(Topic ID: 332767)

Life expectancy of current era of games.

By etr104

1 year ago


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  • Latest reply 11 months ago by Crispy77
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    #1 1 year ago

    Hey everybody,

    Was hoping some people could chime in their opinions of what they think the life expectancy of games being produced today is.

    It's not uncommon to see 50 year old EM games from the 1970s still in service, both in private collections and on location. And while there are probably a lot fewer techs who fully understand the wiring logic that allowed you to have a reasonably complex game without a computer keeping track of everything than there once were, the parts themselves seem very standard and the ones that aren't seem easily fabricated, I feel like as long as there are techs who understand EM machines, they will survive forever. Unfortunately this is not a skill set that I personally posses.

    On the other hand, we have machines being produced today. I'm an IT Professional and I actually feel a whole lot more comfortable working on a Linux based JJP game than I would with with an 80's solid state game or an EM machine. At the end of the day, a flipper still largely works the same as it did 50 years ago. But with all that said, it feels like machines today have a whole lot more proprietary, game-specific parts, node boards, specialized light boards, etc. Items that once discontinued would be a lot more difficult to fabricate than say a replacement for a broken plastic on an EM machine.

    So with all that said, what do you guys think of the 'life expectancy' of games being produced today? When you spend $10-15k on a NIB game, do you think you will be able to source parts for it 20-30 years down the road? I mean Stern Pinball has been around for over 20 years, how easy is it to source parts for Stern DMD era games like Striker Extreme, Harley Davidson, Austin Powers, etc. Are they still easy to keep running?

    Like many of you, I have a lot of money invested in my machines, but sometimes I worry about the future.

    #2 1 year ago

    It's not as much the age that takes most machines, it's the number of plays. Most machines sold now days go into a home environment, so they'll potentially be around for a long time.

    21
    #3 1 year ago

    The time bomb is the proprietary stuff like the node boards. If they go bad you're reliant on companies like Stern to supply new ones, and nobody has reverse engineered the chips on them to be able to repro them.

    Until that happens they're going to be a longevity risk.

    Things like light boards are in theory relatively easy to make, they're probably all using standard protocols, it's when you run into logic chips with closed source code that it gets tricky.

    26
    #4 1 year ago

    In a world where people are managing to keep Atari, Zaccaria, and everything else running after close to half a century, I have zero doubt modern games of all makes will be functioning in 50 years.

    And, there's more HUO games than ever, and more every year. There will be a relatively huge amount of HUO games in 50 years compared to how many there are now.

    I would not worry about any of this at all. By the time this stuff is unfixable you will be too.

    #5 1 year ago
    Quoted from Electronmagic:

    It's not as much the age that takes most machines, it's the number of plays. Most machines sold now days go into a home environment, so they'll potentially be around for a long time.

    This. So many of them hardly get played after the initial newness wears off. Thankfully they don't put leaking AA batteries in games anymore.

    #6 1 year ago

    On the topic of hardware lifespan.... There are a number of interesting stories this week about Wii U owners finding that their devices have been bricked due to the NAND memory failing from lack of use (similar to a car battery that needs to be run once in a while).

    #7 1 year ago
    Quoted from Aurich:

    The time bomb is the proprietary stuff like the node boards. If they go bad you're reliant on companies like Stern to supply new ones, and nobody has reverse engineered the chips on them to be able to repro them.
    Until that happens they're going to be a longevity risk.
    Things like light boards are in theory relatively easy to make, they're probably all using standard protocols, it's when you run into logic chips with closed source code that it gets tricky.

    This is precisely what I am worried about and why I put this post up today. I read a post somewhere (Facebook maybe) from somebody who needed a replacement ramp for a Stern machine, since Stern's license for the theme had expired, they were no longer allowed to produce the part. Thankfully plastic ramps shouldn't be too difficult to fabricate. But node boards? I really don't know.

    I have a Stern Rush Premium, and as many of you probably know, there is a specific node board that controls the time machine and the drum clock and this board commonly fails. I've heard of people replacing them 2 or 3 times. Once Rush is out of production, what will happen with all these Rush games with node boards that are prone to failure? Will somebody figure out how to replace them in the after market?

    -1
    #8 1 year ago
    Quoted from etr104:

    I've heard of people replacing them 2 or 3 times. Once Rush is out of production, what will happen with all these Rush games with node boards that are prone to failure? Will somebody figure out how to replace them in the after market?

    No, they'll be useless hunks of wood, plastic, and metal, just tens of thousands of bricked, obsolete games before them (every Gottlieb digital comes to mind).

    #9 1 year ago
    Quoted from CrazyLevi:

    In a world where people are managing to keep Atari, Zaccaria, and everything else running after close to half a century, I have zero doubt modern games of all makes will be functioning in 50 years.
    And, there's more HUO games than ever, and more every year. There will be a relatively huge amount of HUO games in 50 years compared to how many there are now.
    I would not worry about any of this at all. By the time this stuff is unfixable you will be too.

    I hope this is the case. Just really worried about Stern node boards that are prone to failure. How do you replace/repair one of those?

    #10 1 year ago

    Say the worst happens and you have a bricked machine someday. Sell it off or part it out and recoup what you can and move on. Enjoy your games and don’t worry about this. Cue Bobby McFarin!

    #11 1 year ago
    Quoted from CrazyLevi:

    I would not worry about any of this at all. By the time this stuff is unfixable you will be too.

    This is one of the best things I’ve ever read on Pinside and should be obnoxiously reposted to every worrywart/OCD/newbie thread from here on out.

    OP - I have an Iron Maiden that was on for 14 hours a day, seven days a week for three years with over 10k plays. Zero issues to this day. Take the plunge. These things are durable.

    #12 1 year ago

    As an engineer (EE) with decades of experience I can say with confidence the newer
    solid state games will indeed become unrepairable due to the lack
    of replacement parts eventually. The tooling it takes to make new solenoids
    is not that difficult. Try to build an IC, microprocessor or DMD in
    your garage.

    #13 1 year ago
    Quoted from etr104:

    I hope this is the case. Just really worried about Stern node boards that are prone to failure. How do you replace/repair one of those?

    There was a time when it was absolutely true.

    And then people stepped up, built new boards to replace the obsolete ones, and tens of thousands of games were saved.

    And that was when the hobby was a tiny fraction of the size it is now, and people were trying to revive games worth $100, not $10,000.

    In other words…RELAX.

    #14 1 year ago

    Levi, the difference is that pinball machines used to make use of normal electronics. Nowadays the nodeboards from Stern are programmable and they are encrypted so that the boards cannot be duplicated. They deliberately do this to sell a board that costs a few bucks to make a 300 dollar sparepart available only from Stern.

    To make things worse, they decided not to use fuses on the nodeboards and the Spike board, so when something happens, some component on the board will be fried instead of the fuse. I had this happen with a spike board of a Batman 66. Needed a complete new board, just because a led had malfunctioned and fried the processor chip. Simple 5 ct fuse would be able to prevent that and all the older systems do use a lot of fuses everywhere.

    I am not saying the boards cannot be duplicated by others, but I am saying it will not be as easy as it was with previous systems used in pinball machines. You do not only need the electronics knowledge, but also have hacking skills. Not that easy and even if someone does it, Stern could send updates that can undo the possibility to use the replicated boards in any machine, thereby using non Stern replacements MUCH more difficult. They could even stop working after some time depending on what Stern has programmed in their system.

    #15 1 year ago

    They will last longer than me

    #16 1 year ago
    Quoted from zarco:

    Try to build an IC, microprocessor or DMD in
    your garage.

    I'm picturing the guys who started Gremlin and their oversized circuit board. They couldn't find a manufacturer to make it, but a local company made it happen with etching in a solution and large bin out in the parking lot! Eventually the manufacturers came up with a larger machine to suit their needs.

    Gotta love good ol' ingenuity

    #17 1 year ago

    As long as there is a hobby I would have to image parts will be out there to an extent. Sure you will have unobtainable parts here and there but people will get creative. Right now the hobby is more popular than ever so it makes sense to make and stock parts. The interesting thing will be if it loses popularity and goes back to how it was in the early 2000s when you had to scour the internet for parts remakes and repro parts were fewer and far between

    #18 1 year ago
    Quoted from etr104:

    I hope this is the case. Just really worried about Stern node boards that are prone to failure. How do you replace/repair one of those?

    Replacements are already not avalable in some cases Game Of Thrones (Pro) https://www.marcospecialties.com/pinball-parts/520-6936-01
    Ghostbusters (Pro) KISS (Pro)

    If it's not repairable you have a brick until a replacement shows up. I don't have much confidence that Stern will continue to make these available for decades.

    #19 1 year ago

    It's going to be the availability of node boards and having people proficient in surface mount repairs. I'd like to be optimistic, but we have games right now that are unplayable or limping along because people are having problems getting node boards.

    #20 1 year ago

    A nice goodwill gesture from Stern (re: nodeboards with discontinued production) would be to eventually make the hex files for those nodeboards' MCU's publicly available under a kind of "right to repair" initiative.

    Someone experienced with PCB design software (EagleCAD) would then be able to design replacement boards from a combination of original board measurements and the schematics from Stern, like this one: https://sternpinball.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/520-7017-72D-Core-Node-Hall-3amp.pdf

    I think the intellectual property of the code on the nodeboard MCU is the main reason nobody's done this for modern Sterns yet (like we've seen with Alltek, Rottendog, and other replacement boards from earlier in the solid state era). Obviously it's quite an undertaking to redesign a PCB, source the components, and assemble... but like Levi mentioned above, it's bound to happen at some point.

    Probably more likely that, rather than formally releasing anything to the public, they just eventually give up and "turn the other way" once repro boards appear in the wild. Cheaper for them.

    #21 1 year ago

    Most things right now...25 years before anything becomes a real issue.

    #22 1 year ago

    I started stockpiling parts for my machines from the day I brought them home, specifically the parts that I thought irreplaceable as an Electronic technician at the time, and I stockpiled zero electronics, and only the gas plasma displays went on the electronic unobtainium list. All other parts can be sourced, supplied, or remanufactured from hundreds of electronic stockpiles in thousands of garages around the world. Game specific electronics, including onboard code, can be duplicated in the future if there is a market. I worry about my CGC machine and all the boards under the covers, so I'm thinking of buying that board set as a precaution, just to have an "unburnt up" version in the future to reverse engineer, but that will be a job for my heirs, not me.

    I can say the age of reproduction has made me breath easier on ramps, plastics, and even playfields, since I have extra pf's and plastic sets of all my machines except the wedgeheads and BOP. But everything has unbroken plastics installed or in the wings. I have translites and Bg's too for most, and backup glass or plexi repro for all my wedges.

    Its the artwork and consumables you worry about more, and the physical damage. Throwing chunks of steel around tends to bust up a lot of things eventually, but electronics are not as "unobtainium" as the spiral ramp used to be on Pinbot... I have a used neon orange original, a black Jackbot NOS, and a repro red one. That worry, from wear and damage is more troubling than "tronic" fear. But I would buy an LCD or two if I owned a NIB Stern, and a copy of every node board in them, at least one each, to have as an on hand spare AND to be used if needed to spec out a reproduction in future, INCLUDING hacking the node board boot sequence, capturing the data packets across the interconnects and learning how to "fool" the controller that the node board "looks real, acts real, and plays real" even if it is NOT real. These things can be done by a hobbyist, and will, but "by whom" and "how long" and "how much" are questions to be answered in the future.

    But I will not outlive any of them

    #23 1 year ago

    I'm just shootin' from the hip here, but rather than a company making replacement individual node boards, how feasible would it be for someone to just program an entire new system to run any Spike game? (kind of like the Flippp boards do all the Gottlieb system 1's)

    Can someone just link a several rasberry pi's and a few arduinos together and run one of these systems? Seems like we're already part of the way there with what I've seen people do with pin browser.

    #24 1 year ago
    Quoted from Electronmagic:

    I'm just shootin' from the hip here, but rather than a company making replacement individual node boards, how feasible would it be for someone to just program an entire new system to run any Spike game? (kind of like the Flippp boards do all the Gottlieb system 1's)
    Can someone just link a several rasberry pi's and a few arduinos together and run one of these systems? Seems like we're already part of the way there with what I've seen people do with pin browser.

    Changing call outs and music cues is not running the machine from any different code, it rides on top of existing code. But yes, someone could do the board set swap but reprogramming the code would require it to be ported and recompiled and then debugged on the new platform, something a hobbyist COULD do, myself included, but something a 15 year old should worry about, probably, because that will not happen until 20 years from now, and it still hasnt really happened with any major pinball machine company yet. Even system 1 can be repaired these days.

    #25 1 year ago

    What’s interesting. In 1985 I guarantee all operators had this same conversation about the Gottlieb system 1 games. Weak electrical design with Spider chips from Rockwell you could not get.

    Fast forward into the mid 90’s and a new CPU was available . So, pick up a super clean System 1 for $100 and put I a $150 replacement board and you have a good game again.

    My point, if there’s a market there will be a solution. The only way people will walk away from these new games is if nobody wants them anymore.

    Also, new games are designed to last way more plays than anything out of the 70’s. LED lights, all cleared playfield. Steel protectors. There are modern pins with over 100,000 plays and still look decent. You take a game out of the 70’s with 25k plays and it looks like trash.

    #26 1 year ago

    When people ask me which of my games I think I’ll keep the longest, I always point to Old Chicago. I explain that I love the other games, but that’s the only one I know can keep running for the rest of my life and my son’s as well, so long as there is still a socket to plug it into. I’ve got a box of parts stashed that should more than cover any breakdown for at least 50 years. My newer games? Not so confident.

    #27 1 year ago

    So, if all the naysayers think the node boards are going to be unobtainable in the future. Buy 100 of them and put on the shelf for later use.

    In 5-10 years you can sell them for a fortune. Unless they are still available or remade.

    I can guarantee you, if the real demand is there it will get revere engineered . Including the software. There might be spotty availability of particular part numbers today. But, to my knowledge all are planned to be stocked. For a few years you could barely find a new car because of chip shortages. But, this is getting fixed

    #28 1 year ago

    OP, sounds like that Rush Premium of yours is destined to become a big paperweight at any moment, I’ll be a nice guy and take it off your hands for $2,500.

    #29 1 year ago
    Quoted from athens95:

    So, if all the naysayers think the node boards are going to be unobtainable in the future. Buy 100 of them and put on the shelf for later use.

    This is brilliant! Let’s buy 100 boards at $300 a pierce and spend $30,000 to keep a machine that’s worth maybe $12,000 running.

    #30 1 year ago
    Quoted from BudManPinFan:

    This is brilliant! Let’s buy 100 boards at $300 a pierce and spend $30,000 to keep a machine that’s worth maybe $12,000 running.

    Plus most are out of stock if even made anymore

    #31 1 year ago

    I'll take Spike 1 node 0 boards that are out of stock for $600, Alex.

    #32 1 year ago
    Quoted from TheLaw:

    Plus most are out of stock if even made anymore

    #33 1 year ago
    Quoted from TreyBo69:

    Thankfully they don't put leaking AA batteries in games anymore.

    I hot glue gun AAs to my modern pinball boards just to live on the edge.

    #34 1 year ago
    Quoted from VALIS666:

    I hot glue gun AAs to my modern pinball boards just to live on the edge.

    Do you like ticking time bombs too?

    #35 1 year ago

    Ok all you EE nerds, riddle me this. Let’s say in 20 years there’s this whole giant mess of great Spike 1-2 games that are bricked due to no spare boards. Tens or hundreds of thousands of games unplayable in this dystopian pinball universe.

    But it’s still a bunch of mechanical assemblies, coils, servos, LED’s…etc.

    You're telling me that someone/startup isn’t going to make some retrofit kit that uses proprietary boards and all new wiring so that your dead box of lights and coils can’t run again?

    If Spike ever becomes dead, what stops using all the bones as a “home brew kit” to revive it all, just under a unique platform? Doesn’t have to be node board based. Just rip out all wiring and use everything else as the whitewood while engineering the rest from scratch on a non-Spike platform.

    #36 1 year ago
    Quoted from Yoko2una:

    Ok all you EE nerds, riddle me this. Let’s say in 20 years there’s this whole giant mess of great Spike 1-2 games that are bricked due to no spare boards. Tens or hundreds of thousands of games unplayable in this dystopian pinball universe.
    But it’s still a bunch of mechanical assemblies, coils, servos, LED’s…etc.
    You're telling me that someone/startup isn’t going to make some retrofit kit that uses proprietary boards and all new wiring so that your dead box of lights and coils can’t run again?
    If Spike ever becomes dead, what stops using all the bones as a “home brew kit” to revive it all, just under a unique platform? Doesn’t have to be node board based. Just rip out all wiring and use everything else as the whitewood while engineering the rest from scratch on a non-Spike platform.

    Possible, but i’d guess the majority of owners in this dystopian hypothetical would still want to keep their machines “original,” rather than a total rebuild of the electronics or a home brew/re-theme.

    Same reason a lot of folks today die on the inside when they see a well-used 70s/80s solid state being rethemed to an anime they’ve never heard of or a movie they don’t care for. Just feels “wrong.”

    #37 1 year ago

    Over the last few months I've had several inquiries regarding node board repair or availability. It seems Beatles, Batman and Kiss are the main ones. I usually refer them to Rob with Lockwhenlit.com as he sometimes repairs those.

    I'm curious why every game seems to have game specific node boards tied to that title? In the wpc,wpc95 days the same boards were used for pretty much each game.
    When I worked for an operator he bought heavy on every title. 40 plus addams etc. As an example. Those wpc,s never had a board failure unless someone was.adjusting switches with power on etc.
    I hope someone will be able to make a work around for those node boars like the Ni Wumpf board used in system 1,s. I turned down 25.00 system 1,s in the 80,s lol.

    #38 1 year ago
    Quoted from JStoltz:

    Possible, but i’d guess the majority of owners in this dystopian hypothetical would still want to keep their machines “original,” rather than a total rebuild of the electronics alongside a home brew/re-theme.
    Same reason a lot of folks today die on the inside when they see a well-used 70s/80s solid state being rethemed to an anime they’ve never heard of or a movie they don’t care for. Just feels “wrong.”

    I think he means rebuilding a dead stern spike game with something like the mission framework system, but keep the same rules and sounds as the original. Essentially changing as little as possible with the game, just keep it running as close to original as possible.

    Like a motor swap on a car.

    #39 1 year ago

    To everyone that is so sure that parts will find a way… try to get a score board for Shaq attack. As far as I know people have wanted a replacement for years, and nothing has been made. There’s a market, yet nothing has be reverse engineered; and that’s just a simple lcd panel with a special chip.

    #40 1 year ago

    The more complex the game, the more things can potentially go wrong.

    But, it's highly likely that pin collector's currently in the mid-50 to mid-60 age range will soon be clearing out their collections due to early retirement and/or life priorities.

    When these games start flooding the marketplace, they'll be no shortage of spare parts!

    #41 1 year ago

    As for plastic parts. Try finding a ramp for Hollywood heat or tee’d off. It’s the same ramp, and good lock finding one. HH has a problem with the flasher under the ramp staying on and melting a hole through the plastic. Most people can’t vacuum form in their garage.

    #42 1 year ago
    Quoted from Luckydogg420:

    As for plastic parts. Try finding a ramp for Hollywood heat or tee’d off. It’s the same ramp, and good lock finding one. HH has a problem with the flasher under the ramp staying on and melting a hole through the plastic. Most people can’t vacuum form in their garage.

    Ramp-O-Matic makes the ramp for Hollywood Heat...

    #43 1 year ago
    Quoted from PalmettoPinworks:

    Ramp-O-Matic makes the ramp for Hollywood Heat...

    Good to know, and a great example of 3rd party manufacturers jumping in to get old games working again

    #44 1 year ago
    Quoted from SLAMT1LT:

    The more complex the game, the more things can potentially go wrong.
    But, it's highly likely that pin collector's currently in the mid-50 to mid-60 age range will soon be clearing out their collections due to early retirement and/or life priorities.
    When these games start flooding the marketplace, they'll be no shortage of spare parts!

    I think I'd feel a little uneasy parting out some LE that originally cost 12K. Especially since most of these games are going to maintain their cosmetic appearance.

    #45 1 year ago
    Quoted from SLAMT1LT:

    The more complex the game, the more things can potentially go wrong.
    But, it's highly likely that pin collector's currently in the mid-50 to mid-60 age range will soon be clearing out their collections due to early retirement and/or life priorities.
    When these games start flooding the marketplace, they'll be no shortage of spare parts!

    And I’m confident that if a reverse engineering revolution of sorts does need to occur, you’ll be on it first. Saving pinball yet again from itself.

    #46 1 year ago
    Quoted from Luckydogg420:

    I think he means rebuilding a dead stern spike game with something like the mission framework system, but keep the same rules and sounds as the original. Essentially changing as little as possible with the game, just keep it running as close to original as possible.
    Like a motor swap on a car.

    Ah, you’re right. Read too fast!

    Still seems more likely to me that we’d eventually see individual replacement boards (replace a bad node) rather than a full electronic swap of the whole system (all of the boards at once), though. Just easier to eat that elephant one bite at a time, I’d think.

    #47 1 year ago

    Boards are boards and they can all have parts go obsolete whether in the backbox or down on the playfield as a node board. Stern is getting better at having stock of spares for newer stuff and that will hopefully be improved for those boards on the initial SPIKE 1 that had serious problems. The freakin chip shortage is really getting old and pisses me off! Way down the road there will always be a market for reproduction boards considering how many games are being sold. I am not worried in the least bit. Basically every old game from the 80, and 90s has re engineered boards that are better than the originals.

    I look at reliability as a key to longevity. The electronics and node boards in a game like Godzilla are infinitely more reliable than the boards from 30 years ago and the elimination of miles of wiring and connectors removes all kinds of other gremlins. Looks at WPC in 1993. By the time I got my TZ in 2000 it had multiple connectors black and burned. The power supply board had been repaired many times yet it still had reset issues when you hit both flippers at the same time. The high voltage driver board for the display had a dozen components that were black and burned out. The ribbon cables in the backbox were intermittent and not available anywhere (I had to make my own set). And so on and so on. My TZ was not an outlier, it was the norm. In 1993 games were still designed to do a few years on route and then hit the dumpster. The reliability of electronics was terrible, especially when you stuffed them inside a hot pinball machine with lots of vibration. Fast forward 30 years to 2023 and all of these parts are now available in the aftermarket and re engineered to keep TZ running into the future. Also, the gas displays that are all dead and no longer available have been replaced by even better ColorDMDs!

    Back to reliability. The new Sterns are made with automotive grade parts which ensures much higher reliability in the environment inside a pinball machine with vibration and heat build up. The one caveat is that you have to follow the design guidelines from the chip manufacturers. The boards that have had issues in the early SPIKE 1 era and the Rush Node 10 board were because the design and build of the board was faulty. For Rush, replacing a single connector before the board fails is the simple solution. So those few notable and highly frustrating outliers aside, I fully expect the other electronic components in these games to run many, many years without any issues at a reliability rate that we only dreamed of back in the 90s. And I also fully expect to be able to repair my Gz 30 years from now. The biggest issue at that point is that I will already be dead.

    #48 1 year ago

    I think of the machines made today, and over the next 60 years what will be the reasons that games are actually thrown away?
    In the 20th century we'd say "obsolescence", as there were far more games than interest, and many games got sent to the dumpster. With the current interest, any machine that can be saved will be saved.
    So machines made today, chances are if they die in the next 6o years the most common causes will be flooding and fires, and almost never obsolescence and lack of will to store/fix.

    #49 1 year ago
    Quoted from John_I:

    The freakin chip shortage is really getting old and pisses me off!

    I think it’s going to get A LOT worse. Neon gas is used in the production of semiconductors, it’s used to aim The lasers that etch the silicone wafers. The world’s largest exporter of neon gas (70% of global supply) is Ukraine and the production facilities are currently in a war zone. Once stockpiles are tapped things could get interesting real quick.

    #50 1 year ago

    Twenty years from now, new technology will provide new options to fix these machines. Someone always steps up and does the work and provides a solution.

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