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Is Pinball Making a Comeback?

Is Pinball Making a Comeback?

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The history of pinball dates back hundreds of years to as early as 1500 AD. The modern pinball machine that we know and love today soared in popularity in the 20th century.

But is pinball still a thing? And is it making a comeback?

Let's dive in.


The Rise and Fall of Pinball

During World War 2, in 1942, New York City banned pinball. Often associated with gambling and debauchery, the harmless pinball machine we know and love today was once a public enemy in the eyes of those who believed it corrupted youth and inflamed the senses of adults, no different than black tea, prostitution, alcohol or drugs.

Pinball machines were once called "insidious nickel-stealers" by authorities.  

Many major cities followed suit, including New Orleans and Los Angeles, and America entered into a new era of prohibition. Pinball prohibition.

When things are banned, curiosity is aroused.

According to History.com, "Pinball was driven underground and became as much a part of rebel culture as leather jackets, cigarettes and greaser hairstyles."

Throughout the 1940s, 50s & 60s, pinball was at the height of its popularity. Pinball was one of the most popular forms of amusement in the country during this era.

Some argue that the 1970s were the true heyday of pinball, with the upgrading of the pinball machine's technology to include computer chips and new computer machinery. 

The pinball games were LIT.

But there was something else on its way.

Around the same time, Atari's Computer Space (The first commercially available video arcade game 1971), paved the way for the popularization of commercial video arcade games--which were imperative to keep the pinballers around, some believe.

Many arcades in the '70s and '80s--and this is still true today--sought to have a mixture of pinball machines and video arcade games in one jazzy, upbeat establishment. It became ubiquitously known as "The Arcade."

Pinball and video arcade games seemed to be a dynamic duo, but not all friendships last forever. Sometimes one becomes a cheerleader or a football star and they turn their back on all their old nerdy friends.

Though there were always diehard pinball fans, kids in the 80s were becoming hooked on something worse than drugs and pinball; video games.

Pinball was an icon of yesteryear, and with Nintendo and Sega mass marketing home entertainment systems throughout the 80s and early 90s, video games had turned pinball into a relic.

The lonely pinball machine wept softly in the corner, relishing a momentary glee from the occasional quarter clinking at the bottom of its empty coin basket.

But the pinball machine would soon have its old friend, the video arcade game, to commiserate with.

In 1998, home entertainment console sales surpassed video arcade games for the first time in history. By the turn of the century, arcades largely became a thing of the past. Everyone had a Super Nintendo and a PlayStation by that time.

In a strange irony, the video game had killed the video game.

Those bygone days of walking to the arcade with a pocket full of quarters, many supposed, were gone forever.

But when things that were once cool finally die, there are certain people who wait around for just the right moment to bring them back to life.

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Hipsters and The Resurrection of Pinball

In the 21st century, many hipster barkeeps and business owners in cities like Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Atlanta, Baltimore etc. said, "Hey, nobody plays pinball anymore. We should buy a bunch of pinball machines!"

If it was once cool but nobody does it anymore, then it becomes something way cooler than cool. It becomes RETRO.

Suddenly, a hipster bar wasn't a hipster bar unless it had at least one pinball machine and a Mrs. Pacman.

And the idea caught on, ever so organically, which made it even cooler.

Now a hipster could pick up his pint of craft beer and take a quick sip while the pinball was stuck in the bumpers.

And everyone was happy.

Vintage arcades across the country began seeing new clientele. Because let's face it, there's really nothing cooler than a vintage arcade.

But surely we can't give all the credit to hipsters. Right?


Pinball Soars in Popularity

Through the dense fog of Atari, Nintendo, Mario 3, Sonic and the pandemonium of PlayStation, Elder Millennials and young Gen Xers summoned their fleeting memories of playing pinball when they were kids.

"Hey, I remember pinball. This is actually really fun."

If it wasn't for Gen X and The Elder Millennials, pinball might've died forever. They were the spark that ignited the fire. 

But the new generations followed suit.

What's old is new, and with Netflix shows like Cobra Kai and Stranger Things becoming smash hits, the 80s have never been more popular.

(I mean, Kate Bush earned over 2 million in royalties in 2022 for a song she released in 1985. That should tell ya something.)

But what's more 80s than an arcade at the mall?

And if you're in an arcade in the year 2023, you're going to be standing in the glorious presence of a ghost that returned from the fiery ashes of hell; the pinball machine.

It's antique. It's vintage. It's retro. It's hip.

So, to answer your question, yes, pinball is making a comeback. Pinball is making a huge comeback.

Bally, Stern and Williams, some of the top pinball machine manufacturers, have all reported an increase in sales and revenues post-2020.

Pinball, for the time being, is here to stay. So sign up for a pinball tournament and live a retro dream in the magical arcade that almost never was, but is.

Thanks for reading. Check out our awesome Pinball Shirts before you go.

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