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Portrait of The Last Remaining Pinball Wizard 296

Posted by timothy
from the sole-proprietorship dept.
Ant writes "Shacknews posted BusinessWeek's Pinball's Last Remaining Wizard article that is a portrait piece on Gary Stern, president and owner of Stern Pinball, which is the last remaining pinball manufacturer in the world. Yearly, his company produces 10,000 hand-built machines and designs about 3-4 different models. A few of their most recent releases used licensed rights of the Sopranos and The Simpsons."
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Portrait of The Last Remaining Pinball Wizard

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  • by Dogtanian (588974) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @06:42PM (#12159873) Homepage
    I'm deaf, dumb and blind, you insensitive clod!

    Oh, hang on....
  • by Vamphyri (26309) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @06:43PM (#12159878) Homepage Journal
    I thought the story was going to be about an actual pinball machine player who gets massive highscores, not the CEO of a game corporation. That's one minute of my life I will never get back.
  • by nacturation (646836) <nacturation@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @06:43PM (#12159880) Journal
    But the real question is, does he always get the replay?
  • Shake It! (Score:4, Funny)

    by INetEngineer (816350) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @06:43PM (#12159884) Homepage
    So, is he allowed to shake his own machines without the TILT going off?
  • I hate to say it.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ZosX (517789) <[zosxavius] [at] [gmail.com]> on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @06:45PM (#12159912) Homepage
    But the Stern machines are not nearly as nice or as well designed as the old Bally/Williams machines. Pinball is a dying form of entertainment (along with the arcades) and while its great to see one lone survivor still out there, it would be even better if they were up to the quality of late Williams machines. Attack from Mars, Addams Family (BRUTAL!), and Medieval Madness all come to mind. Revenge from Mars was gimmicky along with Episode 1, and as a result I see very few of those machines still around. While Stern makes competetent machines, the Simpsons cannot hold a candle to the sheer genius that Attack From Mars was.

    Oh FP btw!
    • Addams Family (Score:4, Interesting)

      by frankthechicken (607647) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @06:52PM (#12159985) Journal
      Without doubt one of my favorite machines made.

      Pat Lawlor's finest creation in my opinion. That man was so damn prolific, and passionate about his machines. One of the defining quotes of his, which sort of sums him up:-

      "Anyone in this business who designs something looks at that product like it is one of their children. You take a year to create this thing, put your own personality into it, and heaven forbid something should happen when you release it because it's like your child is misbehaving. You become attached to the games and they are important to you."

      A true craftsman.
      • Truly an excellent game. It always gave me good workout taking over an hour to play one game, scoring over 2,000,000,000 points usually in the process. After you got your 100 Super Bear Kicks, there was little left to do as the big electromagnet underneath the playing surface would eventually kick the last ball down the drain. Sometimes the magnet would grab the ball and hold it in the center and you had to reset. After a while, that would fail, and the electromagnet would have to be replaced. But, that w
    • I couldn't agree more. Stern, Data East and Gottleib machines never felt right. Bally and WIlliams machines always had the right feel. They were usually great games too.

      I recently gave up my arcade [badolato.com] in order to keep from having to throw everything in storage and then move it, when our new house is finished being built (a lot needed work so wasn't that big a deal to dump em). The only part that really hurt was the selling of my High Speed and Pinbot machines. I miss them.

      But, when I move into my new pla
      • As a pinball enthusiast since '91, I agree with you. Bally and Williams have been king.

        Case in point. I once played "Hook"(based off the movie). It was indeed a non-bally/williams machine. Got so bored with it I left the machine after 15 mins with 4 credits on it.

        Pinball 2000 was a dud though.
    • Williams rocked.

      Funhouse (It's getting....*late*)
      Whirlwind (for those hot summer nights)
      Earthshaker (don't sit your drink on here, do sit your gf on it tho).

      *sigh* They wont be like that again.

      Hedley
      • I kicked Whirlwind's ass on more than one occassion. There were two in my town at the time. One's gravity was set too low, which allowed me to kick its ass royally. The other one was set just right but the fan's bearings were going out. When that fan came on, i'd get distracted by the dammed thing's loud rattling and the ball would go down the drain.

        Ahh, there was two more on my list of good pins. The Comet, which I made jump and rattle like it was going out of style. And The Cyclone, which had great mecha
    • Jurassic Park [ipdb.org] - DataEast
      Star Wars [ipdb.org] - DataEast

      The best machines, from DataEast, were the movie machines because they had all of your favorite lines.

      "Shoot the Death Star", "Ian Freeze!", ah that was fun. It was like being part of the movie (not really, but fun!)

      Internet Pinball Database:
      http://www.ipdb.org/ [ipdb.org]
      • Jurassic Park -

        Letting Timmy fry on the electric fence was one of my favorites. It was pretty hard to get 30 jet bumper hits too... so I was glad he died.

        SYSTEM FAILURE was what made that game great.
    • by jd (1658)
      Five ball multiplay. The paddles were so powerful, you could actually launch balls over the walls and onto the next layer up. The paddles at the base were close enough together that you could catch anything if you were good enough. There was a bug in the software that allowed you infinite lives.


      Ah, now those were the days.

      • If you think five balls is enough, try Apollo 13. 13-ball multiball in that one. Yes, you read 13 correctly.
    • I beg to differ. I purchased the Lord of the Rings pinball last year, and I am VERY impressed by the play. The construction feels solid, and I am never tired of the game. I highly recommend the game.

      After all, hearing Gimli say "Extra Ball!" and Frodo "We go through Moria!" is really fun.
      • I haven't played new pins for a long time, but I grew up on pinball where Williams and Bally had the most variety and fun. These titles may not resonate with a lot of younger folk, but... Flash (the strobe, the increasing pitch of the hum makes it my all time favorite), Silverball, Fireball, Firepower, Firepower II, Black Knight (1st multi-level), Space Invaders, Hyperball (too bad the gun always overheated), Joust (head-to-head).
    • Pinball Mods (Score:3, Informative)

      by xkenny13 (309849)
      the Simpsons cannot hold a candle to the sheer genius that Attack From Mars was.

      If you like Attack from Mars, you should see the cool LED mod kit [ufopinball.com] someone put together for it.
  • Competition? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dshaw858 (828072) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @06:45PM (#12159913) Homepage Journal
    [...] which is the last remaining pinball manufacturer in the world.

    You'd think that with a lot of arcades around the world using pinball machines, some other companies would want to compete with these guys... or perhaps there's such a huge monopoly that everyone else just gives up. Makes you wonder about monopoly laws, though...

    - dshaw
    • They actually sell their monopoly [sternpinball.com], so I don't think that laws apply.
    • What arcades?
      • I can think of four acrades within driving distance of my house, one at each mall around here, one by itself downtown and another that's kind of an unoffical hangout...I guess it's a pizza place but every goes there to play video games. We have a pinball machine down at the bar too.
    • Re:Competition? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by temojen (678985)
      Or it could be that pinball machines are so well made and timeless that few customers are buying new ones rather than repairing or buying used.
    • Re:Competition? (Score:5, Informative)

      by swv3752 (187722) <swv3752&hotmail,com> on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @06:54PM (#12160002) Homepage Journal
      They only make 10,000 machines a year. Their break even is 65%-75% of that and if you read between the lines, they are struggling to sell all those machines. It seems that there is just not a big market.
    • Re:Competition? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by yotto (590067) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @06:56PM (#12160017) Homepage
      The problem isn't that they're quashing competition, it's that the worldwide demand for pinball machines is 10,000.
      Think about it. Would you want to devote all the time, money, and resources into building a company that will only produce 5,000 units a year?
      • Re:Competition? (Score:2, Interesting)

        by CmdrTostado (653672)
        Yes, a small company, perhaps. 5000 a year with about 250 working days a year is 20 units per day or 2.5 units per hour @ about $4000.00 per unit equals $400,000 gross per week ($2,000,000.00 a year) Build this number (1/2 his volume) with 1/2 the employees (he has 56) and you have 28 full time employees and 75 temps. It seems to work out OK, if you can survive the startup expenses. I would assume this product would be low liability. Perhaps the mechanical arcade games will outlast the digital ones, becau
    • Re:Competition? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Fizzog (600837) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @06:57PM (#12160026)
      "some other companies would want to compete with these guys"

      As a matter of fact just a few days ago an Australian company bought the rights to the Bally name and to reproduce most of Williams' parts.

      They are also developing their first pinball machine which should be out later this year.

      There's life in the silver ball yet!

      (and for you RGP'ers out there: TZ, CFTBL, Farfalla, Firepower, Gameshow, Zac Circus)
    • A long time ago (20 years ago or thereabouts) I spoke with the owner of an arcade about buying some of his machines (video games as well as pinball). He didn't recommend me buying a pinball because the maintenance is very high. A lot of parts are mechanical--they wear out and require constant tuning. The most time-consuming part was that the playfield need to be waxed on a regular basis. When I first visited the arcade there were a 50-50 ratio between video games and pinballs. When it came time for me to bu
  • by jkeegan (35099) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @06:46PM (#12159918) Homepage Journal
    Man, I hope they keep making machines. Pinball was a large part of how I proposed to my wife (indirectly):

    The Birthday/Proposal Story [keegan.org]

    Of course, Theatre of Magic is a Bally machine, amd they're already gone. :(

  • by CSMastermind (847625) <freight_train10@hotmail.com> on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @06:48PM (#12159936)
    All right I see a market that's ripe for the picking, anybody else want to post the captial to get my new company off the ground?
    • All right I see a market that's ripe for the picking, anybody else want to post the captial to get my new company off the ground?

      If it were that simple, the market wouldn't be so empty. That's not to say there isn't an opportunity that others have missed (or perhaps they followed the mantra that any business that "merely" turns a decent profit isn't profitable enough *cough*).

      But frankly, I'd want to investigate the market further before I threw money at it.
      • :-) I meant that in a sort of joking way, I know that the market is far from "ripe for the picking". Personally I wish that weren't the case. But I do think it would be neat to see maybe some smaller computerized pinball machines, with lcd screens and small buttons on either side to use the paddles. You could set them on the coners of bars ect. I don't really plan on going into business :).
      • "perhaps they followed the mantra that any business that "merely" turns a decent profit isn't profitable enough"

        Actually that is what happened to Williams. They were only making a small profit from their pinball division, but their slot machine division was a license to print money.

        So they closed the pinball side because it wasn't profitable enough in comparison.
        • Actually that is what happened to Williams. They were only making a small profit from their pinball division, but their slot machine division was a license to print money. So they closed the pinball side because it wasn't profitable enough in comparison.

          It's a fair move if (for example) the pinball division's sales were having an adverse effect on the slot machine division's. Or if, say, continued profits made by the pinball division would have involved high risk, or required investment that could have
  • by dameron (307970) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @06:48PM (#12159940) Homepage
    The first thing I though of when I heard about physics processing units [anandtech.com] was that you might be able to make a realistic pinball simulation on the pc.

    The 3d effects and models have been around for a while, but what makes most computerized pinball games lame to me is their arbitrary and clunky "feel" when the ball interacts with the environment.

    Physics processing units might add that extra kick of realism and make it easier to stomach the dwindling population of real pinball machines. Lot of room for force feedback pinbabll controllers here.

    -dameron
    • vpinball [vpforums.com] has a pretty good physics model. Coupled with VpinMAME and you get something close to the real machine.

      However, last I heard vpinball is no longer being developed and is a closed-source Windows-only application. Ah well...

      I occasionally fire it up on my home-built arcade machine that has pinball flipper buttons on the sides of the machine.

      Nothing beats the real thing though. There is just so much "stuff" in a pinball machine. The real ones are much easier to see what's going on. A 2D pinbal
  • by tcd004 (134130) * on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @06:49PM (#12159948) Homepage
    Theatre of Magic

    AMAZING!!!
  • Pinball Wizzard? The Who? got nothing
  • by LordOfYourPants (145342) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @06:52PM (#12159979)
    The price went up to $0.50 to play and I stopped there. Cold. Actually, I stopped going to the arcades in general at that point.

    Once every couple of years I'll go to play a pinball game and reconfirm why I stopped: the game never seems to work properly. A flipper will be half dead, the ball will get stuck in some bizarre part of the board, or the game itself will be dead. I'm sure it's because the games don't get a lot of play and therefore see less maintenance, but it's a vicious cycle that, for me, started with the game costing $0.50.

    Nowadays I see machines set to $1 to play. I'm not going to risk $1 on a machine that, these days, seems to have a 90% chance of being broken.

    It's a shame to see that there's only one pinball machine manufacturer left, but I'm unwilling to pay $1 each time to help them out.
    • by antdude (79039) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @07:10PM (#12160135) Homepage Journal
      I know it is not like the real thing with the physical units, but it is better than losing all of pinballs!

      PinballSim.com [pinballsim.com]

      Visual PinMame Guide [mameworld.net]

      VPForums [vpforums.com]

    • For as long as I can recall, it was a pretty good bet that pinball machines would not work quite correctly. Even when they were just competing against space invaders and galaga, the pinball machines always took a back seat to the video games. Not that a there were a lot of arcades that were particularly concerned with keeping their video games working correctly either.

      These days I'd just as soon spend my money on a playstation game and not have to deal with the poorly kept up games and the lack of creativ

    • Yeah, well, that was the problem. Pinball machines are physically complex and require a lot of routine maintenance - at least relative to video games, with nothing to clean beyond wiping down the front and no moving parts beyond a joystick and a few buttons. That's part of what mortally wounded pinball. No arcade operator wants to do that kind of work when he could get the same money for much less work with video machines. I play pinball now and then when I get a chance, but I hardly ever even see one
    • Wise move. I still play one now and again (PinBot \m/) but I will not pay anything more than 50 on a game. Most are 3 balls with a wide gaping space between the flippers. I'd rather gamble, at least I have a chance then.
      • PINBOT CIRCUITS ACTIVATED

        I learned the game on that table. Get to Earth, Special, and just two planets away is the Sun for another Special. Good times.
      • I'd rather gamble, at least I have a chance then.

        Learn to play better. :)

        There is some luck in pinball, but skill is the determining factor. There's a reason the same guys keep winning tournaments.

        Hey, you could always get a UK pinball machine. They have a player-controlled post between the flippers; without one they are considered a game of chance. Silly Britons!
    • Nowadays I see machines set to $1 to play. I'm not going to risk $1 on a machine that, these days, seems to have a 90% chance of being broken.

      Tis a sad thing. Used to be that you could figure out what arcades had techs that cared, and took care of their machines (I know, I used to spend a disproportionate amount of time keeping pinball machines in good condition vs. the video uprights). Now if you can even find a good arcade, you almost never see one that is really well maintained.

    • by IronChef (164482) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:45PM (#12160980) Homepage
      I love pinball. The funny thing is that until a couple of years ago, I never played it. Well, I played it when I was a little kid. But now I am 33 and I am way into it.

      Pretty much every time I see a place that might have pinball, I stop and take a look. I have never seen one set to $1/play. Factory settings these days are $0.50/play, and there are often deals like 3 plays for $1 or 5 plays for $2. Of course you can price it however you want, but I've never seen $1/play.

      That aside -- yes, they are all frickin' broken. As another poster correctly pointed out, they require some maintenance, and the operators, spoiled by no-maintenance video games, don't take the time to do it. Lazy, stupid, inbred operators helped kill this fine industry! Finding a game that works well enough to really enjoy is rare.

      So what do I do? I buy my own games. :) It's a greay hobby that I have really enjoyed for the last couple of years.

      - Playing is fun, and well suits my short attention span. I can't stand a Final Fantasy RPG, but a game of pinball--that suits me fine.
      - Keeping the machines running and looking good is fun in its own right, like tinkering with a classic car.
      - They are a neat piece of American history (FINE, they were invented in France, but the modern form with flippers is an American innovation.)
      - When you get tired of a game, it's usually easy to flip it to another collector and make your money back. I currently have about $7500 worth of games, and if I wanted I could recover all that cost in a month.

      A pinball is kinetic art with lots of blinkenlights. There are simulators, sure, but the only way to really experience pinball is to play a real game. Emulated pac-man, on the other hand, is still pac-man.

      Pinball as an industry is nigh dead and I don't expect it to return. But it makes a great hobby anyway.

      All you video-game snobs... try to find a good, working pinball game and play it. I think you will be surprised at how much fun it really is if you give it a chance. Plus, it's more retro-cool than any old Nintendo!

      Oh, for the curious: you can get a failry modern game for around $1200 if you get lucky, but the A-list games are usually $2k and up, with some stable around $3500, and a couple of super-popular games at $5-6k. I'm talking used Bally/Williams classics here.

      A new-in-box Stern game can be had from a distrubutor for about $3700 if you look around. Lot of people pan Stern, and it is true they have many duds, but they have a couple of really solid recent games like Simpsons and Lord of the Rings. Stern's current best stand up quite well to the best of the classics, IMHO.

      Shipping is about $250 for any kind of pinball, so the best way to buy is from a private collector (no tax) within driving distance (no shipping and you can fully evaluate before you buy).

      Anyone who buys a $5k Stern from Sharper Image needs to be punched for extreme silliness.

      Anyone in Seattle who wants to play my games is welcome to come by. :)
  • by havaloc (50551) * on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @06:56PM (#12160016) Homepage
    You can download various tables and emulate most pinball games, including many favorite Williams tables, such as Indiana Jones, and Star Trek the Next Generation, and Addams Family. These were classics, and the emulation is very good.

    You need Vpinmame [vpinmame.com] and Visual Pinball [randydavis.com] working together. It's a little complicated to get setup, but it works well. You then need to download table files.

    There are some good sites on how to make them work together, but I don't want to slashdot them.
    • You can download various tables and emulate most pinball games

      Anyone who talks of emulating a pinball machine is obviously not a pinball player.
      Pinball is all about feel: The bumpers, the angle of the table, how easily the machine tilts,
      how 'fast' it plays and how tight the out lanes are on both sides.
      A good pinball player can slide, shake, and bump a machine to keep the ball in play. You can't emulate that.
      • Couldn't do that at the local arcade when I was growing up. They were bolted to the floor.

        Still, I think it helped me improve my timing somewhat, as I was forced to do without that and still keep the ball in play. Addams Family was the best I had available to me at the time, though I also loved Twilight Zone -- except for what seemed to be the unnecessarily large gap between the flippers. I lost more quarters to that gap than I should have. I guess the concept worked, though -- I kept playing.
  • Memories... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Huxley_Dunsany (659554) <huckdunsany AT mac DOT com> on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @06:59PM (#12160047)
    When I was a kid (late '80s, early '90s), for a couple years my family lived just a couple blocks away from "The Pinball Place", an old warehouse in Berkeley, CA, which had been converted to a repair shop / museum / arcade for pinball machines and memorabilia. I was young enough that my memories are a little hazy, but I recall that on a certain Saturday or Sunday of every month, the management would throw open the doors to the local kids and let everyone play for free on any of the dozens (hundreds?) of machines that were currently functional. I have so many fond memories of playing tons of antique pinball games - "The World's Largest Pinball Machine" ("Hercules"?) seemed to my child-eyes to use chrome bowling-balls, and required one person on each side to push the dinner-plate sized buttons. I also clearly remember playing a pinball machine based on the original Star Trek series...

    Anyway, enough wallowing in nostalgia for me - I'm still an avid pinball fan, and look forward to the day when I can own my own machine. It's nice to see such dedication to a wonderful form of electro-mechanical art.

    Huxley

    • Yup, Atari's attempt to breach the pinball market was the ole Hercules. It actually used a pool cueball as it's playing ball. It didn't do well on the market and atari soon closed it's pinball department and moved on.

      The best one that i've ever played, and got my ass kicked left and right was the Addams Family pinball. They had the gravity cranked up just a little higher than usual, making for some interesting situations. We broke it on more than a couple of occasions.
    • Heheh... I played a Hercules once too. The balls were actually Pool cueballs painted silver! You'll be glad to know that the game IS one of the ones emulated by Visual Pinball/VpinMAME!!

      I have a real Flight 2000 (Stern) and a Fireball (Bally) both real classics, Fireball was the first multi-level machine (small upper table but, hey...) and Flight 2000 was one of the first "wide body" style games.

      I highly recommend owning one. It's a cool piece of history, an excellent conversation piece, a nice bit of
  • Gone with arcades (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Telastyn (206146) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @07:05PM (#12160094)
    The problem with pinball machines is they were tied to the old style arcades. Arcades would have a guy come out every 3 months or so and bring them new games in exchange for old ones.

    Since pinball machines break down [damned mechanical beasties] pretty often, the guy would often spruce them up, and/or replace the little broken bits here and there.

    With arcades moving to smaller, less dedicated areas [in movie theatres for example] they don't replace the machines as often. If the machine breaks a little after 2 months, suddenly it's less desirable for maybe 4 months rather than 1.

    Futher the larger, less complex video games meant the video game guy turned into more of a mover rather than a mechanic. Pinball machines stay broken longer, or aren't fixed as well. They make less money.

    A shame. Pat Lawlor should be as famous as Sid Meier or Will Wright or Chris Sawyer.
  • Anyone have a ballpark figure about what ones of these babies cost new?.. (one day!)
    • Re:Cost? (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      "Anyone have a ballpark figure about what ones of these babies cost new?"

      A new Stern pinball is typically around the $4000 mark. Retailers charge a lot more (like $5.5k) but if you shop around you can get them for $3700 - $4000.
  • Being a die hard pinhead (no not that pinhead), i can Say pinball rules. I miss the old days of being able to go into an arcade and merrily drop quarters into machines. Now that pinball is being removed from most arcades (the ones that are left are mostly redemption machines and DDR), it is getting harder and harder to play, a lot of us are starting to collect them. There is a pretty active discussion on all things pinball at Rec.games.pinball [google.com] . Where all of the things in this article and the resulting dis
  • by RayDude (798709) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @07:40PM (#12160405)
    I worked for Atari Games in the 90s. They were ultimately bought by Williams at about the same time Williams started seriously considering killing their Pin Ball development.

    The big problem with Pin Ball and Video Games is supporting the hardware. Kids are brutal with the hardware and it breaks down a lot. That support costs a lot of money and the arcade owners don't want to pay for it. Pin Ball is much more brutal than Video Games, maintenance wise and that's why Williams stopped producing more than a few models of the things per year while I worked for them.

    They thought the future was in Video Games, and they were right, what they didn't know is that the video games would be in the home, not at the arcade.

    Coin op video game hardware was out paced by the home computer and eventually the home video game. Coin op volumes and gross margins were so low, that not much could be spent on research and that removed the graphic advantage that coin op had originally used to bring in kids.

    They could still make better interfaces (steering wheels, joysticks, track balls etc) but kids were dumbed down by their Nintendo controllers, they didn't need the fancy / different controllers anymore and maybe they didn't want them either.

    Pin still exists because its a physical challenge with real physics, a real ball and real flippers. Its simply fun no matter how its put together and you don't have to spend six million dollars to model people and cars, etc like 3D video games, so the development overhead is controllable.

    I imagine maintenance is still high, but Stern is the only game left in town, so he can charge the right amount and the remaining operators have to pay it, they have no choice.

    I didn't know he still made new pins (that's how long its been since I went to an arcade) and I think its awesome he's still going.

    Raydude

  • by MrPerfekt (414248) on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @07:53PM (#12160532) Homepage Journal
    It's truly amusing to see this come up on slashdot. Being both a computer and pinball aficionado, it's interesting to see that the slashdot crowd knows very little about pinball.

    Lets clear up some misconceptions that I've seen in some posts thus far:

    1) Why isn't there another manufacturer to compete with Stern? Monopolies are evil. Well, the problem with that is that the pinball market is very small. 10,000 units is pretty small for a global market. The article mentions that it takes about 6,500 to 7,000 units for Stern to just breakeven. Said another way, the 7,001st machine is where they start to make profit. This is because...

    2) Pinballs are very expensive. Expensive to design, expensive to make and difficult to sell a decent quantity of. All told, a new-in-box machine goes for about $4,000. Damn near impossible to sell to a consumer and getting harder to sell to operators in the waning coin-op market. I suppose that there may be some ways for them to cut corners and churn out a slightly cheaper machine but if anyone has seen a Bally/Williams machine from the 90s and compared it with a current Stern product, the difference in quality is noticable. That is because...

    3) In the heyday of Williams/Bally, the market was much bigger. Then it wasn't unusual to pump out 30,000 machines of the same model instead of the under 10,000 of current models. More sales equal more profit equals more development funds. The more money available general leads to better development of "toys" and new technologies (optical switches, new hardware platforms, etc). Most Williams machines have several unique "toys" in each model and added a great amount of excitement. Stern usually only puts one "toy" in a machine and isn't exceptionally exciting. That just comes from having to shave back the cost of each machine to try and make a profit easier. It's simple business math and I can't really blame them since the slack between profit and loss is very thin.

    All-in-all, hopefully Stern will keep pinball alive for many many years to come. On most "pinhead's" wishlists though is for Stern to be a little bit more innovative and make machines that are a bit more complex like old Williams/Bally machines. But undoubtedly, we'll continue to keep cheering Stern on regardless because he's keeping the dream alive.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 06, 2005 @08:01PM (#12160611)
    A real one. One where they take extremely GOOD care of all the machines, including the 6 Pinball machines there. They allow smoking inside but they keep the cigarette burns off the machines. We have nice, metal, padded stools to sit on, if you like and tables between all the machines to put your food and beer on. Yes, the sell beer. The place is very well ran. The pinball machines are all Stern machines but, since thats all there are these days, thats all the owner can buy. There are no redemption machines here, its not part of a bowling alley, this is just a new version of the old-school arcade and it works! The owner had made money on the place since they opened and plans to be around for a long, long time.

    .A loyal Rockys Customer
    • I used to play a lot of pinball and learned from it a few lessons of life, such as:

      1) You can rack up every feature and score and have all the lights lit up, but if you tilt before you collect, you're still busted.
      2) If you can light a match from a foldover matchbook with one hand, you are sober enough to play for money.
      3) There is a great satisfaction in the crr-rack sound of the slot dropping down to give you a free game.

      I used to have a couple of pinball machines and a shuffle bowling-alley machine in
  • by voss (52565) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @12:01AM (#12162587)
    "You know, at one time there must've been dozens of companies making buggy whips. And I'll bet the last company around was the one that made the best g--damn buggy whip you ever saw. Now how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company? "

    The point is Pinball machines are the horse and buggy of the gaming era.

  • by Zathras26 (763537) <pianodwarf@@@gmail...com> on Thursday April 07, 2005 @12:34AM (#12162814)

    I've been a huge pinball fan for many years but hardly play anymore because it's become so difficult to find machines. There are still places here in the DC area that have them, but you often have to go out of your way (then deal with the depression of seeing one forlorn pin off in the corner in the midst of swarms of video games). Also, you often find that the machines aren't being properly maintained (as others have commented). It's a real shame. Once, just a couple of weeks ago, I even had to walk away from a machine because all the balls were captured, then didn't release for the multiball, and I couldn't find anyone in the arcade to help.

    There have been a lot of great games over the years... two of my favorites were Scared Stiff and Demolition Man. Terminator 2 was a real turkey, though.

    I dream of the day when I can buy one or two machines for my own home and maintain them myself. No more hunting for machines, no more having to deal with lousy maintenance, and no more fretting about what I'll do if and when Stern closes up shop, since it's unlikely they'd ever be replaced. Pinball, I think, is going the way of the nickelodeon... it's been on its way out for many years, and I don't see the trend reversing. The best we can probably hope for is that the trend will bottom out and stop, but I don't see pinball ever becoming popular again.

  • by evilviper (135110) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @02:21AM (#12163277) Journal
    I'm not too surprised the demand for pinball machines is low... The demand has dropped-off, and the machines already in-use can be kept going with a little bit of maintenance.

    I know my neighborhood arcade had one single pinball machine going for over FIFTY YEARS, with very little downtime. The machine was retired about 10 years ago, for fear it might be seriously damaged or stolen. Now a collectable.

    I moved away years ago, and shortly after, all the pinball machines were removed. Coincidence, or was I single-handedly keeping those machines profitable? ;-)

    It's really a shame too. MAME can keep all the old arcade games alive, and though I do admit to enjoying a couple different pinball videogames, it really can't replace a real pinball machine. At about $4,000 new, it would be completely worth it, if I could try a few out, and find one I would be sure to enjoy playing, and not some junky gimmicky box.
  • by Zhe Mappel (607548) on Thursday April 07, 2005 @04:09AM (#12163601)
    Bless Mr. Stern, but what an irony! In all the years of blowing my paper route money back in the 70s, his would have been the last company I'd have expected to still be standing. Gottlieb had the precision tables, Bally and Williams the style and speed. The Data East-Sega-Stern corner--machines unimaginatively designed that felt clunky--was easy to ignore. Go figure. But here we are, on the very last ball, and I wish Stern all the luck in the world.

    Sorry to learn, though, that all his machines now are tie-ins to movies and TV shows. Half the beauty of pinball in its heyday was its aesthetic, which ranged voraciously across Americana as each table assembled a kind of comic book on glass and wood: you got legends and history and fantasy, blue collar pasttimes, pool and racing and cards, techno festishism, social trends, anatomically impossible chicks, and just plain weird and self-referential stuff about pinball. The backglass and table designs were a unique form not without their masterpieces (look up the artist Jerry Kelly--the form's Picasso--on the delightful Internet Pinball Machine Database [ipdb.org]).

What this country needs is a good five dollar plasma weapon.

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