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Why Are Pinball Machines So Expensive?

If you have ever been interested in buying a pinball machine, you might be surprised when you first see the prices. While prices vary from machine to machine and depending on your location, there is not doubt that pinball machines are quite expensive.

Pinball machines are expensive to build, due to the materials they are made of along with the number of people involved in the design and creation process. There are also licenses to take into consideration, and this all leads to very expensive pinball machines.

In order to fully understand why pinball machines cost so much, it is worth considering each of these reasons in more detail. Before we do that, it’s also worth taking a quick look at what kind of prices you might expect to see for pinball machines.

How Much Do Pinball Machines Go For?

Like any product, the price of a pinball machine depends on many different factors. From the collectability of the machine to the actual build quality, along with the game or theme, everything is important to consider. But even used pinball machines can be very expensive, as of course can brand new pinball machines as well.

Buying a used pinball machine that has not been properly taken care of can still cost a few hundred dollars. With necessary repairs to be taken into account as well, you may just decide to look at new machines instead. But brand-new machines cost upwards of $5,000, while used, playable pinball machines in good condition fetch around $1,000-$3,000.

3 Reasons Pinball Machines Are So Expensive

1. Pinball Machines Are Expensive To Build

There are many different aspects of a pinball machine that need specific craftsmen to put them together. There are usually around 300-1,000 employees that all take part in making a build happen. These machines have a lot of moving parts, wiring, and electronics. Someone has to design and make all of this. So, there are mechanical engineers working on the playability of the field with designers.

Engineers and Designers

Then you have electrical engineers and cable designers working on the wiring and circuitry. All of these things are demanding tasks, as faulty wiring can cause issues on the machine later down the line. Designers and programmers are very important too. Many people are drawn into a machine because of the art, if not the title, and these are the people responsible for that.

It is up to these people to create a playfield that relates to the theme of the machine. They need to be able to tell a story through a game just from the playfield. Specific theme-related characters and parts need to be made for the machine in order to keep the player interested.

The way the art has been placed on these machines has changed since the older ones were mainly painted on with metal stencils. Today a lot of machines use vinyl wrapping directly to the wood or use decals to dazzle their audience. Programmers and software developers have to keep up with the technology to make sure that the computer systems work with the game.

Wages Need To Be Paid

One run of machines can cost around a million dollars just for the payment of the wages for the work put into the machines, but just as there are many employees involved, there are also many parts to a machine. All these parts must be tested for any defects. This alone takes a lot of time when you might have 3,000+ parts for a machine, with upwards of 300 being produced for any given title.

New technologies come along as the years go by, and some of these will cost more to include in machines, and some will just cost more due to the changes that need to be made in the manufacturing process. Many companies have been using LED lights instead of traditional light bulbs for example, which is a plus for customers as they tend to last longer.

Fancy Technology

Chicago Gaming has introduced new LCD screens for higher quality displays for their new remake machines. These displays allow them to show HD video and even have color changing options. Jersey Jack’s Dialed In allows for Bluetooth connectivity to access more playing capabilities through the gamer’s phone, but all of this technology comes at a price.

Prices of materials, such as copper and other metals for wiring and electronics, change all the time. This can also be applied for machines making vinyl prints or decals for pinball machines. From circuit boards to the designs on the outside of the machine, varying prices for the raw materials can make the prices of the machines fluctuate as well.

2. Licenses Add To The Costs

But it is not just the raw materials and the payroll of the manufacturers that makes pinball machines so expensive. Players are drawn to titles that they enjoy, whether it is a movie, a band or a tv show. In order for a company to stay relevant, they have to compete for licenses for high-value titles. Most of the time those titles aren’t cheap, and they are not getting any cheaper.

Things Can Get Expensive

Roger Sharpe, avid writer on pinball and the whiz that saved the state of pinball back in 1976, has stated that licensing has to be accounted before anything else for businesses. Royalties must be accounted for when the pinball machines sell as the company will owe the band or tv show producers money for every sale.

This alone can cost the company around $200 per machine sold. There is no real way of getting around this if the company wants to survive. They can make an excellent game, but if it doesn’t have a popular title, it will almost be worthless. Thus, the cost of licensing is usually passed onto the customer at the end, with higher priced pinball machines. 

3. They Are Often Collectibles

The issue of collectability is apparent across many industries. If consumers want a specific game or title, they will pay a higher price for these machines. This can cause an inflated value for a specific (old) machine if it becomes popular once more.

Limited Supplies

Many people collect certain machines for the game’s uniqueness, the specific title, or because they played the game when they were a kid. The number of machines available can also affect the price. Most manufacturers will do a 300-unit run, but some do less, especially with limited or collector’s editions.

Values of pinball machines are constantly changing. For the most part, if you take care of your machine, it will hold its value. You may have a chance of making some money holding on to them as well. But this is not a good way to look at pinball machines as an asset, as they should be enjoyed by many, with lots of hours played on them.

Final Thoughts

Pinball machines can fetch thousands of dollars, even when they are old and worn. But the reasons that pinball machines are so expensive are fairly simple. There are a lot of people involved in the creation of pinball machines, along with lots of materials. Plus, a popular title based on a movie or TV show will have cost the manufacturer a license fee, driving the cost up further.