If you’re interested in the history of pinball, you’ll quickly learn that the number of pinball machines produced plummeted in the second half of the 1990s. For several years thereafter, figures were anecdotal. But what about production volumes in the 2010s and 2020s? Are we seeing an upsurge, or are quantities still declining?
Historically, it was possible to know the volume of pinball machines produced by theme, by license. But since 2013, pinball manufacturers have become secretive. So our Quebec friend Zex is trying to fill the void to answer this question: what are the volumes of pinball machines currently being produced?
- 1 Why do we no longer know pinball machine production volumes?
- 2 The statistical model for estimating recent pinball numbers
- 3 The number of pinball machines produced by Stern Pinball
- 4 The best-selling pinball machine in twenty years: Godzilla!
- 5 Number of pinball machines produced by Jersey Jack Pinball
- 6 The number of pinball machines produced by Spooky Pinball
- 7 The number of pinball machines produced by American Pinball
- 8 The number of pinball machines produced by Pinball Brothers/Euro Pinball Corp.
- 9 Number of The Big Lebowski pinball machines produced
- 10 No, pinball is not coming to an end!
Why do we no longer know pinball machine production volumes?
We’re not going to pretend we’ve got the only true answer, but let’s speculate: production figures were known before 2013, and they stopped being known from 2013 onwards. What happened during this period?
In 2013, Jersey Jack Pinball released its first pinball machine: The Wizard of Oz. Stern Pinball, previously in a monopoly position, saw a serious competitor arrive. Hiding its game therefore becomes a pragmatic approach to not facilitate comparison. That makes sense, doesn’t it?
By the way, don’t expect to use the machine series number to deduce a quantity, as it’s well known, at least at Jersey Jack Pinball, that the numbers are not consecutive…
If you’d like to see pinball volumes before 2013, you can visit ipdb.org and pinside.com.
The statistical model for estimating recent pinball numbers
Since the official number of recent pinball machines is not known, we’ll have to make an estimate. Zex, an analyst by profession, uses his professional skills to fill this gap. He has built a statistical model to estimate production volumes by theme.
The model is based on information available on pinside: number of registered owners per machine, year marketed, number of subscribers to the site…
This model was then tested on machines from the 2000s. Since we have the production volumes of the time, Zex can compare the results of its model with the actual figures. Roughly speaking, the margin of error is 10-15%. That’s why we’re presenting a range within which the number is supposed to fall.
Another clarification: Zex actually estimates volumes in circulation, not produced. What’s the difference? If a manufacturer produces machines and keeps them in its warehouse before selling them, it’s not possible to estimate the figure. For pinball machines whose production has been completed, the difference is minimal. When the machines are still on the production line, the two indicators inevitably diverge to a greater extent. In the remainder of this article, we’ll use the terms “products” or “in circulation” interchangeably.
The number of pinball machines produced by Stern Pinball
Let’s start with the biggest player on the pinball market: Stern Pinball! Here are the estimated volumes of some recent models:
- Ghostbusters – 2016: between 4,100 and 4,900
- Deadpool – 2018: between 5,500 and 6,500
- Jurassic Park – 2019: between 7,000 and 8,000
- Stranger Things – 2019-2020 (before the new run announced in October 2023): between 1,800 and 2,200
- Led Zeppelin – 2021: between 1,900 and 2,300 pinball machines produced
The 2020 pandemic was very profitable for the pinball industry (the YOLO effect – let’s play pinball before the end!). As a result, all pinball machines still in production in 2020 have seen their volumes increase. At Stern, a model is generally produced for at least three years after its release.
In this context, sales of the Stranger Things and Led Zeppelin pinball machines can be considered disappointing. Jurassic Park, on the other hand, was a commercial success.
The best-selling pinball machine in twenty years: Godzilla!
But the absolute hit is the Godzilla pinball machine. While production is still underway at the time of writing, estimated volumes are fluctuating between 8,500 and 9,500. It’s a safe bet that by the end of production runs, this theme will top 10,000 units.
Godzilla will then be the best-selling machine in over twenty years, and it probably already is. For the record, the biggest-selling machine in history was The Addams Family pinball machine, released in 1992, with over 20,000 copies sold.
As Keith Elwin is the designer of both Godzilla and Jurassic Park, this double success makes him the most bankable designer of the moment!
Number of pinball machines produced by Jersey Jack Pinball
How does the challenger compare with Stern? A notch below, but nothing to be ashamed of:
- Willy Wonka – 2019: between 2,000 and 2,500 pinball machines produced
- Guns ‘N Roses – 2020-2021: between 4,000 and 4,500
- Toy Story 4 – 2022: between 1,400 and 1,700 (but we’re still a long way from a stabilized figure)
The number of pinball machines produced by Spooky Pinball
Spooky Pinball is a small, up-and-coming manufacturer! Its volumes are still limited, especially as it is not yet imported in large quantities into the European Union. Nevertheless, its performance is clearly improving:
- Total Nuclear Annihilation – 2017: between 900 and 1,100 pinball machines in circulation
- Halloween – 2021: between 1,300 and 1,600
The number of pinball machines produced by American Pinball
American Pinball is an outsider, with a very particular choice of licenses. Here are a few figures:
- Houdini – 2017: between 900 and 1,200 pinball machines produced
- Oktoberfest – 2018: between 600 and 800
- Hot Wheels – 2020: between 800 and 1,000
The number of pinball machines produced by Pinball Brothers/Euro Pinball Corp.
Europe’s biggest player is Pinball Brothers. It has successfully recycled the very fine licenses previously negotiated by the defunct manufacturer Heighway Pinball. Figures:
- Alien – 2020: between 1,000 and 1,300 pinball machines in circulation, including Heighway Pinball production (it’s hard to tell the two apart).
- Queen – 2022: less than 250 (but we’re still in the early stages of production)
Number of The Big Lebowski pinball machines produced
At Dutch Pinball, The Big Lebowski pinball machine has sold between 1,300 and 1,600 units. Here too, production continues. For a European producer and a very small team, the figure is more than respectable.
No, pinball is not coming to an end!
In fact, the trend is the opposite! Pinball volumes are clearly recovering. The figures of the 1970s or 1990s are still a sweet dream, but the sector is slowly climbing back up the slope, and at much higher prices than in those days.
The attractiveness of the market, driven by strong demand, clearly explains the recent multiplication in the number of manufacturers. Pinball still has a bright future ahead of it!