Building a Better Pinball Gameroom – Part 1

I put both Spooky’s Rick and Morty (R&M) and Stern’s Avengers Infinity Quest (AIQ) Premium pinball machines up for sale yesterday and managed to get rid of both within an hour. Mazel Tov… sort of?

These are two very highly regarded games, so… why get rid of them?

There are many factors to designing a fun/balanced/awesome gameroom and I’m by no means an expert but I’ve got a thought process behind the above two sales/trades and this isn’t the first time I’ve done something like this that impacts my overall gameroom so let me attempt to walk through what may seem like ridiculous logic.

Building a Game Room

Creating a gameroom is no small feat. To do it well takes time, money, and a surprising amount of forethought. Just having a bunch of pinball machines is a start, but what if all of your pinball machines are brutal AF? Is that what you want? Or what if all of your machines are long-playing like The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings?

Maybe you’re looking for a balance across generations/decades of pins? Like an EM, an early SS, an 80s pin, a 90s pin and then a few newer games?

Or are you living in the land of nostalgia and want the games you grew up playing with friends and loved ones?

I assume quite a few of us need to consider how many games fit in your collection? Are you constrained by physical requirements or budget? I know that I am most-definitely constrained by budget and room right now.

NOTE: This is part 1 of a series on building gamerooms. In the next article we’ll dive into the above questions about the different ways to build cohesion into your gameroom. But this one is going to be focused on choosing the right models for your games. Or more specifically how the budget conscious should consider…

Gamerooms Are Better with Base Model Pinball Machines

Let’s put aside all of the questions regarding building a balanced gameroom and instead focus on budget because that’s what has driven me to make some changes to my own collection this week. More specifically I wanted to address this weird situation that keeps coming up and I constantly flip/flop with how best to tackle it every few months.

Do I want more games with less “stuff” or less games with more “stuff”?

For example, should I purchase Stern’s Avengers Infinity Quest PRO or the PREMIUM for an additional $2,000.00? And AIQ is a great example because the PREMIUM contains quite a few toys that change the way the game is played. But is the raising/spinning disk, subway, and Capt. Marvel ramp really worth $2,000.00?

SPOILER: I bought the PREMIUM thinking it really WAS worth the $2,000.00 for the extra features.

Now AIQ represents the 4th time I’ve purchased a New in Box pinball machine at a level higher than PRO (or whatever name they give the base model by each manufacturer). And do you know what I’ve learned after all this time…

The PREMIUM/LE models are only in VERY RARE cases worth it.

Looking back, I can tell you that I immediately regretted this purchase. The PRO version of AIQ doesn’t have the raising disk/subway which is a bummer because it’s pretty (I like all the RGB lighting) and kind of fun, but the Capt. Marvel ramp rejected more than 50% of the time. 50% or more!! I have video after video while streaming where I hit the shot perfectly and it was horrifically rejected right back out and often went straight down the middle. The PRO has a spinner in place of the Capt. Marvel ramp that DOES NOT reject and feels quite satisfying.

So let’s review some reasoning behind this bold statement that I both now believe and am adjusting my gameroom to be consistent with.

Justification 1:
PROs Are Better Because They Have Less Problems

AIQ and its problem aren’t the exception! It’s become more of the standard. Maybe you don’t believe me?

Another example of a Stern PREMIUM/LE having similar issues was with Stranger Things and the Telekinesis Lock.

I remember watching so many streams of Stranger Things (including Deadflip’s launch stream) and watching this lock not only fail, but reject a well hit left ramp shot and send it back down the middle of the playfield and then drain. It was ridiculously painful given how cool the other feature introduced into the PREMIUM/LE lineup was, the projector with playfield/surface mapping. I’ve played Stranger Things at several locations with the LE where the establishment just disabled the feature entirely. Is Stranger Things PREMIUM still worth the extra $2,000.00 if a significant percentage of the added features don’t work reliably?

Still sounds like something not the norm? How about the T-Rex on the Jurassic Park PREMIUM/LE? Reject after reject as the T-Rex fails to grab the ball.

Or perhaps the faulty ramp deflector/glider in TMNT?

How about the Death Star ramp in Star Wars PREMIUM/LE rejecting a major percentage of the time? I owned the PREMIUM Star Wars for almost a year and I can tell you that ramp was awful and it was shipped to me slightly mis-aligned with the holes in the playfield. I had to sand down the playfield to make the holes for the ramp slightly larger so the ramp wouldn’t jam up as it was extended!

I also had an issue with the light speed ramp not having the timing down correctly and the ball would sometimes get launched into the glass instead of dropping nicely into the right inlane.

And now… issues with the spinner on Led Zepplin PREMIUM/LEs (TWIP Article)!

Is it worth the extra money to upgrade from the PRO to the PREMIUM/LE when there is a good chance that some mech will be faulty? Is playing a broken game fun?

Justification 2:
Objectively Quantified
Happiness vs. Money Spent

How do you perform a cost benefit analysis on something as subjective as this? Eh… it’s tough but let’s give it a try anyways.

NOTE: This will not be even a little accurate

A Quick Breakdown

First, let’s not compare the LE to the PRO. The people who buy an LE version of a pinball machine are buying something other than a better time on the same machine. They’re buying an image, trim, aesthetics, and maybe bragging rights. So let’s only compare the PREMIUM to the PRO. Here are the average prices for the PRO and PREMIUM AIQ at launch/release shipped New in Box:

PRO: $5,600.00
PREMIUM: $7,600.00

The PREMIUM is ~26% more than the PRO. But what are you getting for that 26% increase in price? If I had just saved 15% by switching to Geico, I still wouldn’t have enough money to make up the difference at 26% between the PRO and PREMIUM Stern pinball machines… meaning it’s not insignificant.

If the insurance giant Geico didn’t shoot for 26% in their marketing, why are pinball manufacturers?

Often you’ll receive different artwork which CAN be a positive (the Munsters B/W version of the pin was an upgrade IMO and the bad guys in Star Wars are arguably better). And also with Stern you typically get toys and other major playfield differences.

JJP started their company with an announcement that there would never be differences beyond aesthetics in their SE, LE, CE versions but that was violated with Willy Wonka.

In Wonka, they added the Wonkavator to the LE and CE editions which is a cool cross-game ball locking mechanism. And the same with JJPs newest addition to their lineup, Guns ‘n Roses (GNR)! GNRs playfield layout is significantly different from the standard to the LE/CE. Do the toys added to a game like AIQ, Wonka, or GNR add a commensurate amount of fun to the game? With AIQ, is it 26% more enjoyable?

Ratio of Cost to Happiness

How do we quantify happiness when it comes to pinball? And more importantly, how do we decide if said-happiness is worth paying 26% more for the PREMIUM over a PRO? Let’s try a quick and dirty ratio:

On Pinside, the following ratings are assigned to Avengers Infinity Quest at the time of this article’s publishing:

  • PRO: 8.477
  • PREMIUM: 8.622

The values assigned to a pinball machine on PINSIDE can be between 0.0 – 10.0 meaning we can easily see that the difference between these ratings is only 0.145 which makes the PREMIUM a little less than 2% better than the PRO! That’s a far cry from the 26% higher price tag!

If Stern were to price AIQ Premium based on the happiness rating obtained from the very clearly un-biased reviews off of Pinside… you’d only pay an extra $112.00.

NOTE: Remember I said that this ratio business wouldn’t really make sense…

Justification 3:
Four Pinball Machines is Better Than Three

Which makes the better gameroom: 3x PREMIUM pinball machines or 4x PRO pinball machines? You may be thinking right now, “Why is this relative?” Or maybe, “How many licks does it take to get the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop?” And the answers to either may surprise you!

NOTE: The answer may NOT surprise you if you’ve actually read this far and are old enough to remember the Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop. Sorry for the theatrics…

  • 3 * $7,600.00 = $22,800.00
  • 4 * $5,600.00 = $22,400.00

OMFG… you’re saying that I can have either 3 PREMIUMS or 4 PROS for roughly the same amount of money!? It’s actually CHEAPER to buy 4 PROs!? Yes (see, I told you that you probably would NOT actually be surprised).

I feel like this is a mic drop moment because I can’t imagine a situation where someone has the physical space for 4 pinball machines and the money to afford 3 PREMIUMS but doesn’t choose 4 pinball machines. Having an entirely separate/different machine is objectively a LOT more fun than the 2% increase per PREMIUM.

I don’t have numbers to back this up, but a person becomes much happier when they go from 0 pinball machines to 1. I would expect that number to drop significantly from 1 to 2 but it’s still measurable and it’s very likely visible on the new pinball machine owner’s face when they crack open that box and set it up! And then again at 3 and yes, even 4 pinball machines would likely increase one’s gameroom happiness by more than a measly 2%.

Justification 4:
PROS Hold Their Value Better Than Premiums

With a few exceptions, Stern PROs hold their value better than Stern PREMIUMS. A Stern PRO will typically resell on the secondary market for $5,000.00. Assuming the game was shipped all-in at $5,600.00 that’s about an ~11% reduction.

A PREMIUM on the other hand will typically sell for $7,600.00 shipped and end up on the secondary market on the high side for ~$6,500.00 which is about a ~15% reduction in value.

There are exceptions to this for sure. COVID has wreaked havok with game prices. Jurassic Park is maintaining it’s value pretty well right now regardless of the model. The Munsters PROs can often be found when up-for-sale around the $4,500.00 mark but the PREMIUMs are also selling for much less too. And mods/toppers can often times add quite a bit to the resell value as well especially in cases like TRON or other games where the mods and/or toppers (Ghostbusters) may no longer be available.

But all things being equal, these are “fairly” consistent and verifiable using tools like Pinside.

Final Thoughts

The majority of this article was tackling Stern’s PRO vs. PREMIUM. It didn’t really take into account JJP whose pinball machines now typically START at the price of a Stern premium. Nor did I discuss American Pinball, Haggis, or Spooky. Well, by getting rid of Rick and Morty I “kind-of” addressed Spooky but keep in mind I still have TNA. In fact, TNA is the longest I’ve ever owned a pinball machine and I don’t see that game leaving anytime soon.

And American Pinball has basically put themselves into Stern PRO territory with Hot Wheels (HW). HW was $6,500.00 and you can typically find one used around ~$6,000.00. So let’s just group Stern PROs and APIs games together! The numbers should be similar with APIs requirements just a “bit” higher due to the price being a bit more than a Stern PRO.

JJP is an interesting case. Their pinball machines DEFINITELY have more going on than Stern’s premiums and you pay a “premium” (see what I did there) to own one. But JJP caters to a different crowd than Stern IMHO and JJP games come with their own problems. I tend to put JJP into the same crowd as Stern LEs so I purposely didn’t address them in this article. But I could understand it if someone argued that the Standard models of GnR and Willy Wonka were on-par with Stern Premiums. Maybe a part 3 that tackles left-over issues like this?

In Summary

I made some big changes this week to my game room. I had quite a bit of value going under appreciated with games like AIQ Premium and Rick and Morty. I got rid of both and replaced them with less expensive games (Hot Wheels and Stranger Things) and now have enough cash left over to pickup a 6th game for my collection. In addition to that, my temp trade of Deadpool for TWD will get swapped back so I’ll have Deadpool back in my collection after almost 2 years without! It’s like a whole new gameroom!

But choosing a 6th game is going to be equally time-consuming and fraught with potential pitfalls. Let’s tackle the concept of gameroom cohesion in Part 2 (when that article is done, I’ll post a link here), and work through what that decision looks like!

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