Pinball Machine Popularity Booms in US Revival

Posted by Abi 05 MARCH 2014
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Pinball has certainly seen its share of ups and downs in the past. Its early success was cut short at its peak in the US, when pinball machines were widely banned due to being deemed as a gambling game. Pinball machines were forced out of production and many were smashed up by supporters of the ban to ensure they couldn’t be played.
Through the persistence of pinball fanatics fighting the law in demonstrations of how pinball was a game of skill, not luck, and by introducing the enlarged, inward facing flippers we know today, the US pinball ban was lifted. Pinball enjoyed a short peak of interest again during the late 1970s, but when the ‘80s hit, they had a new form of entertainment to compete with - video games.

Pong Goodbye Vintage Pinball Home Leisure Direct Blog
Eventually the general public lost interest in pinball and the machines where shoved into corners of bars, commonly falling into dis-repair due to lack of use.

But since the recent rise in popularity of reclaimed, recycled and vintage products, these beautiful machines, that had previously been cast aside, or even out-lawed, have aroused the intrigue of the modern entertainment seeker.

Pacific Pinball Museum Pinball Machine Home Leisure Direct Blog
Photo: Pacific Museum Alameda
From avid fanatics opening up pinball museums, to hipsters adding entertainment to their trendy bars, it seems as though the long awaited pinball revival is here! Well, in America at least...but is the UK starting to follow their lead?

Pinball in the USA
The pioneers of this resurgence have been the pinball collectors and enthusiasts. They tend to have a habit of collecting machines, until their houses, garages and storage units are over flowing with them. Whether their passion for pinball is to collect and practice their skills on new and fully functioning machines, or if they enjoy the restoration process of sourcing old machines and renovating them to their former glory, these guys have kept the game alive during dark times.
In recent years they have been busy emptying out their premises of these machines (willed by their wives or otherwise) and setting up pinball halls and museums, to share these icons of American pop-culture with the general public for their enjoyment and in an effort to keep the game alive.

This resurgence has also seen pinball introduced to a new audience of bearded craft beer drinkers. This younger generation of pinball fans are today’s retro gamers. They may not have been there the first time around, but they’re discovering the charm and addiction of original arcade games and pinball machines that previous generations have nostalgia for.

Their waxed mustaches and tattooed limbs are not to be sneered at, because this group of pinball fans are responsible for introducing the PC generation to these great machines and opening their eyes to the physical reality and unpredictability that makes pinball so exciting. They are the final link in a full-on pinball revival.

Logan Arcade Pinball Machines Home Leisure Direct Blog
Photo: Logan Arcade

The Pacific Pinball Museum in California, is a not-for-profit organisation, set on promoting pinball and preserving the game as an American icon in the form of a museum. To an avid pinball fan it would seem like an obvious move to want to share the art and history of these machines, that have been a part of America’s heritage since the first pinball machines became popular in the 1930s, but the general public may take a little more convincing. Working out of their small museum (when compared to the size of their collection) they have been displaying around 90 playable machines that are regularly rotated, but having recently found a new venue for their project over three times the size, they aim to appeal to a wider audience and show them why they think pinball should be viewed as an American national treasure.

Seattle definitely seems to be one of the many locations in the US that pinball really has taken off in recent years, and the Seattle Pinball Museum seems to be one of the leaders in this movement. Stretching across two stories, this pinball parlour provides players with the history of each machine, dating from the 1960s to the present day, in information cards above the back box. This is another pinball venue ‘dedicated to the preservation of pinball for future generations’ and charges an entry fee for unlimited use of all 50 odd machines in the building.

Seattle Pinball Machine Museum Home Leisure Direct Blog
Photo: Seattle Pinball Museum

Although it may look like an arcade, the owners of Modern Pinball NYC, Steve Epstein (famous former owner of the now closed Broadway Arcade in Times Square) and Steve Zahler, (who has made his name as a champion competitive pinball player) will tell you it’s a pinball showroom. Modern Pinball allows you to buy new and fully restored vintage games, or alternatively pay a fee to play unlimited games on the 32 machines on display there for a specified amount of time.

Chicago seems to be another pinball players hub, with such quirky bars as the Emporium Arcade Bar and the newly revamped Logan Arcade you’ll never be short of a silver ball fix.

Having painstakingly restored discarded games and pinball machines to their former glory, Logan Arcade boasts 25 vintage pinball machines and around 40 restored video games for you to play while sipping a fancy pants beer. They’ve really kitted out the inside well, keeping the artwork from unsalvageable machines to frame, backlight and mount on the walls.
Pinball in the UK
It is clear that the USA is leading the way in a pinball revival, but what about here in the UK? Here at Home Leisure Direct, we have seen a definite rise in demand for pinball machines and venues to play pinball in, but as far as I can see, we’re still lagging behind.
There are some obvious reasons for this, the first being that America is a lot larger than the UK, so niche interests like pinball and retro gaming have a wider audience and area to thrive in. Secondly, all of the major manufacturers in pinball history have been based State-side, so here in the UK it is costly to import the machines and we are less likely to find forgotten vintage gems lurking in basements to save and restore. Not to mention other factors such as recovering from World War II during the time America was enjoying a pinball boom.

Pinball News Pinball Machine Home Leisure Direct Blog
Photo: Pinball News

Regardless of this, pinball fans this side of the Atlantic are hungry for a similar scene, with a thriving new model import market, there are a lot of machines hidden away in home games rooms for private entertainment. We have seen the odd pinball popping up here and there in an effort to mirror the exposed brick walled, trendy bars of NYC and Chicago, but will it keep growing?
We're asking for your help in measuring the scale of the pinball scene here in the UK. Where have you spotted pinball machines? Where are your favourite places to play near you? What is the atmosphere like? Is there a feeling of a pinball community? What condition are the machines in? Are there any venues where you can grab a pint, a bite to eat and play pinball? Do you even agree that there is a pinball revival in the UK?

Whatever your view, we want to hear your feedback and get a wider view of the kind of pinball scene there is here in the UK and share everyone’s input in our next pinball blog.

Get in touch via the comments box below, our Facebook and Twitter pages, or e-mail me at [email protected]. We'd love to hear from you.

Written By: Abi Ponton

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