(Topic ID: 215486)

How does one make pinball a living?


By Mistermoberg

1 year ago



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  • Latest reply 1 year ago by xsvtoys
  • Topic is favorited by 5 Pinsiders

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#1 1 year ago

To those who are in pinball for a living:

I'm 19 years old. I'm in a sales job, and in all fairness, I have nothing to complain about. I make a great living, my hours are reasonable, and I can make tournaments and events (pretty much) whenever I feel like.

But, it's not my passion.

I want nothing more than to make pinball my living. I have no desire for flashy things (except pins) - and have no intention on getting married or having children, ergo, I'd even be fine with making a little less than I do now.

What's the most profitable sector of the industry to get into? Selling games? Routing games? Parts and labor? Owning a location?

I'm young, I have nothing to lose, and I don't want work to feel like work. Not that I'm not willing to work, I just want to love what I'm doing.

Any advice or guidance, in any direction is greatly appreciated.

Thanks,

Eric

#2 1 year ago

See whatcha need is a rich daddy....

11
#3 1 year ago

It begins with taking a vow of poverty.

33
#4 1 year ago

Many millionaires have been made in pinball....er, they started out as billionaires

#5 1 year ago

well, first off, you are only 19. Your desires may change down the road with respect to getting married or having kids....Why not try to find a different industry or job that would ignite your passion? Pinball is not an easy way to make a living these days....

#6 1 year ago
Quoted from Mistermoberg:

Selling games? Routing games? Parts and labor? Owning a location?

Out of those, I think either selling games, or owning a location where you keep 100 percent of the coin drop will have you taking home the most, but even at that, it wont be much.

If you are serious about this, i would go to college and get an engineering degree in either electrical or mechanical engineering and then get a job working for Stern or the like. That will have you in the build process of machines, and have you around pinball all day everyday. I don't think it will get much better then that if pinball is truly your life.

#7 1 year ago

like everyone else, start at the bottom, work your way up

designer, programmer, artist

#8 1 year ago

Watch for job postings from stern as a laborer. Move to Chicago. Hope to work your way up through the company. Take night courses that would help you progress into the job you want. Ie, design, art, assembly

#9 1 year ago

Save your sales job salary, live minimally, save your bonuses, & come up with a business plan. Open up an arcade/brew house or something along the sorts. Build your business plan, crowd fund or see your local banker. Go for it.

#10 1 year ago

millennials (resized).jpg

#11 1 year ago

A few directions to chose.

If Pinball Machines are in your life for Income, you should invest a few years learning to work on them. Experience.
Whether you become a large Business, with many of techs, or you are a one man repair person, youll need this information first.

While learning, you can decide if you want to be an Operator, Restorer, Distributor, Repair, or at the sides...Mods, Parts, extras, or
behind the scenes in Art, development, or other. Business classes, and other education, along with your work.

Your balance is between passion and money, as is everything.

14
#12 1 year ago

If he is 19, he isn't a Millennial...

25
#13 1 year ago

I loved IT as a passion, until I i graduated college and now its my day to day. I hate IT now. Not always a good thing making your hobby your job

#14 1 year ago
Quoted from thirdedition:

If he is 19, he isn't a Millennial...

Whoops...still, I mean, come on. Its a leisure activity. Thats like me saying "I want to be a pro frisbee golf player" as my job.

I get wanting to do your passion for a job, but most peoples passions are not job worthy.

#15 1 year ago

All the options you mentioned are essentially low-margin, commodity businesses, with little opportunity to differentiate yourself. You can be successful, but it takes a lot of hustle and some luck.

You can make a living if you get the skills to build machines and work for one of the manufactures. But the community is very small and pretty closed compared to other industries. Getting in would be tough, but you then have skills to apply in other businesses if it doesn't work out.

The most profitable sector is doing high-end restorations. Big dollars transactions, paid for your expertise and skills, little capital investment required, and you get to work for yourself. This may be the toughest option though, as you need the skills to be one of the best around, years of experience to learn the vast differences across machines and manufacturers, and time to build a reputation and client list.

So you need to figure out what you are good at and figure out where it best fits.

My advice is go route a couple of machines. Go to tournaments and shows to network and learn as much as you can about he industry. Invest time to figuring out if its something you really want to do. If you are still excited about it this time next year, then you will know your best path then.

Good luck!

#16 1 year ago

chitownpinball - people are making money at it. Otherwise it wouldn't exist.

#17 1 year ago

Do what Kaneda does.

Start a podcast, pre-order all new LEs, shamelessly promote them on the podcast as the greatest pin ever, then sell your pre-order for profit on eBay.

#18 1 year ago

If you have a good salaried job, that's your ticket to differentiating your career. As others have said, save as much as you can and that brings options. You could research threads here for arcade owners past and present, Sarah at Pinball Wizard (closed down now) might be one to give you advice if she is willing. She is no longer an arcade owner but has a pin maintenance business still. Dave & Busters seems to be doing really well, I do not know their business set-up regarding contractors for the machine maintenance but managing a Dave & Busters and introducing pins seems interesting. Just an idea, work there part-time maybe at first. That place is so loud though you might go deaf. The current winning business model seems to be barcades subsidising the machines with alcohol and food sales. At 19, not sure how that would work. Regarding high end pinball restoration, I would message guys directly, you can find them here.

#19 1 year ago

1. Win Pinburgh.
2. Take winnings and move to a low cost of living location.
3. Wait until next year and repeat step 1.

#20 1 year ago

High-End restorations is where the real money is. You need serious restoration and pinball mechanics knowledge to succeed. You gotta buy junk and put it back together. Not easy, not many can do it, but thats why theres money in it.

#21 1 year ago
Quoted from Mistermoberg:

chitownpinball - people are making money at it. Otherwise it wouldn't exist.

Podcasts do not make money. Special K is a rich kid with a sliver spoon. Dont be fooled.

Do you have the resources to restore pins? Lots of front end work, acquiring knowledge, tools, and the skills.

Do you have access to a 3D printer?

Other than that, are you going to make new pinball machines?

Youre not going to make a living off of it, but I do wish you good luck.

#22 1 year ago

Any answers are going to depend on you answering the following questions:

1. You need to quantify "make a living". $20k per year, $50k per year, $100k per year.

2. You need to identify the skills and competencies that you have (which are transferrable to "pinball").

3. You need to identify what elements of pinball are most enjoyable (fixing, selling, operating, playing, etc.)

4. What industry connections do you have that you can leverage.

If you can have identified any gaps between enjoyment, skills/competencies and earnings then you need a plan to adjust accordingly.

I would love to restore games like HEP. However, I understand it is a niche market and while I am very handy and a good learner; I lack the experience (and certainly some of the skills required). I would have to change careers and take a major initial salary cut in order to gain the experience and improve my skills to consider that. Unfortunately (for me) that isn't in my career plan (would be nice thing to work at in retirement though).

If you have realistic expectations, a solid work ethic and a progressive plan to get where you want to be - you can make it happen. Just don't get lost in the dream - i.e. expect it all to happen overnight.

You are young and certainly have lots of time to achieve your dream (a job that you are passionate about). I think everyone should (and most do) start out with a dream but then we get lost in the wonderful (sometimes not) realities of life. Then you wake up one day and wonder where the time went, how you got where you are, shrug your shoulders and go have a nice relaxing beer. Don't have any "major" regrets but make sure you can pay your bills and have some fun.

Good Luck.

#23 1 year ago

Are you interested in the design aspect of pinball? I would think the most rewarding job in pinball would be working for a company like Stern. Maybe in marketing, public relations, mechanical or electrical, as a designer, etc. if so, you would be wise to go to school first to get a business degree, electrical engineering degree, art degree, etc.

I would think bring an operator is hard work with low margins. Owning a arcade could be tough too.

#24 1 year ago
Quoted from sk8ersublime:

I loved IT as a passion, until I i graduated college and now its my day to day. I hate IT now. Not always a good thing making your hobby your job

I could not have said it better myself....I am in the same boat...

#25 1 year ago
Quoted from kevmad:

Are you interested in the design aspect of pinball? I would think the most rewarding job in pinball would be working for a company like Stern. Maybe in marketing, public relations, mechanical or electrical, as a designer, etc. if so, you would be wise to go to school first to get a business degree, electrical engineering degree, art degree, etc.
I would think bring an operator is hard work with low margins. Owning a arcade could be tough too.

+1

I'll just offer a description of my life's course maybe there's some useful insight here. I am a software engineer, formerly a mechanical engineer. I work for the 3D CAD company whose products, most of the pinball manufacturers use. Stern brought machines to our annual user conference and ICE brought their Super Chexx bubble hockey game, also designed with our software. This got me interested in having a home gameroom of products designed with our software. So it was directly related to what I ALREADY did for a living. I have had the brief opportunity to interface with some of the more well known pinball designers, because of my present job, regarding their workflow. The functionality logistics of pinball machine design are interesting to me and having an indirect affect on the pinball community is cool. Our software, is used in a lot of industries so in that way, any hobby you can have is represented in this way. I get paid well and this gives me the opportunity to feed my pinball/gameroom hobby, provide an interest to my young children as well. I hope this helps.

#26 1 year ago
Quoted from wiggy07:

I could not have said it better myself....I am in the same boat...

Yup, having it as a job sucks the fun out of it. I've only had machines on location for 2 years. In the next couple of months I'm shutting it down and selling off my machines.

#27 1 year ago

plus you need to have secure locations meaning putting your pin someplace and not have it stolen or broken into.

#28 1 year ago

download (resized).jpeg

Just get one of these and flip it in a couple years and get rich??

https://pinside.com/pinball/forum/topic/are-there-any-raffles-or-way-to-finance-a-game

#29 1 year ago

There's no easy answer to this. What works for me and my locations won't work for someone else in a different situation.

There are so many things behind the scenes with each scenario. If you have a store selling games you have the cost to get the location ready, rent, inventory (games are expensive), employees... And if you have a crappy location you're sunk no matter what.

If you are an operator you have to have enough locations to make it worth while. That isn't necessarily easy to do depending on where you live. And the restaurant/entertainment business is very fickle and often short lived. You could have a location that is gangbusters for a year, next year it is closed. You need to rotate games and have a place to store and work on them. There are so many little PITA things when operating games that you'd never think of. I've written extensively on this in the past so I'm not going to rehash it. You'd be amazed at what breaks, how often, and the crap that happens at the locations that adversely affect how much money you make.

If you are doing repair work you have to know your shit. If you don't, you'll spend time on return visits and do a lot of driving to fix your mistakes and/or what you overlooked. Or you'll piss off a lot of customers by not returning to fix your mess. And if you do that you'll get the reputation of being a tail-light repairman that won't stand behind his work.

If you operate or repair you'll need a fairly extensive inventory so that you can fix whatever breaks without having to order parts and waste a return trip. Last thing you want is a game down for days while you have to wait on some piddly part that you don't have on hand. You'll need working circuit boards for testing and diagnosis. If you operate you'll need working boards to use as replacements to keep stuff running.

Then there are the things that apply to any business: Permits, licenses, liability insurance, taxes. You may be 19 but you need health insurance. And you need to be saving something for retirement or when you can't physically work any longer. That day will come no matter what you think.

I could go on but I'll stop there.

#30 1 year ago

Post a sign like this one in a conspicuous spot in your gameroom.

41UdEo7+8KL._SX300_ (resized).jpg

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#31 1 year ago
Quoted from Mistermoberg:

I'm young, I have nothing to lose, and I don't want work to feel like work. Not that I'm not willing to work, I just want to love what I'm doing.

THIS part is difficult: once you turn a hobby you love into your job, there is a real good chance you'll fall out of love with it, and quickly. What was once a get-away that you could lose yourself in for a few hours after slogging away at your day job, now becomes the source of all your worries, financial and otherwise. I'm all for following your dreams, but sometimes you have to keep the day job, and cherish those moments in the off-hours when you can press the start button.

If that ain't some pretty sad "dad" advice, I don't know what is...sorry for being a downer; it's just another way of looking at things.

#32 1 year ago

Isn't the profit model for pinball:

1) sell all of your pinball machines
2) by crane machines, gumball, etc
3) profit

#33 1 year ago

Thank you to all who have responded so far.

Big thanks to pbfan stangbat kozmckpinball oldpinguy black_knight and tomahawkjim - your comments give me a lot to think about.

I don't see myself as a designer. I love New England too much to leave it, and while I have marketing and sales talents, math is not my wheelhouse.

I also have limited artistic abilities.

What I'm taking from this thread; learn how to fix games on my own to the point where it is second nature. That seems essential.

Secondly, save more of my income than I already am.

Thirdly, buy games people would want to play.

#34 1 year ago

Here's some free advice, since you asked:

1. The difference between those who "make it" and "are successful" is often determined by factors that are beyond your control. And if you want to get totally metaphysical about it, you (and only you) really get to decide what success is to you.

2. What you can control is how hard you work, how you treat others, how willing you are to be humble, how much you are willing to sacrifice in comfort and stability to find your right place and avocation.

3. What is important to you now may not be important to you in 10, 20, 30 years...and that's ok.

The good news is that, as someone who isn't even in your 20's yet, you have a wonderful opportunity to try a whole bunch of different things without any real consequences! Now is the time to play around and figure out what you like to do and what you don't like to do. Good on you for wanting to figure this out now and for honestly exploring your options.

In my 20's I worked in an industry that I was passionate about. It was (relatively) glamorous, I was around famous, successful people and it was fun. Being around the thing that I was MOST intrigued by day-in and day-out was fantastic. But there were many trade-offs - long hours that included lots of nights, weekends, holidays, etc; I was doing tasks that didn't require a lot of creative/independent thinking on my part; I was constantly around people that were self-involved, entitled, rude and vapid.

Most important for this discussion, it burned me out a bit on that thing that I love(d). I don't regret the experience and am grateful for what I learned and for the fun that I had. For me, I learned that I DIDN'T want to be in that particular line of work because the "work" sort of ruined the fun of that thing for me. YMMV with pinball.

So, you can totally jump into doing something pinball-related full-time as a career choice now if you want. You may find that you have an aptitude for it and we'll all say we knew you when.

Or...you can continue to work your well-paying job that has some time flexibility while you slowly build up a side business that is pinball-related. Then, if the pinball job becomes profitable, you can transition to that full-time and brag to all of us here about how great your life is!

Or...you can continue to hustle in your current line of work and build resources that allow you to enjoy pinball as a hobby without the threat of turning you against your passion. Then you can brag to everyone here about how great and vast your collection of pinball machines is and how successful you are in life.

Regardless, you have your whole life ahead of you.

Good luck.

- Random Dude on the Internet

EDIT: It took me 20 minutes to compose this (and my thoughts) and I could have just quoted sk8ersublime above.
EDIT #2: Ditto spiroagnew

#35 1 year ago

I suggest your keep your hobbies and your career seperate.

If you must explore pinball, take a leap. Send in a letter to the various manufactures. Consider a move to a pinball factory and working there for a few years. Take the opportunity to really learn about the business.

As for high end restoring etc, there are miles between perception and reality. Not everyone can reach and then consistently produce that level of quality.

My .02
Best of luck

#36 1 year ago

Find the largest pinball operator near you (look for the stickers on the games).

Work there for a year and learn the ins and outs.

Keep your ears open on how to avoid paying taxes, avoid businesses that go under and take your games with them, avoid locations that already have coin-op in them, keep the games working no matter what, avoid cities with "anti pinball" laws ($100 license for first game, $200 for 2nd, $400 for 3rd, $800 for 4th....), finding the cheapest liability insurance, avoid areas that are already mob controlled.....

#37 1 year ago
Quoted from PinMagnet:

High-End restorations is where the real money is. You need serious restoration and pinball mechanics knowledge to succeed. You gotta buy junk and put it back together. Not easy, not many can do it, but thats why theres money in it.

I'm not sure about that. I remember HEP posting that his restorations pay the bills and made it sound like he's not getting rich off it. I think it was in his thread about moving his shop. Keep in mind, this is someone considered GOAT at restoring too. I enjoy restoring, but would never do it as a living. No way. There's so much labor involved, I don't see how you can make much profit. Plus, you would need a good size workshop to do many machines. I personally wouldn't look at pinball as a way to make a living.

16
#38 1 year ago

Lately the best way to make $ in Pinball is to create a PONZI scheme.

#39 1 year ago
Quoted from PACMAN:

Lately the best way to make $ in Pinball is to create a PONZI scheme.

Beat me to it. Ha!

#40 1 year ago

I would definitely reiterate what has been said about keeping your career and your hobbies separate and about your priorities changing as you get older.

I grew up wanting nothing more then to fly fast jets. And by all means I accomplished all my goals relating to flying cool jets. You always hear young guys who are first starting out say they would pay to fly cool airplanes. Now at 40ish flying is just a really good paying job with a great office window. It’s still a great job but it is just a job. I only do it cause they give me money.

Money let’s me accomplish what I want on my off time. My advice. Find a career you can stand that pays you really well so you can really enjoy your hobbies in your off time. Plus when your goals and desires inevitably change money affords you opportunity. And Opportunity is the greatest gift you can give yourself (or your loved ones).

#41 1 year ago

consider software development. writing your own games, etc. get a job at a pinball manufacturer. and software development will continue to be a valuable skill regardless of whether there are any pinball companies.

#42 1 year ago

Not sure of any pinball modders make a career of it in a niche industry but you could consider that angle as well. Some great ideas have been hatched here.

#43 1 year ago

It seems like the barcade industry might be the way to go for you. Get experience and in a couple years open a location. You need good food, good beer, league nights the whole nine yards. I've been wanting to open one up by the University of Scranton myself. Just remember, in the bar and restaurant business you are married to it. You CANNOT trust people to run it for you or money WILL disappear. You have to be around and on top of things. If you are willing to do that, then go for it! We need more barcades.

#44 1 year ago

If you want to kill your love for pinball, no better way than to try and make a living from it.

#45 1 year ago

Take it from someone who did service calls for years and was trying to make that his living....

Quoted from snakesnsparklers:

If you want to kill your love for pinball, no better way than to try and make a living from it.

This could not be more accurate.
If anyone is interested, I wrote a very long post on a local arcade group about what it's like to do service calls.... I'll post it here if anyone is interested.

I'm surprised no one had done this yet:

one-does-not-simply-make-pinball-a-living (resized).jpg

#46 1 year ago
Quoted from Allibaster:

Do what Kaneda does.
Start a podcast, pre-order all new LEs, shamelessly promote them on the podcast as the greatest pin ever, then sell your pre-order for profit on eBay.

I don't understand why a distributor would sell a sold out game to a known flipper. Doesn't that just generate ill will with others in the hobby and prevent someone who really wants the game from getting it? I can understand someone who wants to buy a sold out game, play it for a while and then eventually sell it at break even or even for a profit when the new thing on the block comes out, but to just steal someone's spot in line and never even take delivery of a game, leeching money off of others in a small hobby without adding any value just seems douchey to me.

#47 1 year ago

Sorry if I missed it in this thread. I have always wondered about some of the people who are making and selling mods. I see quite a lot of these floating around eBay and here also. A lot of these mods (from my perception) look like toys or trinkets with some LEDs installed. They don't seem like they would be too difficult or expensive to make (maybe with a 3d printer?) but they sell for hundreds of dollars. It wouldn't take huge numbers of these to be sold to make a one-person living. Are these just sideline businesses or hobby businesses, or is someone making a full time living that way?

There are others making money in the aftermarket - selling LEDs, rubber rings, repairing circuit boards, etc. Not sure how well they do.

HEP has all the work he can possibly take from what I understand. But he has said in his threads that he doesn't make a whole ton of money. The skill set it takes to get to that level is through the roof, it would take years to get to that level and that's assuming you have solid mechanical and artistic skills to start with. I have wondered at times if someone could work with him on an apprentice level for some time, thus allowing more throughput and therefore more money to flow. But he is probably too much of a perfectionist to tolerate anyone else doing the work.

#48 1 year ago
Quoted from Knapp_Arcade:

I don't understand why a distributor would sell a sold out game to a known flipper. Doesn't that just generate ill will with others in the hobby and prevent someone who really wants the game from getting it? I can understand someone who wants to buy a sold out game, play it for a while and then eventually sell it at break even or even for a profit when the new thing on the block comes out, but to just steal someone's spot in line and never even take delivery of a game, leeching money off of others in a small hobby without adding any value just seems douchey to me.

I am not defending the guy, as my opinion of him is probably the same as yours. But with that said, if there weren't buyers willing to pay for the flip then there would be no flipping. I don't blame a soul for trying to make a buck in this world....if you want to blame anyone, then blame the buyer. Pinball is not like insulin, you won't die without it.

Not trying to start the whole "is flipping unethical" argument, but we are all trying to make a buck in the world.

#49 1 year ago

When it comes right down to it there is no money in pinball. At least not anything you can pay the mortgage with and support your collecting addiction and have money to take the misses out to dinner at least once a week. We'll I guess it all depends on how much you mortgage, what you collect and taking her to someplace like Hot and Now for dinner.

John

#50 1 year ago

Take a quick guess how much I make in pinball Eric? You see a brief glimpse of what I do every week. Keep your day job.

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