For some reason this thread really kept my brain awake last night. I've tried to think of every activity from say the 60's-70's (outside of the home) compared to today to see where pinball is going:
bowling - people still bowl (a lot)
boating - people still do that
snowmobiling - lots still do that
motorcycles / cycling - still lots of that
disco - became dance clubs
bars - people still drink
sports - people still play sports, still go to sporting events
read books - people still read books, but on a kindle now
TV - still a huge industry, comcast / ATT fighting it out, roku, hulu
Movies - drive-ins may have slowly died off, but theaters are still making money even though a lot of it has moved to DVD's watched on home theaters
Camping - maybe not quite as much, but there are still plenty of campgrounds
Rollerskating - probably one of the few things that has died off, but I don't think it's lack of interest (I would kill to go rollerskating today), insurance premiums skyrocketed towards the end of the 80's. I'd hate to know what insurance costs are for the few rinks that are around today.
I tried to think what would keep pinball alive. I kept thinking about boring activities that continues to thrive. Stacker: has a prize. Slot machines: Has payouts, perhaps a prize like a car sitting on a group of slot machines. I'm not saying make it about gambling, not after all that roger sharpe did to disprove it as a gambling device. I really think there needs to be a prize involved. Let's assume Stern builds 4,000 pro machines. Let's say half of those go to operators. Every operator tosses in an extra $2, they get into a tournament pool. Every game takes the top player on their machine (Stern would have to have some sort of login system, maybe bluetooth with a phone), and those players go to a Stern version of pinburgh, held in Chicago. All 2,000 players compete in a giant bracket system until there is only one winner. That winner wins a NIB Stern, only one winner for life (to keep it fair and let someone else win next round). I think there's lots of people that would love to own a pinball that can't afford one, but if they practice enough maybe they can win one. Shows like Starcade sure got kids excited and wanting to be on that show.