It’s been a while since “Pong” exploded onto the gaming scene, making video games an ever-expanding force in the world of entertainment.
In some ways, times have changed; in others, they’ve stayed the same.
Last year saw the best figures for video game sales ever in the U.S., but analysts expect 2008 to crush that record with more than $10 billion in domestic sales.
Even before “Pong” mesmerized children and adults alike, another form of coin-operated entertainment was all the rage across America.
In 1871, a British inventor named Montague Redgrave was granted a patent for “Improvements in Bagatelle.” With the patent, the dawn of modern day pinball saw first light.
The 1930s saw pinball machines appear en masse, but it wasn’t until the 1970s, when electronic machines became commonplace, that the medium seemed to be an unstoppable force.
With every era comes new challenges. Soon companies like Atari, Nintendo and Sega began offering home systems with a variety of available games for players of all ages.
Arcades became archaic, and pinball machines seemed doomed to fall victim to the same circumstances that beset the Betamax, Laserdiscs, New Coke and Pepsi Clear.
Stern Pinball is the only major company that still manufactures coin-operated pinball machines. Some of its popular games of the past few years include “Batman,” “Shrek” and “Indiana Jones.”
Even with the limited number of machines being made today, there has been a resurgence of interest in pinball machines, new and classic.
“There are still some die-hard pinball players out there, and there has been a dramatic rise in sales on the used market,” said Jim Lakey, vice president of VVS Canteen, a local operator of coin-operated amusement games.
Stern Pinball became the only major designer and manufacturer of games in 2004. A recent article on the BMI Gaming Web site said home sales of Stern machines have risen from a negligible amount to as much as 60 percent of total sales in the past few years.
Used sales are also up, as the supply of units available in America for purchase dwindles and more buyers consider overseas sources to fill demand.
Steve Ramos, a 33-year-old Lincoln resident, said he purchased a “Pinbot” machine eight years ago and has worked to refurbish it to mint condition in the years since.
“It only had one year of arcade use, but I still put a bit of work into it to make it mint condition,” he said.
Others stick to the bars and bowling alleys of Lincoln while dreaming of the day they have their own machine.
“If I had pinball at home, I would probably never leave my house,” said Tim Carr, a 23-year old pinball enthusiast from Lincoln.
Carr said he renewed his pinball addiction about five months ago and currently spends about $25 weekly on the fix.
“It gives me something to do when I’m at the bar instead of having the same conversations with the same people,” he said. “I can just play and drink my beer and be entertained.”
Ramos said while he doesn’t play as much as he used to, he still strives to make his way into the top scores whenever he sees a machine.
“You’re in control of the game, and there’s a skill involved in it. If you know what you’re doing, you can master a game,” he said.
Lakey said his company doesn’t see the pinball segment of his business as much of a money maker, it’s more a case of being able to offer products alongside other more profitable products.
“The machines are usually involved in package deals with customers,” Lakey said. “What they want we want to be able to offer. We have to take care of our audience.”
In Lincoln, there are several locales that still have pinball machines: Chuck E. Cheese’s has “The Simpsons Pinball Party”; O’Rourke’s Tavern offers “Elvis”; and the Nebraska Union on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus has three machines, “Spiderman,” “Monster Madness” and “Lord of the Rings.”
Ease of play, the number of games per dollar and length of play have become considerable factors for today’s gamers, but for others it’s the comfort of knowing what to expect when dropping the quarters into the game’s slot.