There’s nothing quite like the thrill of buying a brand spanking new pinball machine. From the moment you place an order, the excitement builds to a fever pitch as you count down the days and eagerly check the tracking on your prized position as it leaves the pinball factory and begins it’s journey to your castle. The night before the machine is to arrive is like Christmas Eve times one hundred (or Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Flag Day, etc. But not Festivus – you don’t give gifts on Festivus). Yea, it’s pretty damn exciting.
I know this, because I’ve purchased five brand new machines in the last five years (no big deal). When I bought my first machine in December 2010, a Stern Iron Man, my buddy who helped me set it up asked if I had plans on getting another one. I adorably, and honestly looked at him and said, “Yes, maybe in four to five years.” Clearly, I was naive and didn’t realize just how addicting getting a new machine can be.
As magical as the experience can be (listen, I’m using the word “magical”. I don’t like that word, but it’s true), there’s plenty to consider before rushing in. In fact, the magical experience can quickly turn into some challenges and disappointments that you ought to prepare for. I say this not to be a buzzkill, but to pass on some expectations that I wish someone had shared with me those five years ago.
When I bought my first machine in December 2010, I was new to pinball. I had caught the pinball bug by innocently downloading Pinball FX2 and becoming hooked. My next move was to find a real machine to play, but alas there were none to be found in Buffalo. So I did the most logical thing in the world and ordered a 250lb brand new from the factory $4,200 Iron Man. I don’t mess around folks.
Why order an expensive brand new machine when I could have simply found a cheaper used one? My rational at the time was this: pinball machines are mechanically complicated and break often. If I were to purchase a used game that’s 10, 20, 30 years old, there’s a much greater chance of either
something being wrong and me not noticing, or something breaking much sooner than on a new machine. I’m a newbie to pinball, not mechanically inclined, and if I buy a new machine, I can spend years enjoying playing it, rather than having it break and not be able to fix it.
Or at least so I thought. It’s pretty cute to look back and reflect on this rationale. Because let me tell you folks, new machines break. YEP. THEY DO. This is not the shocking part, because of course all machines will have a problem eventually. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the fact that with all five brand new machines I purchased, they had problems RIGHT OUT OF THE BOX. It was broken to begin with. This may come as a shock to those who haven’t had the joy of buying a new pinball machine yet, but you need to expect the worst and hope for the best.
All five machines that I’ve purchased thus far have been from Stern Pinball. I’m not bashing Stern. Pinball machines are complicated. Stuff happens. Other manufactures are shipping machines with problems right out of the box. This is something that I’ve come to accept as the nature of the beast. Is it acceptable in my mind? No, not really. These are expensive machines and I expect something brand new to work like it’s brand new and not have problems. But the reality is, they don’t always do that.
Let’s do a case study on the machines I’ve purchased in order to give you an idea of what can go wrong:
Iron Man purchased in December 2010 – Problems:
- Iron Monger not registering all hits properly
- Pop bumper not firing when it should
- Flipper would not go all the way up like it should
- Crack in the clear coat (noticed eight months later)
AC/DC Pro purchased in May 2012 – Problems:
- Wires weren’t soldered well into the trough and stopped working
- Spring used to divert the ball was scratching the playfield after only a couple of plays
AC/DC Premium in August 2012 – Problems:
- Cannon stopped working after two plays
- It would take nearly a month before the replacement cannon from Stern arrived. Think about this – my brand new game sat in my house for a month and I couldn’t play it (first world problems)
Metallica Pro in December 2014 – Problems:
- Sparky not shaking as much as he should
- Clear coat where the ball drains peeled off
- Mystery scoop came apart completely under the playfield (screws were stripped – this happened after roughly a month of ownership)
- One of the legs was bent on the game
Walking Dead Premium in October 2015 – Problems:
- Shooter/plunger mech is defective and not giving a clean plunge
- Lighting harness is bad
- Well Walker micro switch needed adjusting
- The playfield was essentially stuck in the cabinet. Had to pull extremely hard to get it out and then bend the tabs to make it fit better.
Here’s the good news: Stern was very quick and helpful in resolving all these problems. They have excellent customer service, which is why I continue to be a customer. But many of these repairs ended up costing me as I needed a tech to work on them.
Hopefully this post serves it’s purpose of setting realistic expectations of what a new in box pinball machine entails. It hasn’t stopped me from getting new games, and it probably shouldn’t stop you, but be prepared to do some work on them.