Is A Pinball Machine Worth It?

Buying a pinball machine allows for the creation of a unique and thrilling experience when it comes time for entertaining. There is a newfound love for this beloved blast from the past. The problem with investing in purchases of this type for your personal collection is they come with a hefty price tag. This causes many people to hesitate and wonder if they should make the purchase. 

Is a pinball machine worth it? A pinball machine is worth considering due to its growing popularity with people who want to share their childhood as well as people that are interested in retro items. If you purchase a pinball machine at a good price it might even turn out to increase in value!

Pinball is among the friendliest of sports is an excellent  hobby that is tons of fun to share with your family and friends. Pinball is once again steadily growing in popularity because it has been adapted into many video game systems and people are starting to miss the real thing. This introduction to a new generation has given a serious increase in demand and value to the pinball machine.

To see some of the most popular pinball machines on the market today just click here.

Why Buy A Pinball Machine?

Pinball machines, especially the ones that were manufactured during the 1980s, have soared in value throughout the years. This is based on the particular machine that you have, the condition, functionality, and other factors that will affect if a specific machine has appreciated or not. 

If you wander into a flea market and happen to find a good used pinball machine at a great price then count yourself lucky. If you purchase a pinball machine at the right price, not only will it save you money but it will also mean that you can probably sell it in the future at a nice profit. 

Good machines are only increasing in value. The market for pinball machines in good condition is increasing and now that there is only one manufacturer left the prices of new models has steadily increased as well. The pinball machine is a desirable and sought-after collectible for many people of that era.  Collectors will often look for their favorite machine as a child which can greatly increase the value of each machine in turn. Some people have even started to buy used and damaged machines and repair them to try and make a profit. 

What To Consider When Buying A Pinball Machine

If you’ve decided to commit to investing in a pinball machine, it can involve up to thousands of dollars. It’s important to do some research so you can understand the industry, the various machines, and what to look for when you attempt to make a purchase. 

Types of Pinball Machines

Pinball machines come in three generations: EM, SS, and DMD. Knowing which type you want to buy is critical.

  • Electro-Mechanical or EM: This machine is relay-based. It is controlled by stepper units and a score motor. Machines in this family age up through the late 1970s.
  • Solid State or SS: A pinball that is controlled electronically or by a microprocessor. These machines range from the 1970s into the early 1990s.
  • Dot Matrix Display or DMD: This is a Solid-State variety with a display for both low-resolution and scoring video. These were manufactured after 1990.

Lamps, coils, and switches are basic for all the games. Here are some quick tips for how these machines differ:

  • EM machines are easier with goals that are simple to explain for hitting sequences of targets.

  • The SS increased the machine’s reliability by changing out the relay logic with electronics and slowly expanding on the machine’s goals.

  • DMDs are often referred to as a ‘game’ rather than ‘machine,’ based on the complicated play modes and game sequences. tunnels, ramps, and many theme-specific components were added to increase complexity over time.

When buying a pinball machine for your home, an easier game has the benefit of attracting players. Those who visit may be intimidated by the complication of the newest machines. Contrarily, the new machines offer an advantage of more varied gameplay that will enhance the entertainment aspect and keep you wanting to play for longer periods. 

Pinball Machine Specifics

When you place a pinball machine in your home, it will appear larger than it would in an arcade or pub.

The dimensions for a typical machine are 70” H × 30” W × 52” D with an average weight of 300 pounds. These dimensions make maneuvering through a standard interior door of 32” challenging. An EM machine makes the process simpler in that it comes off of the cabinet for easier transportation.

These machines are quite loud as their intended purpose was to be used for entertainment in a noisy bar or arcade setting. The nice thing about the SS machine is it has a volume that can be turned down.

Where to Buy A Pinball Machine

There are a few ways to go about getting a pinball machine.

  • Buy Locally  The safest option for investing in a pinball machine is to buy it locally. The problem is this may not be an option in your area or may grossly limit your choices. The pro to this is that you will have the opportunity to test it extensively before you ever buy it.

  • Online stores eBay used to be a good source for pinball games, but as the demand has increased so have the prices.  You can still find deals on eBay but it is much harder than it used to be. You can find brand new pinball machines on Amazon but they are quite expensive.

  • Social media listings. There is the option of placing a ‘searching for’ post on one of the pinball groups, e.g. or RGP newsgroup, where they often offer postings for sale. You need to be a follower to see these. You can also look in facebook marketplace or on some local for sale groups. If you are in a larger area you are far more likely to find one locally than if you live in a small town.

  • Shows. There are normally machines for sale at pinball shows, and there are still a few specialty magazines dedicated to pinball machines. You will normally pay a premium price when you but at a show or via a trade magazine though.

The recommendation from pinball experts when buying a game is to buy with cosmetics in mind over function. This is because the parts are fairly easy to come by for repairs, with most repairs being pretty easy to DIY. The EM machines are particularly simple.

 If you’re not mechanically inclined, repairs can get costly. Cosmetics are incredibly difficult to repair so unless you are an expert with refurbishing or don’t mind some cosmetic damage be careful what you buy. 

Repairing and Maintaining a Pinball Machine

As mentioned, many replacement parts are easy to come by. But there are some very specialized components of a pinball machine that will be more challenging.

  • The backglass is one of only a few parts of a pinball that is hard to replace, with a handful being impossible. There are a few reproductions on the market, but if what’s there needs to be changed out, you’ll need to ensure that you’ll be able to find one. A replacement back glass tends to run approximately $300.

  • If you’re a novice, the playfield inserts should be deemed as parts that cannot be replaced. These original parts are put in before the playfield has been sanded, and the screen has been printed. Some cuppings can be repaired, but insert replacements are not available nor are the playfield light shields. If you can find these, they’ll come as a complete set ranging approximately $150. There will be some choices with the plastics as you can use Lexan to make a pretty nice replacement.

  • Custom objects for the playfield are irreplaceable. The best you may be able to do is find a different design to work in their place.

The Cost of a Pinball Machine

It doesn’t have to be expensive to personally own a pinball machine. It’s dependent on what type of machine you choose and how much time, effort, and cost, you’re willing to put into it yourself.

You can purchase a pinball machine for as little as $500 for an old machine. An average price point would be up to $2000 for a more reliable pre-owned machine. A new machine that offers a warranty can go for up to $9,000!

Machines do often hold their value well when you buy used. Some mark their machine as being “rare” but  those that truly fit this category are few and far between. A lot of the machines offered a higher production run so they certainly aren’t “rare”. There are some rare machines but for most people they aren’t worth the extra expense. 

You’ll save on expenses by doing your own repairs, which is assumed when you buy a machine. It is often difficult to find local repair people for a pinball machine. If you are challenged mechanically, you should attempt to learn how to change the rubber rings and lamps at a minimum. Otherwise, there is help online and some things can be sent off to be repaired, e.g., the SS machine boards. There are tons of youtube videos that you can watch as well to try and learn the best way to repair your machine. 

Steps To Take When It Comes Time To Buy A Pinball Machine

Being armed with the knowledge that you’ve gained through this research, now you’re ready to begin looking for your machine. Understanding how to negotiate with the seller and finding the right game in an ideal condition is essential. You want to find a treasure at the best possible price.

Understanding Fair Price

The fair price is an amount that the buyer and seller are willing to agree to. That will vary based on location, condition, and shared knowledge. There are many pricing resources that you can study and refer to as a means to assist you in this area.

  • Mr. Pinball Pricing Guide is boasted as being the most thorough pricing guideline for nearly every pinball machine made.
  • Pinside is another good source for sale prices.
  • Pinball Price is also touted as a good database.

Before you decide on a machine and its price it would be a good idea to check these and other resources out to make sure you aren’t overpaying.

Inspecting The Machine

When you locate the game that you believe is the right one, it’s time to inspect the overall condition. This is ultimately the most important part of the process in determining the worth.

  • Playfield: In this area, you want to inspect for any signs of wear. For games with age, the lacquer coating will typically have spots of wear. The more current version will offer a ‘Diamond Plate,’ which is a hard type of coating in place of the lacquer. This is meant to keep the area looking like new. You should look for this trade name (which uses automotive urethane) on the playfield.

Collectors consider a few wear spots for an older machine standard, and the value would be average. If there is severe wearing to the point where you can see down to the wood, the value will diminish dramatically

An older playfield could potentially have Mylar situated in the higher worn areas. This is great protection. The problem is it becomes cloudy over time and begins to pull up over the edges. These sections will show more wear.

Even a ‘Diamond Plate’ that’s sure to be durable can offer problems, the worst of which is ‘planking.’ This happens when the under panel begins to separate in the way of vertical lines. This results in peeled paint and a game that is worth much less.

  • Backglass/Translite: All the pinball machines made before the late 80s came with a backglass, which had the potential to flake and peel. If the machine you’re interested in offers a poor or broken backglass, the value of the machine is far less than a similar machine with pristine backglass.

Translite came out in the late 80s, early 90s, to replace the backglass and will last much longer. It is a picture that’s printed onto plastic.

  • Toppers: Often, toppers were placed on the top of the backbox in certain pinball machines. If the machine had one of these originally, it should be there and in ideal condition or the machine has no value. Reproductions have been made for toppers but there aren’t many of them that have been done.

  • Cabinet: Sunlight is bad for the pinball machine cabinet as it causes fading. The cabinet also gets beat up with use. A machine in mint condition is going to bring the most value. Signs of abuse will detract from the worth.

The color red on the machine can disappear with exposure to sunlight. You may not realize this upon inspection of a machine for purchase unless you have something to reference. There is a website, IPDB website, where you can get a picture of the cabinet before you check out the machine in person. 

  • Function: It’s important to test the function of the machine before committing to the purchase. This may require that you have someone versed in pinball operation accompany you to perform the various demonstrations of the machine functions to ensure that it works properly and doesn’t have any issues. If you have played pinball a decent amount of time in the past you will often know when something is “off” or isn’t working right.

The seller should have no problem with allowing you to check all the parts to see how they’re working and should let you run the diagnostic tests on the machine with no problem.

Making the Seller an Offer

The person selling the pinball machine never anticipates that they will get what they’re asking for it. This part of the process is one that both the buyer and the seller least look forward to. Some market their item as ‘Firm’ only to relent at the last moment because they have difficulty in selling the machine.

 There will always be some bartering so never offer your final price. Also as the buyer you often hold all the cards. If you are buying locally there may only be you and one other person in the entire area that wants to buy that pinball machine and the seller will know it. Just because the “going price” is at a certain point doesn’t mean you should be afraid to offer less. 

The idea is to decide what is going to be a fair offer for the game that you’re getting and the condition that the machine is in. You can determine this from the pricing guides that you refer to. Always offer less than what you expect to pay because that will change with the negotiation process. You will almost always end up somewhere in between the asking price and the price you start with so it’s better to start a little lower and come up than to start high and not budge. 

Unless you are buying this from a retailer, you should consider this to be an ‘as is’ transaction. The seller should have paperwork for you to sign, explaining this in detail. This is advising you that after paying, anything and everything that goes wrong with the machine is your problem, not the seller’s.

They are no longer responsible for this equipment. If it doesn’t work when you get it home, that’s your issue. This is why it’s so critical to thoroughly inspect before you buy. Some sellers will offer to help if something like this happens as they want to be as honest as possible but they don’t have to. 

Most of the time, a seller is going to expect that you pay with cash when you buy a machine. You should go prepared with large bills. If you are unsure that this is the machine for you or are worried about being taken advantage of then go look at the machine without any money on hand. If you like it a quick trip to the bank shouldn’t be that big of an issue. 

Will Improvements to a Pinball Machine Be Worth It?

Typically, improvements aren’t going to be worth the money that the seller pays for them. It may improve the machine’s condition and make it nicer but it rarely equals what was paid for the repairs. 

Most people have a lot of fun doing modifications and improvements to the machines when they purchase them. It’s a great hobby for a pinball enthusiast or a collector who enjoys the process but it won’t increase the machine’s value by much. 

Ready to Invest in a Pinball Machine?

Pinball is growing a whole new audience in the modern generation with the online pinball craze gaining popularity. This is leading to an increased interest in these retro machines from all those years ago.

More collectors are coming out of the woodwork searching for these rare treasures to add to their collection. There are sightings of them making appearances in arcades and bars. But more people want to keep a pinball machine for themselves in their home where they can play when they want to. 

The technological age may take away a lot of our beloved treasures and throw us boldly into automation, ready or not. But there are some things that you can’t replace. Some things that we bring with us from the past offer a distinct feeling, a particular sound, a fond memory that can’t be mimicked digitally.

These things will live on, no matter how advanced the world becomes. Our kids have come to love them and will continue to love them. And their kids will love them too. You just can’t help but love the classic machines of years gone by. 

Only you can decide if a pinball machine is worth it for you and your family but when you hear the sounds of your pinball machine instead of a video game… you’ll know!

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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