Do Pinball Machines Hold Their Value?


Do Pinball Machines Hold Their Value?

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Among gaming fans, man cave builders, and collectors, it’s not uncommon to hear about investing serious cash in a rare game set. Many specialty sets, including chess sets, are known for holding their value. Other games, especially arcade games, don’t have that reputation..yet!

Do pinball machines hold their value? If you choose the right pinball machine and keep it in excellent shape, owning a pinball machine can be a legitimate way to get something that keeps its value or even goes up in value. If you buy a used pinball machine it is much more likely to keep its value than buying a new machine at full retail price. 

If you are a huge pinball fan that wants to use your obsession as an investment, you’re not alone. Pinball investments are starting to become relatively commonplace. That being said, it’s a complex choice and it’s crucial to know what you’re getting into before you buy one. 

If you want to see some current pinball machines or other retro arcade machines just click here.

Do Pinball Machines Hold Their Value?

If you are extremely knowledgeable about pinball history and seek out mint condition machines, it’s very likely that your machine will be able to keep (or even increase) its value. However, anyone who’s actually tried to buy a pinball machine will tell you that this isn’t an easy feat.

For the most part, it’s actually fairly difficult to find pinball machines that are worth keeping as investment pieces. In most cases, it’s not an endeavor that should be pursued as an investment route at all. 

If you actually want to enjoy the machine as a game, you shouldn’t expect your home pinball machine to hold its value. Most pinball fans are better off just buying a machine for personal play purposes rather than worry about value retention.

How Risky Is A Pinball Machine As An Investment?

If you were hoping for a low-risk, high-reward investment, buying a pinball machine to park your cash is not it. Pinball machines are one of the riskier investment vehicles you can get in terms of price stabilization, predictability, as well as quality maintenance. 

The concept of using a pinball machine as an investment is not something the average person should consider. Though it is possible to “win big” with the right machine, most people do not see serious returns and often witness the price of their machine gradually decrease over time.

Now if you are just wanting to buy a pinball machine for enjoyment and are wondering if you will take a bath on it in a few years the answer is… it depends. If you buy a brand new machine for $7,000 to $10,000 and need to sell it in a few years then the likelihood of it dropping significantly in value during that time is high. 

If however, you purchase a used machine that is functioning and play it for a few years while keeping it maintained it should still be worth approximately what you paid for it assuming you did not drastically overpay. 

Why Are Pinball Machines So Expensive?

A quick online search for pinball machines on sale will quickly reveal some serious price tags. A typical modern model can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 for a new pinball machine. Even specific older models can go for that high as well. So, what gives?

The price of pinball machines is high for a wide range of reasons, including the following:

  • Parts and Labor. Pinball machines are not easy to make and often require custom-made parts for each model. Due to the heavy machinery and skill needed to make them, it’s very difficult to find a “budget” machine that has all the bells and whistles.
  • Rarity. Pinball is not as popular as it was decades ago. As a result, many of the top manufacturers closed their doors. This, in turn, decreased the supply of available machines drastically.
  • Maintenance and Upkeep. It can take a lot of money to fix issues with a pinball machine, and few people are skilled enough to offer their services professionally. The older the machine, the more upkeep it will require.

Can You Play A Pinball Machine You Want To Keep As An Investment?

Pinball machines are a lot like cars when it comes to their “mileage.” The more use a pinball machine gets, the more likely it is to depreciate in value. Light use might be okay, but if you are serious about using a machine to park your cash, it’s not a good idea. 

Because of the potential for wear and tear, most pinball machine investors discourage buyers from playing on their investment pieces. Even light, casual gaming can cause a machine to need repairs after all. 

If your machine is purchased used for 1-2k then playing on it shouldn’t damage its value too badly as long as you keep it well maintained and repair any broken parts. 

What Makes A Pinball Machine Valuable?

If you decide to use a pinball machine as an investment vehicle, you need to know what impacts the value of a pinball machine. Each machine will have its own factors that contribute to it, but generally speaking, these factors below will be the most important to watch for:

  • Age. Older pinball machines might have historical value, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be worth much.
  •  Maker. Pinball machines that are made by now-defunct companies are viewed as rarer and are more likely to be considered collectors’ items. DIY pinball machines, on the other hand, do not hold value at all.
  • Condition. The closer the machine is to mint condition, the better the value will be.
  • Seller. Trusted pinball sellers are more likely to get more money on the same machine of equal quality than a home buyer. This is simply because people tend to rely on them for quality and their reputation matters.
  • Game Popularity. Just like with video games, some pinball machines are more popular than others. If you choose a popular pinball game, your game’s value will be more likely to stay stable or increase.
  • Edition. Limited edition pinball machines fetch a premium price on the market.
  • Release Quantities. Every pinball game ever made has a limited quantity of machines on the market. Some have thousands of machines, others only a handful. The rarer your machine is, the more likely it is to have a good price.
  • Features. A game with a lot of bells, whistles, and dings will always fetch a higher price than a plain game.

Obviously, every factor will have its own importance in terms of ranking. 

What Are The Most Important Factors To Consider When Pricing A Pinball Machine?

Not all factors are equal when it comes to determining a machine’s value. Some aspects of a game play a minimal role, while others play a huge role. For the majority of pinball machines, these three factors are what make the most difference:

  • Quality. If there was one factor to watch out for, it’s quality. A well-maintained, pristine machine can easily fetch hundreds or even thousands more than a machine left in disrepair. Even subtle things like scuff marks or small bits of rust can be enough to knock a pinball machine’s price down immensely.
  • Game Title. Video gamers will tell you that certain vintage game titles can fetch a pretty penny on eBay. The same is true with pinball machines and often will make or break the game’s ability to keep the price up.
  • Features. A good rule of thumb is that the more expensive machines are the ones with more features. Plain models tend to get plain prices because they’re just not that fun to look at or play.

Do You Have To Buy A New Machine To Invest In Pinball?

Though it’s often great to buy a new (or nearly-new) machine, it’s not always doable. Whether it’s due to price or logistics, we can’t all afford to get a machine that is fresh off the factory floor. This leaves many potential buyers with two options: used or refurbished.

A used machine is a pinball machine that still works, but might not always have the best upkeep. Used machines are cheaper and may require some light repairs in order to be restored to their former glory. If you’re crafty and good with tools, this may be an option to consider. If they are damaged and unplayable they are often not worth much at all. 

Refurbished machines are a step up from used and can often be passed off as new to casual observers. They are used machines that have undergone full repairs, often to the point of being restored to mint condition. Depending on the machine, this can be an excellent way to keep your game’s value. 

Can You Get A Machine Shipped To You?

Major pinball sellers do offer shipping, but it’s expensive and risky. When you’re shipping a machine over large distances, it’s easy enough to have parts break. That’s why many pinball investors prefer to do local pickups instead.

Shipping poses a lot of risks to an investment machine. If you decide to go through standard shipping, these tips can help you make sure you get your machine in one piece:

  • Get your order insured. Insurance on shipping is crucial when it comes to transporting anything that could be deemed delicate, including pinball machines. Should your machine get damaged en route, your insurance will ensure you get paid the damages and be able to get a replacement.
  • Buy your machine from a highly reputable seller. Sellers who are veterans in pinball sales will be skilled when it comes to wrapping your machine up in protective padding and knowing which services are best for transport.
  • Try to keep travel distance small regardless. Even if you do get a good shipper, it’s still best to keep distances low. After all, more distance means more things that can go wrong during transit. 

For most people it is better to find a dealer locally or even to buy off of Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace than to go through the hassle of trying to get a pinball machine shipped.

How Do You Choose A Game Title?

The title of the game you buy will have a massive impact on your ability to keep your machine from losing value or even use it as an investment vehicle. In most cases, the title and the quality of the machine are tied as the primary factor in a machine’s value. 

Choosing a pinball game to buy isn’t easy, especially if you’re not totally obsessed with the game and have a full knowledge of popular game titles on the market. Thankfully, pinball sites actually have resources and databases about game titles where you can find the prices of top machines and how much they recently sold for. 

Before you choose a specific title to look up, it’s a good idea to have a general idea of the game types you may want to invest in. These tips below can help:

  • Pinball titles related to pop culture are more likely to retain value than games that aren’t. This is assuming that they are official games that are part of a franchise. If you think about it, it makes sense. Pop culture pinball machines appeal to both gamers and fandoms as memorabilia.
  • Antique pinball games rarely, if ever, increase in value. If a game is more than 50 years old, chances are high that it’s not going to be a good investment vehicle. There are some machines that are worth a lot in mint condition but buying expensive machines isn’t a good way to increase the value.
  • Keep an eye out for pinball machines from major manufacturers. Names like Stern, Gottlieb, and Bally fetch better prices than indie makers.
  • A high demand title is a good choice. Demand for top titles has a tendency to stay stable or gradually increase, making them better investments.

How Much Can A Rare Game Title Fetch?

When you’re shopping for pinball machines, you might spot ads for a machine that claims to be a “rare title” for dirt cheap. Don’t fall for it! Rarity doesn’t always mean that a game will fetch a high price, especially if the game is extremely old.

That being said, extreme rarity can fetch a pretty penny. For example, a William Wiley pinball machine sold for $125,000 but it was a charity auction so the likelihood that that is the actual value of the machine is quite low. 

Do Popular Game Titles Always Stay In-Demand?

If popular pinball game titles always kept their demand high, then life would be a lot easier for investors! Much like with any other type of pop culture memorabilia, pinball machine game titles can fluctuate greatly in demand based on the current trends going on. 

Understanding how your pinball machine’s value will be affected by the title boils down to several factors:

  • Pop culture depreciation and interest increases
  • Popularity related to gameplay
  • Edition release

Pop Culture Depreciation 

Like with all things pop culture-related, a title’s cultural relevance has a tendency to decrease as the years go by. This can lead to a slowdown in demand among collectors, which, in turn, causes the price to slowly depreciate. 

This fact alone can (and should) make many hesitant to buy a machine as an investment. That being said, this is a very slow process, and a mint condition machine will still fetch a handsome price in most cases.

Pop Culture Interest Increase

Oddly enough, there have been cases where pinball machine titles increased in demand as a result of new pop culture references. When this happens, often-ignored titles can skyrocket in demand and price. This leads to the major gains people hear from other investors.

Titles Popular Due To Gameplay

With pop culture, your game’s title can be a hit or miss, depending on what’s going on in entertainment news. If you’re worried about cultural relevance, you should opt for a title that’s popular due to its gameplay. 

A title that remains very popular due to gameplay will be more likely to hold its value because it’s still regarded as a highly enjoyable machine even if it doesn’t have any icons in the game. 

Popularity Due To Special Reputations

Some games aren’t popular as a result of their gameplay or pop culture references. Rather, they have their own unique reasons for a solid rep. These reasons often include the following:

  • Historic Significance. A machine that is considered to be an especially significant title related to pinball history will often get a better price and retain its value better.
  • Private Collector Status. Certain titles, such as Magical Girl, are highly esteemed due to their popularity among private collectors despite little outside clout.
  • Celebrity Signatures. Autographed machines, particularly those that are autographed by pop culture icons they reference, get a premium market price.

Keeping Your Machine Sale-Ready

When you’re investing in a pinball machine, you can’t treat it like a home game device. You shouldn’t really play it, nor should you leave it in an area where it could get damaged. However, just avoiding use isn’t enough to keep your machine’s value intact. 

These tips below will ensure that your machine will get the price it deserves once you choose to resell it:

  • If it’s still in its box, don’t take it out of the box. New in box machines are very rare and hold their value better.
  • Perform routine maintenance on it, especially if you do play the game. A yearly or biannual call to a maintenance person can make a world of difference over the years.
  • Don’t keep the machine in a smoker’s home. Smoke damage doesn’t just affect walls; it can stain the paint on pinball machines and also cause the machine itself to smell foul. It’s not a good look if you want to sell the machine later.
  • Keep your machine in a moisture-controlled, temperature-controlled part of your home. Leaving your machine in a shed might seem easier, but fluctuating moisture levels can easily warp the wood in your machine. Warped wood can quickly cause your machine to break and will certainly lower its value.
  • Avoid placing your machine near sunlight. Sunlight might seem innocuous, but it’s really damaging to decals and paint. UV light exposure gradually lightens the pigments in your machine, which can cause a dip in resale value.

Remember — the more pristine your machine is, the more likely you will be able to keep its value intact. By making the right storage decisions, you’re making sure you get the most money for your machine.

Conclusion

For most people who are worried about the value of their pinball machine you shouldn’t even buy a new machine. A good used machine can be purchased for one or two thousand dollars and its value should stay around the same for years to come. It’s just like buying a car. A new car will always depreciate more than a used car and much faster.

 To try and lose as little value as possible buying a used pinball machine is certainly the way to go. Who knows, you might get lucky and buy a used machine that gets popular in a few years and actually goes up in value!

Matt Robbs

There is nothing quite so enjoyable as bringing back memories from your childhood. We used to spend hours playing pinball in my friends basement and that really got me involved in everything retro!

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