bit of your former liberties and rights as a human being meant that these game rooms are becoming less and less important. Knowing how much they stupidly paid for said games and hoping to turn a profit and not a loss means that these machines are in a holding pattern. Nobody wants them at their peak prices and nobody wants to sell them at a loss. Like most things these people collected on a whim, they eventually will either take a loss or have it auctioned off by their next of kin at their estate sale.

Again, my theory is that the market is imploding, not like the stock market does from time to time, or the tech bubble, or even the great coin collection crash of the late1980's. More like Cabbage Patch Kids.

They were hot, rare and crazy collectible. Then they weren't and everyone moved on.

Perhaps not the best example, but like those "no longer relevant" Cabbage Patch dolls, there were people who were still fans, adored them, and collect them to this day.

Just like us long term pinball fans, the core collectors aren't going anywhere. There's still games we want, ones we'd like to trade out and the machines that are keepers for life. 
I'd like to end this by saying I could be completely wrong.

This could be the start of a huge collector bubble. If the flippers and investors have hoarded and stored all these machines they bought over the last few years, then carefully use propaganda and consumer manipulation to sell these machines, slowly, one at a time, at high profile auctions with media and online coverage... let's just say it's pretty scary.

Is this the future?

"Ladies and gentlemen, lot number 2334 B. A 1992 Addams Family. You don't see these anymore! One of only 22,000 made and one of the most popular games in history. This one comes with factory correct legs and original playfield glass, manuals, brochures, and memorabilia. Painstakingly refurbished for exact period correct detail 6 years ago, this key machine is sealed and certified 9.2 near mint by the Pinball Grading Corporation in a tamperproof air tight plexiglass cabinet and has been stored in a dark climate controlled building for the past five years. We start the bidding at $45,000."

Don't think it will happen? Expensive and rare comics used to be readable and expensive and rare video games were playable. Now they are slabbed and graded and certified for maximum profit.
So what do you think? Is it the end or the end of the beginning of the end?

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16 days ago

Cant last, prices are too high

16 days ago

Well written, great writer, calls it like is is, quite factual and tremendous insight into this hobby. Explained my story without ever meeting me. Thanks for your time Ragman.

16 days ago

Or perhaps we can blame inflation (not necessarily pinflation) which is a time to buy and hold assets not cash. You sell a machine and now all you have are a fist full of devaluing hundies and a pin-sized hole in your game-room.
As one listing I recently read, eloquently stated: "...willing to trade for like-value machine. I'd rather not sell because I am not sure I can find another to put in its place".
Combine this with a visible move toward fiscal conservancy and ya, the market has gone a bit hush-hush.
I think the prices we are seeing are here to stay (due to inflation) but I am witnessing a pull-back of buying in unrelated industries as people are becoming warry about the cost of non-discretionary spending. IE. wife says TP before AF.

15 days ago

Excellent write up. There will be a time that everything will "crash" and it will start over again. Lots of short term monies being made with the stock market because everyone has a brokerage account on their smart phone.... That's my opinion anyway.


14 days ago

I've noticed some of this myself here in the Midwest. Though certain titles will bring in money. Lots of people just holding on to games.

14 days ago

The collector car market has seen insane increase in prices..someone just bought a Honda civic for 100,000 dollars.. I did not stutter !

12 days ago

If you find any of those Williams games at the states price above, hit me up. Haha

12 days ago

No, it’s the flippers. They’re responsible. Where there’s profit, they will be there. Wherever there’s a project pin for pennys on the dollar, theyll be there. Where ever there is a true fan of pinball, playing and enjoying themselves.. they won’t be found :P

11 days ago

New to the hobby just looking to acquire one or two machines - at current prices, that's all much budget can afford right now anyway. Following price trends, it seems EM machines weren't affected by the price increases too much, mainly the SS games from the mid 80's to early 90's. Been debating with myself for a while when the right time to buy was.

11 days ago

Very true. A lot of SS games went for "Big Money" while the EMs mostly got left in the dust. I agree with @Occelot and @thetylander. Most of the time these flippers always want easy $, so they go to auctions/flea markets/swaps, etc., try to find a rare item, and sell it for twice the price to get their money back. I don't even see much want ads for machines I enjoyed (Ex. Xenon was on Pinside for a while, now hardly comes up). I know it will come back eventually. But right now, time will do its thing.

11 days ago

A-list EMs were very affected by the price increases. Just like SS, the title first needs to be desirable. Random SS titles in my area anyway, have not been automatic sales even at what may seem reasonable pricing comparable to pinside etc.

If you want to buy machines at fair market value, you really need to get to know people in the community, and let them know you are looking to buy etc.

Deals can still be had in the wild, but you really need to know what you are doing and/or be super fast for those fire sales.

11 days ago

I find this a pretty interesting post. I feel like the drive in the market is primarily due to COVID and the push for everyone to stay indoors. Instead of enjoying yourself at a bar people are now trying to make their home bar as awesome as possible and we can all agree that no mancave is complete without at least one pinball machine. I personally believe that the "bubble" will not burst until this trend reverses which doesn't seem to be coming any time soon. There is the risk of market over-saturation with pinball manufacturers pumping out games like hotcakes, however, that may remedy itself if there is a decline in demand for brand-new games. All in all I wouldn't be surprised to see the market to continue its trend upward(for 80's and newer games) or at least stay steady for years to come. Pinball is hot right now and even if the economy opens back up there will still be people wanting to enter the hobby who recently played downtown at their local watering hole.

10 days ago

I really enjoyed reading this post, very well written. I agree with your commentary that we are in a bubble and I have thought the same thing that there is only so many pinball machines people can have in their house. With not really anything for sale because replacement cost has risen considerably and everyone has a fear of selling too cheap. At some point this will go the other way and liquidate. I hope so I have been looking for a Metallica for almost 2 years!!!! haha

10 days ago

Interesting comments. Except the political part where you called commonsense precautions and consideration of your community to be less than your personal willingness to get others sick and extend our COVID imposed new lifestyle. Those 600K that died as a result of lies and inaction must feel so good about that viewpoint. I'd flag you and ask the moderator to remove your post, but that mechanism doesn't seem to exist for stories.

And it's a shame, too, because the rest of what you wrote is good reading. Just not the political stuff.

10 days ago

Great write up. In February of 21 I bought a CGC MM in Classic Edition for 8500, and then brought it home and gave it the Royal treatment for a total 10k. I almost didn’t buy the MM since I only wanted to pay 8k for one, but I swallowed my pride and paid 500 more then I wanted to. I also picked up a CGC MB LE for 8k. There’s no way I could get those pins for that price today. Glad I have those in my collection.

9 days ago

Yes, an interesting and hotly debated topic. Lots of variables in this one. I've been thinking selling prices will turn around anytime now for over 5 years, and yet they continue to rise, and of course Covid has just made it worse. But my question is, does the law of supply and demand work here? If pinball manufacturing, which has had low margins for years driving many companies out of the business, becomes a high profit market, won't that be attractive to other would-be manufacturers? We already have seen a number of small operations (some better than others for sure) try to capitalize on this with varying degrees of success. JJP is probably one of the best success stories. But will we ever see another day where casual buyers of pinball again lose interest and new sales sink? Distributor inventories are replenished and supply outstrips demand? My guess is probably not until the supply chain issues on many items (especially micro-processors) get sorted out. In the mean time, the shortages of games has given the manufacturers free reign to raise prices at their whim. I know inflation plays into it, but I think some of it is just because demand currently outstrips supply - in other words - just because they can. Capitalism at its best, love it or hate it.

8 days ago

Great post, and agree 100% that lockdowns were retarded, ineffective, illegal, and UNCONSTITUTIONAL. Look at Australia now, they've become a prison colony again! MtnFrost's comments are indicative of someone whose selfish, narcissistic views dictate that everyone around them give up their rights and liberties so he can feel "safe". Well that's not how the world works - the states that NEVER locked down, required masks, or any of that other insane crap now have the LOWEST rates of covid! I attended a football game last week with over 100,000 of my closest friends and NOT A MASK IN SIGHT! And no uptick in cases. People are finally starting to figure out that they've been lied to by the government about covid, vaccines, and the list goes on and on.

Live your life to fullest and enjoy it in public and private, don't buy the propaganda! Invite some friends over, have a few beers, and PLAY SOME PINBALL!

7 days ago

Oh shoot, am I on Facebook? Lol.

6 days ago

Thanks for the comment @PinPilot I sent a private message to MtnFrost but I thought I should share it here because it’s important.
Cancel culture is everywhere. And it’s incredibly frustrating and sometimes terrorizing. Mtn Frost wanted my story deleted. We start there. This is a long one, sorry!! Skip it if you just don’t care!

To MtnFrost:
A tiny place in the world where my alleged political beliefs can’t be punished for disagreeing with your political beliefs?
Don’t you find that terrifying that this is the only place where I can’t be reported for having incorrect thoughts. What has the world become!
I am not here to argue with you, play cancel culture games, or shout “I fact checked it” back and forth at each other until we pass out from exhaustion. Instead, I ask for peace.
We used to have a saying “live and let live”. It has been replaced all across America with “agree with me or be deleted from existence.”
It really hurt to think that someone into pinball would want to censor and remove someone else because they don’t lockstep in time with the current approved narrative.
We are all aware that anyone who disagrees with the approved narrative faces dire consequences now, persecuting an offender and threatening their jobs, family and lively hood with retaliatory actions.
Sounds familiar to anyone who studied history.
What I am about to tell you is not to persuade you or change your mind about your political beliefs or to gain sympathy. I have no need or desire for that. As I said I ask for peace.
MLK said “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
This is a little of the content of my character.
During the peak of this Covid thing. I was working the front lines, unmasked, until it became an unwritten law. I was one of those millions of unknown people keeping the country from collapsing. They ranged from paramedics to Walmart employees and any essential services in between.
We were those people who didn’t get to go home and collect their full salary plus stimulus checks to sit on their butts, watch Netflix, and do nothing. Not that everyone did, but even a priest gets to take a sabbatical. We couldn’t.
We wouldn’t!
We have our duty and our honor and our loyalty to our fellow Americans.
So you help anyone and everyone, regardless of their social status, race, sexual orientation, or their political beliefs. Then you work till you collapsed then you did some more.
“Sorry kids, dad can’t spend time with you or be your home school teacher, he’s passed out at the kitchen table.”
Meanwhile, while we were giving our all, people are hoarding toilet paper burning down cities and rioting.
And you help them… ALL of them, regardless of who is right and who is wrong. Live and let live. Not my place or right to decide. People need help.
I got sick. Nope not because of that Covid thing. I was running around maskless breathing the air of the sick literally with no natural physical defenses. Never caught the Covid. Strangely, none of us did.
Then my father died. Heart attack. 72 years old. Medical personnel were too busy treating the Covid patients and the long list of Covid hypochondriacs to see him. Low priority old man with a heart condition. If I had been there instead of taking care of others…. Well it is what it is.
I took a couple weeks off, with the constant hint of guilt from work that I need to quit being sad and get back to my duties.
That’s when it got bad. Pneumonia. I had to be sick. No choice. A 2020 election came and went and I was told by my immediate supervisors that now that the political climate has changed, the Covid will be done by April, since I didn’t have Covid, I can be terminated for absenteeism.
And I was. Not for my public political beliefs, right?
What do you do. Fight it? Sue over wrongful termination? Attempt to get unemployment and live off the government and taxpayer? No. I was too weak to fight and wouldn’t want to work for that service anymore. Take it on the chin, dust yourself off…
But you get back up, get on your feet and continue.
I have done so, finding a new calling, still doing good for others but in a different way. Meanwhile my sister informed me that she’s become a nurse. I wish her well in the future front lines. The ones that make too much money to ever end.
I talk about all this to you because nobody gets to know anyone before they cancel them. They assume that “they must be the enemy” and do everything in their power to hurt and destroy them.
My experiences are different from yours. Not better or worse, more exciting or more special.
But now you know a little about the person you wanted banned for having a different opinion than you do.
Am I a bad person? Do I still deserve to be hung without a trial?
It’s funny, we used to have this same problem, pretty much since the beginning of written history. People hated other groups of people for what they were, what the represented, or simply because they looked different. The righteous ones made those dissidents suffer for not believing doing acting or living the same way as those that were right and correct. Punishing them in any way they could.
Two million years. Humans haven’t changed.
I don’t want you to join my pagan religion or corrupt your mind with my politically incorrect beliefs. I stand by what I believe and so do you, just as strongly as I believe in mine.
And I respect you for it. I believe you are an honorable person for that.
I also believe we are equals with different political beliefs. Would you offer me the same courtesy?
That’s what peace is.
Agree to disagree.
Live and let live.
It’s time for peace and for cancel culture to end.

5 days ago

Nice going thetylander!

5 days ago

Looks like a few of you have pokiticized this discussion to the point it is a turn off. If you think your perceived personal liberties are more important than public health and the risk to others, that is your opinion and you are entitled to it.

However, most of the rest of us would just prefer to stick to the pinball aspect of it and whether there is indeed a bubble or not.

5 days ago

I hope the increased prices are temporary. I’m too new to the hobby.

4 days ago

I wish. There is no bubble bursting. No supply of pins. Lots of new interest in the hobby. People in the hobby with disposable income. Only a recipe for continued increases in prices.

4 days ago

Plenty of new pins available, Jersey Jack said he has plenty of material to create new games and planned accordingly. Yes there are plenty of shortages everywhere but at the same time, people keep paying these high prices. I don't see a whole ton of value in games north of 7-8k.

I come from a time when a Twilight Zone was 1400, I've been in this hobby a long time, it is unfortunate that the market has creeped up so high that families and enthusiasts can't get into the hobby. This hobby should be for everyone, not just the wealthy...

4 days ago

I've officially bowed out of buying machines for the present and foreseeable future. I've been buying trading and selling for about 15 years now . You could get a Twilight Zone in fantastic shape for 2K back then. Now they're 9 to 10 . The prices have gone crazy the last few years but this past 6 months or so is ludicrous. I'm not paying $10,000 for a 30 year old machine. There's plenty of other things to do with your time and money than pinball! Get out and enjoy mother nature and save your money!!!

4 days ago

well written story with a lot of good points.
money is fast becoming worthless so I don't expect a big crash in value in the near future.

3 days ago

I wish you left politics out of this. No reason for it. it's only pinball. The big goober in all of this is -nobody really knows- you do not know whether or not the actions taken by nations of this earth worked or did not work. You really do not know. 3/4 of a million people dead and the greatest generation who sacrificed so much without complaining has been wiped out in our country. did the actions help, not help or make it worse? It probably didn't make it worse. From there who knows. Alas, I am glad you have not gotten this thing and hope you continue to be healthy and safe.

3 days ago

Great writeup. One thing I would like to ad to the equation is the fact that the hobby has drawn lots of new people during the pandemic. Thousands of new players have purchased 1-3 pins and this has created a new surge. Stern has increased their LE production from 500 to 1000 on new titles like Godzilla and they sold out day one. We have more demand because of new pinheads but less production because of component shortages and this drives prices. If the majority of new hobbyists decide to sell their pins after the pandemic then we will have a bubble as the market will flood with preowned fairly new pins. But if the majority keep the interest in the hobby then Stern and JJP will need to increase production to keep up with demand and we will continue to see incremental price increases. Just my two cents.

2 days ago

Nice write up.

I think the price of in production used pins is going to crash down to $500ish below NIB prices once production catches up with demand. I might pay above MSRP for a in stock JP or GZ premium today, but if I could order it NIB and have it here next week why would I? I might buy one used for $500 less if I could have it.

Manufacturing just needs to catch up and it will. I expect this to happen sometime in 2023-2024.

2 days ago

I don't think it is...I expect prices to continue to rise.

1 day ago

Great comments so far from everyone on both sides of the topic!
Inflation is a factor that will force prices up regardless of demand but currently some prices are doubling and tripling the inflation rates.
A follow up question to ponder, instead of a bubble expansion and burst if the demand quietly settles back down to that of a normal collector market product, which way do the prices go?
Also, what would you do if the bubble burst and the investors started dumping machines on the market by the truckload?
Would you pick and choose some to buy?
Totally ignore the sell off?
Wait for the lowest price, taking a chance to miss out if/when the market recovers?
Join in on the investment dumping before your machines lose all their value?
Or like me you start dancing and singing “Ain’t no lie, buy buy buy!!!!”
(Sorry to get that song stuck in your head!)

2 hours ago

I'm out as a result of the current market and I've always been pretty liberal with paying too much for pinball machines. Its ridiculous now, especially in Canada. have to say I sold all my games and after a few months not really missing it all the much. Still if a dream theme comes up I don't think I could resist but in this hobby my dreams theme's will most likely never happen. Superheros, 80's cartoons, RnR bands, and kiddie theme's just aren't gonna do it. Once the price gets too high for the buyers in the states it will crash.

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