Getting over being a collector

As a pinball collector transitioning to a pinball operator I had to get over some things.

The customer’s opinion is more important

As a collector, I bought games that I liked. As an operator, you buy games your customers will like.  Sometimes those things overlap, sometimes not.

I bought a 2002 Stern Rollercoaster Tycoon because I thought it would do well, and it has.  I like the game and consider it under-appreciated but I never would have bought it as a collector.  And you know what?  It’s been a great earner.

Same with a 1994 Bally World Cup Soccer ’94, which has done so well I just bought a second one last week for $2,250.  I actually really like that game, but it wouldn’t have been my first choice as a collector, either, but boy can that thing earn.

Pinball machines are not princesses

But the biggest thing was getting over thinking of my pinball machines as special princesses to be treated delicately.  When you route your pinball machines, people are going to beat on them. It’s what people do. You can’t stop it.

When I first put my pinball machines on route I remember sitting nearby having lunch and some children came up. They didn’t play, but they banged on the glass and left greasy smudges all over the glass. I could have gotten mad, or shooed them away, or worried about the game getting damaged.

But instead I just ignored it and enjoyed my lunch, happy that they got some free entertainment. After they left I cleaned the glass.

That’s how you have to be.

Of course there are locations where pinball machines will get vandalized or stolen, but this should be obvious. I’m talking about a clean, well-lit, attended location.

What you can look forward to

Young kids are going to button mash the flippers, bang on the glass, dry fire the plunger over and over again, and leave greasy smears behind. Adults will slam the plunger with their open palm, kick, lift, drop, and jerk the machine, leave food bits on the glass, spill beer, and everything else kids do too. It’s okay. They can take it.  Pinball machines are built to withstand the rigors of daily public punishment. It’s baked into the design over decades and decades.

Sometimes I do have to remind myself of that.

I have asked children who were really banging the glass hard, or climbing on top of the machines to please not do that.

Sometimes you have to deal with spilled beer or soft drinks, but this seems to clean up pretty well. Putting cup holders on each machine cuts down on spills and makes people more likely to stay.

There’s not much you can do about this. Keeping the machines clean, well lit and in good repair cuts down a lot of abuse.

Wear is inevitable

Make no mistake though, your machine will begin to show signs of wear. Keeping it clean and well maintained will help, but there are differences between a home use only pinball machine with 300 plays on it and a routed machine with 10,000 plays on it.  And I have a couple of machines in my private collection that I may never route for this reason. I used to say ‘never’ but I may change my mind about that. I’ve routed an effectively new Simpson’s Pinball Party and it now has well over 10,000 plays on it. It looks pretty darn good. I’m certain I could sell it for more than the $3,000 I paid for it.

Pinball machines were meant to be played, and played often. I think it’s a shame to hoard them in a basement somewhere.

Next time I’ll talk about my maintenance routines.

Brian Jamison

Portland Oregon

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