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Have Pinball Prices Peaked?

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For the past 20 years, in somewhat of an odd phenomenon, pinball prices have been going up across the board. There are very few other items that you can buy where they continuously go up year after year, allowing you to buy and and play for a year and then get your money back.

I’ve been noticing that the market appears to be stagnating the past 6 to 12 months outside of a few titles like Indiana Jones, Twilight Zone, Addams Family, etc…titles that aren’t likely to be remade anytime soon. The remakes appear to be slowly dropping in value as well, leading to their lowest values yet. New games aren’t holding their values particularly well either, which leads to my question, “Have Pinball Prices Peaked?”.

Lack of Room?

It kind of feels like all of the machines made over the past few years are finally filling up everyone’s game rooms, leading to less demand overall. And the prices haven’t slowed down either, pricing out a lot of people in the hobby.

I know that I personally haven’t been buying much. I used to buy a game every few months or so but now I only buy one like once a year at most. Biggest reason is that the prices have gotten too high on the newer games and most of the time the software isn’t complete on them either. Who wants to spend $5k to $9k on an incomplete game? Evidently a lot of people based upon the past 5 years, but I think people are getting a little smarter with they’re buying (finally, lol). Also I don’t have any additional room either, I have to sell something to buy something.

Too much supply?

What I’m afraid may happen is that the supply from all the new manufacturers may start to overwhelm all the buyers, leading to big price drops on new machines. This in turn may put downward pressure on all games. The hobby has essentially flourished the past 20 years based on the steady appreciation of games. If that were to change, then you might see large collectors start to liquidate some of their warehouse holdings. There are a lot of people that just have 100’s of games in storage due to their appreciating nature.

Of course, this might also be just a short blip and prices may continue to rise for the foreseeable future. Prices have risen way past what I thought anyone would pay already. I’m personally pretty comfortable at the $5k and less level. At that level, it doesn’t feel super expensive, and any value lost would be minimal.

The 8k barrier

Where I don’t want to be at is the $8k and above level. It feels like that’s the line where games can’t really hold their value well above. Anything that’s been above that line has tended to drift back down below it due to lack of buyers. I think it’s the Medieval Madness line. Before all the remakes, all kinds of games were hitting $8k and above. When the Medieval Madness remake came, it kind of set the ceiling to $8k on about everything. I think that’s because since Medieval Madness is the gold standard for collectors, if a game is over $8k the collector will just buy a MM remake instead. Hence setting the price ceiling.

I know that personally I’d just buy a Medieval Madness if I was going to spend $8k on a machine. At least I’d know it was going to be in demand forever.

I think the biggest bargains right now are the Stern Pro’s from the past few years. Most of them are in the $4k to $5k range and the software is now complete on most of them. There are quite a few in that category that I wouldn’t mind owning someday. I wish that they had gotten the real voices for Deadpool and Guardians of the Galaxy, that would have made those games so much better.

What do you think will happen to pinball prices? Add your comment below!

5 Best Pinball Books

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Mr Pinball Price Guide
Mr Pinball Price Guide

Finding the best pinball books can be tough. A lot of them are old and out of print or hard to find. I’ve tried to make a list of the 5 best pinball books for collecting, pricing, and repairing your pinball machine. For the person just starting out who is buying games, I’d definitely recommend the Mr Pinball Price Guide below. Although people who have been buying for a while won’t really need it, it’s a very handy guide for those who run into games to buy that they’re not entirely familiar with.

The prices aren’t 100% accurate but they’re close enough to give you a baseline at least. The other books below are good for general pinball knowledge and history. I’ve include Amazon affiliate links to the ones that are actually available there, sometimes these books go out of stock and don’t come back for a while (if ever). So if you’re wanting a copy of some of these books, I wouldn’t wait forever as you never know when they’ll go out of print for good.

#1) The Pinball Compendium: 1982 to Present

The Pinball Compendium series has been described by most as the best overall pinball book today. The 1982 to present edition is the most popular edition, but note that ‘present’ is actually 2011 and not today. It has a lot of interesting facts and background on all of the games made during that period.

#2) The Pinball Compendium, 1970 -1981 (Schiffer Book for Collectors)

Similar to the first book mentioned above, this one is just from a slightly earlier time period.

#3) The Complete Pinball Book: Collecting the Game & Its History

This book has a lot of fans but like the Pinball Compendium is somewhat out of date with newer titles. It’s also not a complete book like the books above, rather it picks and chooses its games.

#4) Pinball Wizards: Jackpots, Drains, and the Cult of the Silver Ball

Unlike the other books, this book is about competitive pinball and all that goes along with that. The author was a top player before dropping out due to lack of time. The book details his attempt to rise back up the ranks.

#5) Mr Pinball Price Guide

The definitive guide for pinball prices, it’s major issue though is that they never seem to produce enough of them. Most of the prices are good for ballpark estimates on average machines. Most collectors use pinside.com for prices but this is a good alternative to have.

Hopefully this list of the 5 best pinball books has helped you find the book you were looking for. Unfortunately a lot of the other books are out of print and hard to find, at least these are still available. Most of the out of print ones though are also pretty outdated, so they may not be as useful as the newer books either. For instance Roger Sharpe has a book that he did in the late 70’s which is one of the original pinball books. It’s hard to find now though, and there are better options available currently. As a book though that captures a moment in time, it’s great (Roger Sharpe is the man who made the shot that helped get pinball legalized in New York in the 70’s).

Rarest Pinball Machines

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What are the rarest pinball machines? I’m going to go through a list of 11 of the rarest pinball machines ever made. If you see one of these for sale on a garage sale, you’d better scoop it up fast! Also check out my Best Pinball machines for home use page if you’re searching for a game for your home.

  1. Pinball Circus. This game made by the late Python Angelo was a ground breaking multilevel pinball machine in an arcade standup cabinet. It never made it into production though. Only 2 known but there were rumors of up to 6 made.
  2. Kingpin. The last game from Capcom before it closed its doors, 9 were made before the company folded.
  3. King Kong. Data East supposedly made 9 of these before deciding not to go ahead with production.
  4. Thunderball (10)
  5. Krull (10)
  6. Varkon (90)
  7. Star Light (100)
  8. Punchy the Clown (103)
  9. America’s Most Haunted (150)
  10. Pistol Poker (200)
  11. Big Bang Bar (205, though like 183 though were made 10 years after Capcom closed with the parts left over).

There are a lot of other rare games not on this list but most of them are not true games. Like ‘Aaron Spelling’ was just retheme, as was ‘Richie Rich’ and the Michael Jordan game. Data East did a lot of rethemes for cash in the early 90’s, turning a lot of lethal weapon 3’s mainly into custom games. While cool, they aren’t on quite the same level as newly developed games that were produced in very low numbers.

Of the rare games, America’s Most Haunted is the only one made in the past 20 years. Spooky Pinball decided that in order to motivate people to buy their initial machine they needed to limit production to 150 games. It worked, and now that game is one of the rarest. Value hasn’t coincided with its rarity though (yet).

Most valuable pinball machine?

From the list above, Pinball Circus would probably bring the most money if one were ever to come up for sale. However, that has never happened so the value is mostly speculative. Kingpin and King Kong though have been said to go for as much as $50k, though there isn’t much evidence to back that up besides word of mouth. Of the games regularly sold on Ebay, Big Bang Bar was the one that regularly was bringing 20k+. However recently the threat of a Big Bang Bar remake has made its value decrease quite a bit. Kingpin is also supposed to be remade, so most likely King Kong will have the highest value of any game sold in the next few years.

Pinside Top 100

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It’s a question that comes up all the time, what are the top pinball machines of all time? A while back Pinside came up with their top 100 list, and that’s become the go to place for ratings, taking the crown from ipdb.org‘s Top 300 list. Part of that probably stems from the fact that ipdb requires user registration to see the lists while Pinside lists are available for everyone to see.

Is the list accurate?

Well, that kind of depends on what kind of player you are. If you are a player who likes theme, art, and toys above everything else, the list could be pretty accurate for you. If you’re a person who likes deep rulesets more than anything else, then the list probably isn’t very accurate in that manor. The list is somewhat weighted towards art/theme/toys more than rules, and the rankings reflect that for the most part. For instance, Tales of the Arabian Nights is, by most accounts, not a very good game for home use. It’s beautiful to look at it and is very cool, but after you play it a few times you start to realize that it doesn’t shoot the best and the rules aren’t very good overall unfortunately.

It also usually puts newer games above older games for the most part except for some of the all time greats. There are very few games from the 80’s on the list, and every time a new game comes out usually a game from the 90’s/early 00’s gets pushed out, making the list very heavy with recent games.

The other problem is that people have gone out of their way to ‘rig’ the rankings with false really low scores and high scores. I think the developers of Pinside were notified of the issue but to my knowledge nothing was ever done about it (other than the ability to flag a review). It was suggested that the top 10% and bottom 10% be dropped to make the reviews more accurate and I would tend to agree with that sentiment in order to filter out stuff outside the mean.

Should I trust their rankings with buying decisions?

I would say no, the best thing to do is to play the game first. If that isn’t possible, the next best thing to do is actually read the user reviews. Typically if a game has a glaring flaw, you’ll see it mentioned over and over again in the user reviews. Like in the Tales of the Arabian Nights reviews you’d probably see tons of references to poor rules. If the flaw is something you really care about, it’s probably going to be one of those games you’d better off just playing at a friends house and not owning.

How to Clean a Pinball Machine

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PInball machines to clean
PInball machines to clean

Cleaning a pinball machine looks like it might be tough at first, but is actually pretty easy once you get over the intimidation factor. In fact most people are terrified of even removing the glass. When I started, I remember being very intimidated the first time I removed the glass, I thought I might drop it, it might break in my hands, etc. It was easy though, and once I did that one time it’s been a piece of cake ever since. The video below shows how to do it:

Cleaning the pinball playfield

Once the glass is off, the next step is to get some paper towels or other rag to clean with. Along with the rag, you’re going to want some Novus 2. Novus 2 is the preferred cleaner for cleaning pinball playfields. If your paint is particularly fragile you may have to use something else, but I’ve found it to work well on everything. You can buy it directly through Amazon through my affiliate link below:

Novus 2 Pinball Cleaner

It works really well, in fact you’ll probably be using it for other things around the house as well. I’ve used it to get scratches out of all kinds of plastic, it’s a miracle worker on those things. My wife always asks me if I can use my ‘pinball stuff’ to clean things for her, lol.

Once you’ve got the cleaner and rags, you can dab a little bit on the playfield or rag and start cleaning. You should see the rag start to turn black in color and the playfield become instantly more shiny. Continue this process from the flippers all the way up the playfield, cleaning plastics, ramps, targets, rubbers, etc, it works on everything. You have to be a little careful not to use too much and spread it into places that don’t clean easy like Star Posts. Star posts get cleaner in their ribs that’s very difficult to get out then unfortunately.

How long should you clean? Until no more black stuff gets on your rag. On older playfields which don’t have clearcoat you don’t want to scrub too long or you might start to get into the paint. Older playfields also tend to flake so you want to be careful with your rag as well. Some people use 90% rubbing alcohol and magic erasers to clean their older playfield, they say it gets dirt out of the hairline cracks. I’ve honestly never had much luck with it, but maybe I just wasn’t do it right (or the playfield I was doing it on was too far gone).

Waxing

I used to be a big fan of waxing but in the past few years I’ve kind of gotten away from it. I found that it tended to make a big mess (white stuff on star posts is super annoying) and was a little counterproductive overall (basically the extra protection is a little overkill in home use). Most people wax with a carnuaba wax. One of the most popular brands is this one through my Amazon affiliate link:

P21s Carnuaba Wax

You can try it out and see what you think. Maybe I’ve just gotten lazy, lol. Waxing does allow for some faster gameplay and wicked spins on the ball.

Cleaning Pinball Metal Pieces

Sometimes after a long period of time, some of your pinball metal pieces will get really dirt, rusted, or scratched. There are a few ways to fix this. The best thing I’ve found to polish smaller pieces is to use a tumbler and some Flitz metal polish. What’s a tumbler? Well I didn’t know either at first, but mainly they use it to polish gun shells so they can be reused. That used to be a huge thing but I don’t think it’s as popular anymore. In any case, basically it just shakes like your buzzing cell phone for hours and hours and hours with some crushed shells in it + metal polish. This creates kind of a polishing machine which makes metal look chrome like or brand new after a while. When I was restoring games to look like new, I would put almost all the pieces through one.

The one I’d recommend is below, along with the metal polish and crushed walnut shells:

Hopefully that helps you find the stuff to do that. It works on household stuff too, I’ve used it to fix things I’ve accidentally let get rusty or corroded. It works wonders, just needs a little time. I will worn you that it doesn’t work as well with things that have lots of little holes because the shells might get stuck in the holes.

Wrapup

Hopefully this helps you out when cleaning your pinball machine. It can be pretty hard the first time, but after that you’ll be twice as fast. Doing it yourself will save you a lot of money from hiring it out plus you’ll be able to do it a lot more often. Usually you have to clean a game every few hundred plays at home if you want it to still play good. After that and the game starts getting a lot slower playing.