I have been operating pins long enough to see some modern day trends that are very different than when I was a teenager in the 1970s. Perhaps these trends are obvious to you, but they weren't to me until just recently. The age and kind of people playing pinball today is very different than it was when I was growing up.
It was male teenagers who played pinball in the 70s, no girls, no older guys, just teenage boys. And the games of that time reflect the interests of those who played. Have you ever wondered why a lot of EM pinball machines have beautiful, voluptuous women on the backglass? The pinball manufacturers were catering to their genre of players.
I operate vintage pinball machines in Tucson, Arizona, the kind of pins that I grew up playing. One of my first clients, the Spotted Bull, wanted some machines and they wanted them in the bar/dining area of the restaurant. The bar-goers avoided them like the plague! No beer was ever spilled on one of my games because no one drinking beer was playing pinball. The Spotted Bull was out in the country, right next to I-10 on the southeast side of Tucson near Vail, Arizona. They got a lot of country types and a lot of bikers. The occasional trucker would stop in for a brewski. But none of them played pinball!
This surprised me since I thought that my vintage games would attract Boomers who were nostalgic about their pinball playing days and would want to play the same games again. More surprise came when I found that my best customers were kids 4-10 years old, and their parents. Dad and even Mom were eager to help junior and little sis learn to play pinball.
Sometimes I get the impression that Boomers are above and beyond playing pinball. They seem to enjoy playing pinball when I offer free games, but I won't be in business long with that type of business model! "Why aren't adults playing pinball in Tucson, Arizona" is the question I keep asking myself. Is it a pride thing? Pinball is for kids only? Don't get me wrong, I do get some adults playing my games, but nowhere near what I thought I would get.
Pinball manufacturers have been building pins with themes that are targeted to nostalgic Boomers. Games with rock themes like Aerosmith, AC/DC and Metallica are what are available NIB. TV and Movie themes like Star Wars, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the Batman movies and TV show, Wizard of Oz, Game of Thrones, Ghostbusters, Star Trek, The Walking Dead and so many more dominate the modern day pinball themes. Clearly, they are targeting those with money who want to buy these games for their home collection.
This is a dramatic change from the 1970s when it was the operators and not the collectors who were buying the new pinball machines. However, if pinball is every going to make a lasting come-back, it is the general public, in particular the kids who should be catered to. They are the new generation of pinball players and the pinball manufacturers appear to be missing this new marketplace.
As an operator, if I could afford it, I would be looking for new pinball machines with themes targeted towards kids. Ghostbusters and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory would be okay, but I am looking for themes that the 4-10 year old's of 2019 would be interested in. I am too far away from children in that age group to know what they would be interested in, but Metallica and The Walking Dead are not them. I have a Future Spa and Hardbody, both fun games, that I can't route because nobody wants them. My clients want family-themed games.
I would like to know if other operators are seeing their clients interested in more family-themed games or is my experience in Tucson unique?
Let's not go crazy and start making 'My Little Pony' or 'Hello Kitty' pinball machines, but there must be some themes out there that 4-10 year old kids would be drawn to. To show you how out-of touch I am, I thought those two were 'My Favorite Pony' and 'Pretty Kitty.' Yeesh! Do I ever feel old and it's not getting any better!
Yes, a lot has changed since the days when I was playing brand new pinball machines in Aladdin's Castle, The University of Arizona Student Union and Fool Around. Pinball will never be great again until operators get in the game and make pinball accessible to the public, once more.