Modern Pinball has only been around for the last century or so, but the origins of pinball go back to the original creation of games!
Pinball is basically a game where you have a ball and try to hit targets. In this way, the beginnings of pinball can be seen linked to games like Croquet, Golf or even horseshoes.
It wasn’t until the invention of springs that something like the modern day pinball table was created. The introduction of coin operation allowed early pinball machines to become monetized, but the biggest leap forward in pinball came from adding electricity, flipper bats and lights.
With the ability to add electric switches and pop bumpers, the game became even more interesting and wild. During World War II, the pinball industry suffered drastically. Like other manufacturers, the pinball companies in the Chicago area had to assist in the war effort. Manufacturers couldn’t use copper as it was being used overseas.
Many manufacturers tried to refurbish older machines or otherwise stay relevant and by the end of WWII, only 10% of pinball manufacturers had weathered the storm. The gold lining? Those who remained saw a resurgence in pinball manufacturing as the war ended and people wanted to get back to playing pinball.
Flipper bats were then introduced to pinball machines to help keep the ball stay in play longer. Manufacturers were always on the lookout for how to make the game more interesting or innovative. Pinball machines where once considered illegal because it was deemed a “game of chance” Many companies added flippers to control the ball, to aim their shot and turn pinball into a game of skill.
Since its humble beginnings, pinball has been on the up-and-up. Pinball continued to grow and change in a market, and forced companies to innovate and become competitive. Companies came and went, were sold or just closed down, but here’s a list of the most influential pinball manufactures from the early days of pinball.
Pinball Manufacturers of the Past
Bally is one of the original names in pinball. Bally began making pinball machines in 1932, when its parent company Lion Manufacturing established a pinball division. Bally worked to improve upon all coin operated devices until it’s founder passed away in 1958. Bally was then bought by investors in 1963. Bally continued working on pinball machines, coin operated machines, including slot machines and at one point had about 90% of the coin operated market worldwide. Bally also acquired many other companies, including Midway Games. As Bally made acquisitions, namely in the amusement and casino markets, they soon found themselves low on funds and their pinball division was sold to Williams in 1988.
Williams started as a manufacturer of pinball machines in 1943. They were able to acquire and modify existing pinball games. Their first all original machine was created in 1946. While they produced both pinball and arcade games, it was not until 1977 that they produced their first solid state game. In 1992, Williams produced the most popular pinball machine of all time, The Addams Family pinball machine. While they continued to produce games, it was the introduction of Pinball 2000 that ultimately made Williams pull out of the pinball market.
Data East was a Japanese company that originally manufactured video games. They started an American headquarters and in 1987 produced its first pinball machine. Their pinball machines were some of the first to include stereo sound and large dot matrix displays. Data East chose to forgo many unlicensed titles and worked with big names licenses to develop some really cool pinball machines based on tv shows, movies and rock n roll bands. While this lead to popular games, it also lead to very small profits. Some of their popular titles include: Guns N Roses, Star Wars, Back to the Future, and The Simpsons.
Data East entered the pinball market by buying the pinball division of Stern Electronics and they exited by selling their pinball division to Sega in 1994.
Stern Electronics was formed when the Stern family bought Chicago Coin in 1977. Stern Electronics focused on video games when they became popular in the 80s, but soon found themselves exiting the amusement industry. With the downturn of the pinball industry in the late 90s, many companies were looking to get out of pinball completely. This allowed Gary Stern to purchase many of the companies who were left. In 1999, Gary founded what is present day Stern Pinball.
Gottlieb was established in 1927 and produced pinball machines eventually expanding into pitch-and-bat and bowling games. Gottlieb was also the manufacturer who held on to electromechanical games for longest. They made many great pinball machines, but always seemed to lag just behind its competition. In 1996, their pinball division was sold off due to decreased popularity of pinball.
Current Pinball Machine Manufacturers
Since 1999 Stern Pinball has been producing excellent pinball machines. They’ve been able to take the best of what they learned from Data East and Sega. Having started their official pinball branch during the hardest times of pinball, they have seen a meteoric rise. Today they produce many machines at once and offer about 4 new pinball tables each year.
American Pinball is one of the newest pinball manufacturers around and recently introduced their first pinball Machine Houdini. This game was unveiled at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas on September 26th, 2016. Houdini has gotten its far share of fans and critics, but it’s fair to say that American Pinball has shown it can make one heck of a pinball machine.
Chicago Gaming Company
Chicago Gaming makes all forms of entertainment devices, from tabletop games like foosball, jukeboxes, to arcade video games like Arcades Legends 3 and ms pacman galaga arcade games. Chicago Gaming Company has teamed with Planetary Pinball to reproduce some of the very best pins around. They’ve released Attack from Mars and Medieval Madness, and have a highly anticipated Monster Bash pinball machine on the way.
In 2013, Spooky Pinball was created our of Benton, Wisconsin by Charlie Emery. It was the brainchild of a father who wanted to make sure he could share pinball with his children. He worked on making his own custom game and discovered there was a market for a full fledged Boutique pinball company. Starting with Ben Heck’s “America’s Most Haunted,” Spooky has set itself apart with interesting titles that are spooky in their own right. Spooky Teamed up with Scott Denasi, a guy who built his own pinball machine from scratch called Total Annihilation and has sold over 500 games so far. Spooky recently announced there third game Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle and the pinball machine is now in full production
Jersey Jack Pinball
Founded in 2011 by Jack Guarnieri, Jersey Jack Pinball debuted with The Wizard of Oz based on the film of the same name. Jersey Jack has made a name for itself by making games based on great franchises and innovating at the same time.
Future of Pinball
As pinball progresses, there is always the drive to innovate. There’s no way to know the true future of pinball, but there are some things that have been on our minds. Here are a few ideas of what we may be seeing in the future:
Bluetooth and Wireless Connectivity – We may be seeing pinball machines that have wireless or bluetooth connectivity. This would be very easy for manufacturers to incorporate already since most new machines already run on what is essentially a computer. This would make it easy to incorporate headphones or other peripherals. It would also allow connection to cellular phones for game based apps. Perhaps this can assist with troubleshooting and diagnostics.
Virtual Reality – The incorporation of Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality can be another aspect of growth. Special layers within the machine can be used to project images. Something like this is already used in Ghostbusters by Stern. Their Ecto Goggles projects targets during gameplay. Virtual Reality is still in its infancy, so it will be interesting to see how it progresses in pinball.
Online Gaming – If the future of pinball does include wireless or other digital connections, we may see the start of online gaming. Tournaments are a great part of pinball, but for people who are unable to travel, online tournaments would be a great way to create a huge tournament. Imagine playing on your physical pinball machine and playing against someone across the globe. Now imagine having online and camera integration, so you can see the face of your friend as they post their high score!
Multi layer playfield – Using multiple layers in a pinball machine is not new, but it can be used to even greater effect. Even games like Stern’s Aerosmith has an upper playfield and their AC/DC Luci has a lower playfield. Games in the future may start incorporating multiple playfields to make the games even more interesting.
While we may not be able to know the future of pinball, one thing’s for certain. It’s going to be fun!
High Quality Pinball Games at Great American Pinball
The one thing we love about pinball is the enjoyment we see on a young kids face when they play pinball for the first time. Everyone has a different story of how they got into pinball, but for us we grew up playing pinball in the 70’s. We can still remember that feeling of excitement as we played the first pinball game on our Captain Fantastic pinball machine and we enjoy helping others experience that exact same feeling. It’s like seeing the Wizard of Oz for the first time. Do you remember Dorothy surviving the tornado, throwing open her door to the vibrantly colored Munchkin Kingdom? Did you know there is a Wizard of Oz pinball machine?
The best way to share that pinball feeling is by helping new pinball enthusiasts enter the hobby by helping them select and purchase their first pinball machine. At Great American Pinball, we only sell the best pinball machines online. No video game could possibly match the joy and excitement of a great game of pinball.
Classic Pinball in Modern Machines
A high quality pinball machine takes many aspects into consideration. Some games like the Wizard of Oz really try to harken back to the good old days of pinball. Here are some aspects that make fantastic pinball games.