Why Did Pinball Die In The 1990s?

(Topic ID: 226379)

Why Did Pinball Die In The 1990s?


By sataneatscheese

5 months ago



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    There are 213 posts in this topic. You are on page 1 of 5.
    #1 5 months ago

    The early to mid 1990s seems to me to be the golden age of pinball. You had hits like Twilight Zone and Adam's Family selling 10,000+ units. Many of the greatest machines are from this era and great machines continued culminating in the best of all time (Medieval Madness and Attack From Mars) around 1997. In this same time period, Gotelib, Data East, Bally, Sega, and Williams all stopped manufacturing pins leaving only Stern to carry the torch until the modern "pinball renaissance". What happened? Why did these companies go under? Why did sales tank?

    20
    #2 5 months ago

    A few that comes to mind:

    Video games were cheaper to maintain on location.
    Pinball machines are notoriously difficult to maintain.
    Home console market really took off, less people going out to locations.

    H

    #3 5 months ago
    Quoted from sataneatscheese:

    The early to mid 1990s seems to me to be the golden age of pinball. You had hits like Twilight Zone and Adam's Family selling 10,000+ units. Many of the greatest machines are from this era and great machines continued culminating in the best of all time (Medieval Madness and Attack From Mars) around 1997. In this same time period, Gotelib, Data East, Bally, Sega, and Williams all stopped manufacturing pins leaving only Stern to carry the torch until the modern "pinball renaissance". What happened? Why did these companies go under? Why did sales tank?

    Few different reasons.

    First was Got. after releasing Barb Wire.

    It slowly died. Look at the production numbers for machines form the late 90's. Most of them are much lower numbers from one year to the next.

    Then B/W shut down because the guy running things essentially hated pinball.
    He wanted to focus on slot machines, a much better selling product. So they shut down the pinball division.

    Sega morphed into Stern and to be honest, the first few years Stern was open was not the best years they had. No one even knew if they were going to survive to year #2. They had Harley Davidson (and holding on to South Park) as a solid license and that's about it.

    To be honest, if you look at raw numbers, we have still not come anywhere close to the production year of 1998, in which there were over 20K machines sold across Sega, Midway/Williams in a single year. That will NEVER happen again. Never.

    Big business likes guarantees and products that could never lose money. If you look at Sega/Stern in 1999/2000, there were zero guarantees. Gary kept it going as well as he could and a few talented designers and programmers pulled it from the ashes.

    #4 5 months ago

    Nintendo came out 1985. Playstation 1994. Need I say more??

    #5 5 months ago

    Video games. Arcades were losing out to Nintendo and home consoles, so they had to look for the most cost effective, high return solution. Pinball was cut out of the picture, for the reasons stated above.

    ... but the tactile feedback provided by these games seems to be a huge hit with the millennials

    #6 5 months ago

    Pinball as an arcade attraction hasn’t actually bounced back much, at least compared to the early 90s. The biggest driver for the comeback now is home sales.

    As previously stated, home consoles blew up in the early 90s and sucked away most of the casual arcade goers.

    #7 5 months ago
    Quoted from HarryReimer:

    Home console market really took off, less people going out to locations.

    100% this.

    #8 5 months ago

    Also WMS’s business model of forcing dealers to buy a load of games then put them on close out pricing when they didn’t sell made pinball even less appealing to dealers, as ops would just wait for the close out price. Plus their manufacturing method of one game on the line and no going back to a hit really screwed them.

    #9 5 months ago
    Quoted from jwilson:

    Pinball as an arcade attraction hasn’t actually bounced back much, at least compared to the early 90s. The biggest driver for the comeback now is home sales.
    As previously stated, home consoles blew up in the early 90s and sucked away most of the casual arcade goers.

    Home sales are so 2017. Operators ARE making a legit comeback now in the form of barcades hosting organized pinball leagues and tournaments. Our league has set attendance records two seasons in a row with 40+ players each time. We're bringing 40 people to a bar on a Tuesday night every week.

    #10 5 months ago

    Why go to a game room when I can stay at home for hours and hours playing Mario?

    #11 5 months ago

    A ton of games were made , I think 100,000 games out between the manufacturer's. Plus as mentioned video and home console plus slits took over.

    -8
    #12 5 months ago

    It's probably the same reason people don't commute with horse and buggies, or Model T's anymore...........something better came along

    #13 5 months ago

    One of my earliest memories was going to a putt putt arcade in Grand Rapids mi. Inside there were rows, yes rows of pins with bells and buzzers going off. It was awesome. I went back a couple yrs later, and it was all arcades.

    #14 5 months ago

    Sad but true, applies to us pinheads as well.

    #15 5 months ago
    Quoted from timab2000:

    It's probably the same reason people don't commute with horse and buggies, or Model T's anymore...........something better came along

    That's a ridiculous statement. A model t is a car and cars are still around they just got better.

    #16 5 months ago

    Nintendo killed it for the pinball industry. With plenty of games to play sitting on the living room , Momma didnt have to drive you to the gameroom with a pocket full of quarters. Once Sony playstation hit the market, it looked just as good as the arcade versions. Mortal Kombat was Hot because of the ultra violence it delivered and kids ate it up. It looked and played just as good as the arcade version, thus saving plenty of quarters for me. Pinballs didnt deliver the blood and gore kids really clammered for. Plus the really good players would post up and challenge any new comers, and get destroyed within minutes. To rub in the insulting defeat, FATALITY !! ..and rip your spine clean out of your body.

    #17 5 months ago

    I remember people lining up to play the latest Street Fighter 2 or Mortal Kombat, but never saw anyone waiting to play Addams Family or Twilight Zone.

    #18 5 months ago
    Quoted from Mitch:A model t is a car and cars are still around they just got better

    It's that what I said??????

    #19 5 months ago

    Even back in the 90's, I don't recall seeing that many pins. There was some but far more video games. I never remember people crowding around any pin waiting to play but do with video games like Street Fighter. Arcades slowly died out for whatever reason. I guess home gaming consoles had a lot to do with it but I think it was just a change of the times. Without arcades, there are just not many locations for games. Even in the end, I heard stores that B/W pinball was still profitable but was shutdown.

    12
    #20 5 months ago

    Who else was addicted to fps like me in the 90s? Doom 1 and 2, Quake 1, 2 and 3? Great bang for buck gaming vs arcade/pinball then.
    If a Quake or Doom pinball were made, yeah I would have ventured to play them.

    12
    #21 5 months ago

    Humm. I got married in 1999, that had a lot of impact.

    12
    #22 5 months ago
    Quoted from Ericpinballfan:

    Humm. I got married in 1999, that had a lot of impact.

    That’s it! Eric killed pinball! Lol

    #23 5 months ago
    Quoted from snyper2099:

    Then B/W shut down because the guy running things essentially hated pinball.
    He wanted to focus on slot machines, a much better selling product. So they shut down the pinball division.

    Many points here but this, Bally/Williams. There is more to the story right here.

    Hated pinball. Refused to sell at a profit. I am sorry I don't know all the details.

    I know some one can point to the facts or state them, but didn't Bally/Williams refuse significant offers to close down thier pinball division?

    Hate, is what springs to mind.

    That was coming off many hits we love.

    I don't think in the current business world things like the Bally Williams pinball shut down could occur, maybe similar. I mean where one person can shut off things so much.

    Again real points would be good here, I admit.

    #24 5 months ago

    My dang coffee got cold writing that.

    -1
    #25 5 months ago
    Quoted from Mitch:

    That's a ridiculous statement. A model t is a car and cars are still around they just got better.

    Music is still around........but LP's are gone (or going maybe making a comeback), Cd's are gone, Cassette are gone. But people found a better way of playing it. I guess that was my point.

    #26 5 months ago
    Quoted from timab2000:

    Music is still around........but LP's are gone (or going maybe making a comeback), Cd's are gone, Cassette are gone. But people found a better way of playing it. I guess that was my point.

    Cassettes coming back to.

    #27 5 months ago
    Quoted from chad:

    Cassettes coming back to.

    Why would they it was the worst form of music. Terrible quality.

    #28 5 months ago

    Watch this video.

    You can buy or rent the full video here: http://www.tilt-movie.com/

    Answers some of the questions as to what WMS was going through in the late 90s and Neil Nicastro's decision to shut down the pinball division right after Pinball Expo in October, 1999.

    #29 5 months ago
    Quoted from timab2000:

    Music is still around........but LP's are gone (or going maybe making a comeback), Cd's are gone, Cassette are gone. But people found a better way of playing it. I guess that was my point.

    Your totally missing the point. The thread is about why pinball died not about advancement in technology making older machines obsolete and new machines better.

    Cars never died off for 10 plus years neither did music.

    #30 5 months ago

    I got the point for sure. Pinball died because newer tech and games came a long and replaced it pure and simple. You don't have to agree with me, I am just saying.

    Maybe manufactures didn't do anything to keep up who knows. Yes cars are still there, but younger people don't want the older ones. Music is still there but younger people prefer to download rather than buy a CD. I was reluctant to download for years, now i can't figure out why I waited so long.

    When Atari and Nintendo came out, I quit going to game rooms. Sorry I just did.

    So yes there are lots of reasons for it, I just don't think you can come up with just one answer that explains the total decline.

    By watching the above video sounds like the pinball management killed it themselves. More people play slot machines than pinball which is too bad. Now we have video slots, but they did not what that in pinball, strange??

    #31 5 months ago

    Same reason why you don't see kids in playgrounds these days...they are stuck in front of screens.

    #32 5 months ago

    Games got too hard for casual players. Shots got tighter. Instruction cards were not sufficient for explaining deeper rulesets.

    #33 5 months ago

    Watch barcades, now popular, but wait when people realize that for the amount of money you put in a pin, you can have a couple of extra drinks. Some places in belgium ask 1.5€/3ball game... The 5-6k pin must be payed.

    #34 5 months ago
    Quoted from Ericpinballfan:

    Humm. I got married in 1999, that had a lot of impact.

    I got married in 1998. That's probably true for a lot of us that grew up in arcades in the 80's. We just grew up, got married, kids, jobs, etc.

    #35 5 months ago
    Quoted from flashinstinct:

    Same reason why you don't see kids in playgrounds these days...they are stuck in front of screens.

    Amen to that!

    #36 5 months ago

    I stopped going to my local arcade as frequently the second I bought my N64. My parents wouldn't give me quarters as much because they just spent 40 bucks on a new game etc.

    #37 5 months ago

    The problems on the manufacturing end notwithstanding, the locations started all dying off as arcades closed down.

    I'd think about it like this: Sega was always at the helm of arcade technology, and the story of home consoles in the 1980s was getting closer and closer to bringing the arcade experience home. When Sega developed the Dreamcast in 1998 it was built on a system that basically used the same brain as their arcade games; the home version was no longer an adaptation or emulation of the arcade version. (It's in this context that around this time is when Sega--always known for "arcade action" starts making almost these, like, anti-arcade gameplay titles; self-referential and experimental stuff like Seaman, Shenmue, etc.).

    Games started getting longer (and, IMHO, more boring). Meanwhile, production got cheaper (in the sense that a DVD could contain 60 hrs of gameplay) and distribution changed. The psychology of gameplay changed, the approach to game design changed, and the entire market ecosystem changed.

    From a casual player's perspective, pinball is expensive for what you get.
    From an operator's perspective, pinball is not as lucrative as other amusement machines.
    From a production standpoint, pinball is not as lucrative as other amusement machines.

    The only games or styles of games that survived in the arcades / public places that survived had to satisfy at least one of these criteria better than pinball did.

    That's just my $0.04, which is twice what I'd normally pay, because pinball was always twice as much as the video games.

    (edited to add bad joke)

    #38 5 months ago

    All of the above and add to it the coin model of pricing was not working. An operator, even with a $ bill acceptor added on, could not make enough money from a pin or other coin op games to make a profit. The future was going to be in home sales and smart phone apps.

    #39 5 months ago

    The answer has already been said in the 2nd post.

    Video machines were really starting to up their quality - SF2 in 1991, followed by MK in 1992 - were the real game changers.

    They are also significantly more reliable and need less maintenance. Therefore why would an operator bother putting a machine on site which needed a (paid) engineer to regularly attend and clean and fix it when he could put a video machine there which even if it took less coin drop would be more profitable?

    There wasn't really a homebuyers market, at least not the size it is now, so manufacturers only had operators who put machines on site to sell to. When they turned their backs on pinball the demise was inevitable.

    What then drove the nail in the coffin was the fact that arcades starting closing due to the home console market increasing - Play Station in 1994 being most significant release. It then meant that people could sit at home and play the same games they could play in an arcade. An arcade may have had a token pinball machine left, but with no new purchases, the fact that they were often poorly maintained (meaning a poor playing experience) they quickly dropped out of view altogether.

    Once the arcades starting closing there wasn't even a token machine to be able to play. (The vast majority of remaining arcades then became dominated by redemption/ticket games because they were a high profit/low maintenance machine.)

    #40 5 months ago
    Quoted from BigAl56:

    The future was going to be in home sales and smart phone apps.

    Anyone who says that, in the mid to late nineties, they could foresee the iPhone being released in 2007, and the impact it would have on all of us - is simply delusional. Or did they think that 'snake' on the tiny screens of the Nokia in 1998 was going to shut the arcades?

    #41 5 months ago

    I can't see pinball as being dead or dying. Pinball has a unique attraction as having a physical game play (not talking about virtual pin), that's why I like it. The overt engineering aspects and the physicality of the gameplay. It might have lost some continuity if Stern was not around to do what they did, but it would never die and never come back again. Not a buggy whip by any means, is my point, it has unique irreplaceable qualities. It's true that there is stiff competition for people's "play" time, that's a fair point.

    #42 5 months ago
    Quoted from HighProtein:

    Who else was addicted to fps like me in the 90s? Doom 1 and 2, Quake 1, 2 and 3? Great bang for buck gaming vs arcade/pinball then.
    If a Quake or Doom pinball were made, yeah I would have ventured to play them.

    Quake on the N64 was captivating back in the day.....the soundtrack alone was eerie as hell

    #43 5 months ago

    Another problem was the older pinballs traded in for new ones were worth nothing even if they were 3 years old. There was no home market at all and almost no market for second hand pins.That made it nearly impossible to make it profitable in those days.
    It was a pile of problems for pinball that killed it, at least here in the Netherlands.

    #44 5 months ago

    I know Pinabll survived video games because Pac-man came out in 1980 and that was phenomenally popular. I mean they put them everywhere like in supermarkets etc. and I reread they were like printing money. Sold like 400,000 units.

    I can’t see why video games would be to blame for the death of pinball, but I do see now video games arcades, I was at Dave and Busters and there was not a single pinball machine. So maybe once pinball was dead the arcades just never went back.

    11
    #45 5 months ago

    I agree with the idea that the decline of arcades helped kill it. No arcades, no pinball. And bars at the time used all their space for Cherry Masters and other forms of grey area gambling. They weren't the hipster havens they are today.

    Arcades died because the home console experience technology caught up with them. "Helicopter parents" also became more of a thing and the idea of leaving your kid in a smoky room with strangers became unfathomable. That's why parents don't mind if their kids are zombie glued to a portable screen because it shuts them up (like arcades did for my generation) and they're always within sight.

    Speaking of home technology improvements I think movie theaters are in danger of dying just like arcades. Any halfway decent LCD has better black levels than an image projected on to a sheet, plus they're always in focus and you can pause to take a leak. Also theater prices keep going up as flat screens keep coming down - death spiral!

    -2
    #46 5 months ago

    "flat screens" in 2018...please let it die.

    -5
    #47 5 months ago
    Quoted from Mitch:

    Cars never died off for 10 plus years neither did music.

    Music was pretty much dead for the entire 80s

    #48 5 months ago
    Quoted from Mitch:

    That's a ridiculous statement. A model t is a car and cars are still around they just got better.

    When it comes to the laziest fallacy of all time, the cargument, people just can’t help themselves.

    #49 5 months ago
    Quoted from benheck:

    I agree with the idea that the decline of arcades helped kill it. No arcades, no pinball. And bars at the time used all their space for Cherry Masters and other forms of grey area gambling. They weren't the hipster havens they are today.
    Arcades died because the home console experience technology caught up with them. "Helicopter parents" also became more of a thing and the idea of leaving your kid in a smoky room with strangers became unfathomable. That's why parents don't mind if their kids are zombie glued to a portable screen because it shuts them up (like arcades did for my generation) and they're always within sight.
    Speaking of home technology improvements I think movie theaters are in danger of dying just like arcades. Any halfway decent LCD has better black levels than an image projected on to a sheet, plus they're always in focus and you can pause to take a leak. Also theater prices keep going up as flat screens keep coming down - death spiral!

    My great grandmother lived in the Bronx. Not a a great part of the Bronx either.

    My dad thought nothing of sending me down to the street when I was 9 years old with a pocket full of quarters to go play video games at the makeshift arcade on the block.

    My mom apparently wasn’t too happy about it though.

    #50 5 months ago

    Back in the days in France, pinball were a standard part of a Café, usually a couple and a foosball table. I don't remember arcade rooms being full of pinballs, especially when Sega started coming up with some dedicated cabinets that were making money and taking tons of space. This came very true when Daytona USA came out, 4 SD machines lined up everywhere, and coins being dropped in all day long.

    At the same time cafes became more like restaurant and less of places to drink, so table space became much more valuable which put the last nail in the Pinball's coffin.

    Truth is at 1$ a game for an 8k machine, I still don't think pinball is a very good business, but is surely is tons of fun !

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