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How Much Does It Cost To Build A Virtual Pinball Machine?

Virtual pinball machines are very different from normal machines, and they are highly customizable. However, building your own can be very daunting. But building your own virtual pinball machine can give you lots of control over how it plays, so it’s worth knowing how much it will cost to build one.

Building a virtual pinball machine can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000. It all depends on what you want the machine to look like, how powerful you want it to be and which materials you choose to use. However, a decent entry level virtual pinball machine will probably cost around $1,300.

This article will assume you have no materials at the beginning. While you may have some wood and old computers lying around, we’ll go through every part of the cost of building a virtual pinball machine assuming you have nothing on hand, starting with the cabinet and backbox.

Cabinet And Backbox

Building a full-size cabinet out of wood could cost around $100. Of course, if you want to use nicer wood, or already finished material, it may cost more. If you plan on covering the cabinet with artwork or decals of your own liking, using finished wood is unnecessary. A couple of 8’ x 4’ sheets of sheathing wood usually cost about $15-$30 per piece.

A Rough Guide

If we use dimensions close to an average-sized real pinball machine, your wood requirements are going to look like this:

  • 1 x 22” x 17” (front face)
  • 2 x 23” x 52” (side cabinet panels)
  • 4 x 27” x 8” (backbox case)
  • 1 x 27” x 27” (backbox back panel)
  • 1 x 26” x 7” (backbox front speaker panel)
  • 1 x 52” x 22” (bottom cabinet panel)

This is of course just an estimation. You may need some extra 2x4s for securing down the monitors and computer system. These are usually quite cheap, so it won’t add too much onto the cost if you need one or two more.

Paint And Decals

After the body is built, you might want to spruce it up a bit. Whether you want to paint it by hand or use vinyl decals is up to you. One gallon of paint will cover up to 400 square feet, which will be more than enough to paint the whole cabinet and back box with multiple coats. This will run you around $15-$40 depending on the type of paint you use.

Staining a wood machine can also look good and again isn’t too expensive. One quart of wood stain will cover 250-275 square feet, so one can will cover the whole machine, at a cost of roughly $10. Decals on the other hand can run you anywhere from $10 to a few hundred. VirtuaPin from VP forums have a great selection of decals and a customizable pack you can buy as well.

eBay has plenty of choice from lots of different decal sellers too. Most of these are for full size pinball machines, but if you build your virtual machine to be the same size you’ll find lots of options to make your virtual machine look like a real one. Classic Arcades on eBay have a lot of decals and other pinball-related items for sale.

Computer System

The computer will be your biggest expense when building your own virtual machine. These can run you a pretty steep price as you’re going to want a good computer system. Really good gaming computers can cost anywhere from $700-$2,000 depending on the specs and the brand.

Graphics And Processors

Gaming computers have dedicated graphic cards to display multiple screens at high quality. Good graphics cards are very important as a weak one will not run your game smoothly. Nvidia GeForce graphic cards are some of the best and most popular, while AMD are another good brand.

Next, you want to look for a good processor, ideally with 6+ cores, but 4 is definitely the absolute minimum. Older processors won’t be able to keep up with the other components of a virtual pinball machine. When it comes to RAM, stay away from anything below 8GB as this is about the lower limit for intensive gaming.

SSD

If you plan on downloading a lot of games stay away from computers with less than 1TB of storage, preferably SSD rather than HDD. This will ensure you’ll have no problem loading more games in the future. 

While it may be daunting to think about all these components, it’s much better paying up front for a solid computer rather than having to replace it every 2 years. So, if you have old computers lying around, feel free to test them if they can handle virtual pinball games. However, with a build like this, it’s best to start from scratch for the smoothest experience.  

Fans

As your processor and graphics cards will be working hard to run the game smoothly, you’ll want to grab a couple of extra fans to face out of the cabinet to keep everything cool. This will help your machine to run smoothly and avoid overheating. Computers have their own fans, but having extra will help preserve the longevity of the computer and keep things cool.

Monitors

In order to play your virtual pinball machine, you’ll need a virtual playfield, and this is where monitors come in. LCD and LED TVs tend to be best. Sizes will vary depending on how big your machine is going to be, so make sure you get a TV that will fit inside your cabinet/backbox. Plasma TVs tend to have issues with video games as they sometimes burn images into the tv.

4K monitors and TVs can make your machine look very impressive, but they are very expensive and can put lots of strain on your graphics cards. For most, a 1080p full HD monitor/TV will be good enough. For the backglass display, lower resolution (720p-1080p) computer monitors are usually good enough, and the display quality isn’t as important as that of the playfield.

Sound

Speakers can come in all different sizes and qualities. Good speakers will allow you to get the full experience of a pinball machine. A lot of virtual pinball machines have dual speakers under the backglass monitor, but some have one long speaker instead. These can run you anywhere from $40-$300 depending on the brand and size you choose.  

Buttons For The Cabinet

In order to make your machine feel like a real pinball machine, you need some buttons to control the flippers. These cost around $5-$10 and usually come in a pack. Not only do you need flipper buttons, but a plunger to get the ball going too. These plunger buttons can be found for around $15. For extra realism, you can get a replica spring loaded plunger for $45-$90.

Adding a joystick will allow you to easily control your machine and choose the games you want to play. You can use an external mouse or keyboard to navigate the computer side of things, but adding joysticks or extra buttons to the machine can also be a nice way to go about this in terms of aesthetics. Having a button to artificially shake or nudge the machine could also be a good idea.

Encoders

Keyboard encoders will let your buttons actually control the computer. These encoders work well with arcade games and pinball machines too. You have to set the buttons to specific keys on a keyboard in order to map everything to the right functions. These can cost anywhere from $10 to $50 or more.

Other Components

Lights

Lights can be a fun addition to your machine, whether you add them into the backbox or around the TV playfield screen. These can be bought for around $20 for wired LEDs or a battery powered strip with a remote control.

Plexiglass Cover

A plexiglass cover for your monitors could also be a good idea. This can help you prevent damage to your machine’s screen. With the cover you’ll be able to avoid any scratches or breaks to the monitor itself. This can cost anywhere from $20 to $100 for a sheet.

Final Thoughts

The total cost of your virtual pinball machine will largely depend on the brand and quality of materials that you decide to use. The most important component is the computer, so this will be the most expensive part. But it’s worth spending a little more to get quality components, as this will help ensure you have a great time playing your virtual pinball machine.