Pinball machines have existed in one form or another since the 1930s. Before that, the French game Bagatelle, a predecessor to pinball, was popular in Europe and United States in the 1700s and 1800s. In the early 1930s, there were more than 100 companies manufacturing pinball machines. Before 1947 when the flipper became a part of pinball machines, pinball was considered by some a game of chance—a form of gambling—and was outlawed in many large cities, including Chicago where pinball machines were manufactured. A mayoral commission in New York City in 1941 “declared that pinball could lead youths to a life of crime.”1 The game, however, remained popular, especially in the suburbs.
In 1956 a Federal court ruled that flipper-type pinball games were not a form of gambling and could not be regulated as such. Starting in the 1960s, ordinances banning pinball games were removed, although some bans would remain until the mid-1970s.
The popularity of pinball began to wane in the 1980s due to the emergence of video games. By 1999 there was only one manufacturer of pinball machines, Stern Pinball. Jersey Jack Pinball became another manufacturer in the United States in 2011. The game has become more popular in recent years, and so have pinball tournaments. In 2016 the International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA) hosted 3,571 tournaments worldwide, attended by more than 91,000 people. In 2008 the IFPA hosted 334 tournaments, attended by 7,436 people.
Today’s market size shows the number of players who attended a tournament in 2008 and 2016, according to the IFPA. Competitors are mostly male (88.4%) and between the ages of 30 and 49 (66.2%). In 2016 tournaments were held in 24 countries. Of the 40 countries with players in the ranking system, the United States has the most by far, 18,924, followed by Canada (2,736), Australia (2,029), France (1,388) and Germany (1,148).
1“Pinball,” How Products Are Made from Encyclopedia.com, Gale Research, Inc., 1996 available online here.
Geographic reference: World
Year: 2008 and 2016
Market size: 2,585 and 17,244 respectively
Source: “Players by Year,” International Flipper Pinball Association, 2017 available online here; “Events by Year,” International Flipper Pinball Association, 2017 available online here; “Pinball,” How Products Are Made from Encyclopedia.com, Gale Research, Inc., 1996 available online here; “A Little Pinball History,” Pinball Magazine available online here; Balestier, Courtney, “Inside the Wild Comeback of Tournament Pinball,” CNN, June 9, 2014 available online here; Robach, Amy, “A Look at the Unlikely Resurgence of Pinball in the Mobile Age,” NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, October 1, 2017 available online here; “Players by Country,” International Flipper Pinball Association, 2017 available online here.
Image source: Howzit, Sam, “Pinball Machines at Cedar Point,” Wikimedia Commons, July 10, 2014 available online here.