Pinball Machines: The Future of Pinball Part 3

Posted by Scott 29 APRIL 2015

If you haven't already please read part 1 and part 2 of our mini-series. 

Many people said that by the end of the 90s, pinball was dead. Players had simply lost interest. Arcades everywhere were shutting their doors as customers no longer needed their services. It seemed that there was neither use nor home for pinball anymore. 

Williams, the leading manufacturer of pinball machines at the time, backed out of the business after a major failure with what they thought was the future of pinball—Pinball 2000, a machine that integrated video projections onto the playfield itself.  

After the Pinball 2000 debacle, only one pinball manufacturer remained: Stern Pinball, Inc. Since 1999 (the same year Williams left the industry), Stern has managed to keep pinball alive to this present day. Some of their best tables include Lord of the Rings (2003), Spider-Man (2007), AC/DC (2012), and most recently Star Trek (2014).

Stern’s tables originally catered to pinball collectors and die-hard fans, but pinball has begun to grow in popularity again with tables popping up in various locales that haven’t seen a pinball machine since the glory days of old. It seems that pinball, in fact, is not dead. But what is causing this resurgence in the public’s interest?

Ironically, video games, which at one time were pinball’s biggest competitor, are responsible for stirring people’s passion for pinball once again. 

For as long as there have been video games, there have been attempts to simulate the pinball experience on a computer screen. But it wasn’t until 2007 that a company finally got it right. Zen Studios released Pinball FX and achieved commercial success. Their all-new pin tables were completely virtual, but the physics of the ball rolling around on the playfield felt spot-on. Consumers responded, and in 2010, Zen Studios followed it up with a sequel, Pinball FX 2, that was released for Xbox as well as for Microsoft Windows. To this day, Zen Studios continues to release new tables for their software.

At the same time, a new internet-based phenomenon appeared. Two freeware programs were released online. They are called Visual Pinball and Future Pinball, and they allow amateur programmers to recreate actual pinball tables in virtual environments. Huge communities have flocked to these applications and thousands of tables have been resurrected from obscurity. Both programs are free to download, so any pinball fan should definitely check them out. 

Then in 2012, The Pinball Arcade was released by FarSight Studios for almost every gaming platform available at the time. Like the free online programs, the game features virtual recreations of actual pinball but done by professionals. It continues to garner major success and praise from critics and gamers alike.

All of these virtual representations of pinball have re-ignited long-time pinball players’ desire to play the real thing again. They have also introduced entirely new generations of gamers to the joys of pinball. Pinball tournaments are back in business. Slowly, pinball arcades are coming back as well. On the internet, many pinball fan pages, videos, and communities have been created to talk about the nostalgic and contemporary experiences of pinball. Between video games and the internet’s social networking power, pinball has found its place in modern society once again.

If these developments are any indication of things to come, fans of pinball are in for a wild ride in the future. Just look at the fact that Stern now has an official competitor—Jersey Jack Pinball released its first table, The Wizard of OZ, in 2013, and what a table it is! A new golden age of pinball is coming. Will you be a part of it?

Head over to our website to check out pinball tables you can experience right now, click here

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