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Why Do Pinball Machines Have The Tilt Feature?

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If you have ever spent time playing on a pinball machine, you may have noticed a feature called tilt. For those who are frequent players, tilt is easily understood, it can be challenging to know for those who do not.

Why do pinball machines have the tilt feature? The tilt on a pinball machine used to be the only way you could play the game. Moving the table around helped the ball reach holes to increase the player’s score. Since the introduction of flippers, the purpose of tilt has changed significantly. Tilt helps prevent the player from moving the machine too much to increase their score.

Tilt has come to have different meanings throughout the history of pinball machines. Knowing what tilt means and how it can work for your game can make you a better pinball player.

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Why Do Pinball Machines Tilt?

In the early days of pinball machines, the flippers that we have come to know were not always part of the machine. Instead, players would have to move around the machine in order to get the ball into the holes they wanted. When machines began to have flippers to move the ball, a limit on how much the table could move was set in place on many machines. 

On most modern machines, tilt has a whole new meaning. Pinball machines feature a plumb bob that is attached to a bracket somewhere inside the machine. If the machine moves too much, this will trigger and essentially end the game. Pinball machines with electronic displays even let the player know if they have moved the machine too much. Tilt is not considered nudging, which is when the table is moved too much, tilt protects the machine from that. 

Tilt is meant to protect the machine from damage caused by the player. In tournament play, it also prevents someone from cheating. Players who are familiar with a particular machine may know how to use the tilt of a pinball machine to their advantage. Some players still use the tilt tactic when playing on pinball machines.

Some players can also identify areas that need a little extra help that may be needed for the ball to stay in play. Depending on where you are playing, who owns the machine, and what kind of situation you are in, rules and guidelines may be a factor in if you can use tilt tactics or nudging. 

Why Do Machines Need a Tilt Feature?

The most basic reason for a machine to have this feature is to prevent any damage to the machine. Players who lift the table to keep the pinball can injure the mechanisms inside the machine or the actual body of the machine. Pinball machines can cost thousands of dollars to purchase and can require additional thousands to fix or repair.

Some pinball machine players view tilting the table to alter the trajectory of the pinball as a form of cheating. No written rules are saying that a player cannot tilt the table during a game. Other players view the game as something they want to get the most out of since they paid to play. The owner of the machine also causes varied opinions. There are people on both sides of protecting what you paid for and using what you paid for. 

It is important to remember that “tilt” and “nudging” are two different things. Tilt is a device that helps protect the machine. Nudging is the physical act of moving the machine in a variety of ways to change the ball’s direction while playing the game. Players can learn the sweet spot for nudging if they are familiar with a machine’s tilt.

Types of Pinball Machines

Purely Mechanical: Machines contain no electrical parts inside, and use no electricity.

Electro-Mechanical: Parts such as the flippers, solenoids, and backbox scoreboard are all considered electric components.

Solid-State Electronics: Most machines today fall into this category. They use electricity on the game board as well as the backboard. A microprocessor is used to manage the game. 

What Exactly is a Tilt Sensor, and How Does It Work?

In almost every pinball machine around, there is a little device known as a tilt sensor. The sensor is a plumb bob that hangs inside of a ring in the machine. If the table I moved too much, this can trigger a warning to let you know that you are moving the pinball machine too much. Most machines give you at least one warning before completely shutting your game down. 

Common Types of Tilt Mechanisms

Slam Switch: This is not usually activated unless a player gets physically rough with a machine. A slam switch is generally open, and one leaf of the switch has a weight added at the end of it. The movement of the machine will cause the leaf with the weight to remain in place while the others move. Most machines have multiple slam switches. 

Pendulum Switch: This is the most common switch activated during regular gameplay. A pendulum switch uses a plumb bob inside of a ring to sense when the table is being moved. The sensitivity can be adjusted by moving the weight higher or lower, which will change the sensitivity. 

Rolling Ball Switch: This is meant to keep the player from lifting the machine in order to save a ball. Lifting a machine is the only way that this switch can be activated. If the ball reaches the switch in the back, then the tilt function will be initiated. 

Not all tilt sensors are the same. Almost all machines will allow the owner to adjust the sensitivity of the sensors. Becoming familiar with a game is the only way to know how sensitive the feature is on the machine. If you own your own machine, you can adjust the tilt on your machine with instructions found in your owner’s manual. The number of warnings you get before a game shuts down can also be modified by the owner.

Can You Use Tilt To Your Advantage As A Player?

Many players feel like they benefit from using the tilt feature on many machines. Tilt occurs when the player physically moves or kicks the machine. Depending on the machine, you may need more force or less force to get the results you are looking for. Tilt does not cause damage to the machine, and it actually protects the machine from how a player treats the machine.

A lot of players try to tilt the machine if they see a ball going down a lane that they don’t want it to go down. Tilt can save the ball if used correctly at the right time. Using nudging techniques may possibly trigger any of the sensors on a machine, but it also may save your game. This is why it is common among many pinball players.

After you play a game for a while, you may begin to notice areas that are harder to keep the ball in play. Nudging the ball without triggering one of the tilt sensors can be a massive benefit to the player. You can also learn to use this feature over time without causing any damage to the machine. 

For machines that have a more sensitive tilt, it can cause shorter games, which can lead to more frustration and the possibility of further damage. There is also the risk of having a machine that is not sensitive enough can result in more extended gameplay, which is not ideal for situations such as tournaments.

Be sure to check out this short video about using the tilt to your advantage!


You can now learn how to hone your skills with the above information. You can use the tilt or “nudge” method to your advantage! The more you play, the more you can have knowledge of how hard to nudge the machine to extend game play without tilting. Don’t let the game beat you, when you can beat the game!