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Welcome to Pinball Intrigue, where I indulge my fascination with the silver ball. Here you will find posts regarding my pinball experiences, pinball machine repairs and mods, a virtual pinball build, and links to other pinball sites.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Opinion: the "Us" vs. "Them" Pinball Brand Mentality

For years people have been debating the merits of different machines on Pinside, IMDB, and rec.games.pinball - which game is better, what are the top games, and so on. Debating the merits and flaws of each game is perfectly understandable. What I don't understand are the people who argue that a particular group of games are exclusively better because they are Williams, or Stern, or Electro-Mechanical, or Solid State, or Woodrail, or a Bingo, to the exclusion of all other games.

I'm afraid I was initially guilty of this when I first broke into the hobby as a pinball owner. I let myself be swayed by public opinion because my main concern was, "how do I fix this thing if it breaks?" So I stayed exclusively with Bally/Williams machines, because they were supposed to be more reliable and solidly built, and there were a lot of repair resources available, including manuals. What I found, however, was the complete opposite: games were not built to last, and that includes Bally/Williams machines. The way for a pinball company to sell a new machine to an arcade or route operator was for the old one to break down and be replaced. This means engineering parts that aren't designed to last. Add in the very real factor of using less than stellar parts to control costs and you have a recipe for a maintenance headache.

As I've stated before, my White Water has sat mostly unused for years, due to maintenance issues, in a direct contrast to the "Bally/Williams are more reliable" mystique. Don't get me wrong - I fully realize this machine is 20+ years old and was never meant to last that long. Since the time my White Water was built, it has outlasted 7 or 8 personal computers that I've owned or built, as well as the same amount of game consoles; seen VCRs, casette tapes and vinyl records fade; witnessed the birth of the internet, laptops, and smartphones; and adapted to the widespread use of LEDs. That's a pretty impressive track record (although that's nothing compared to what EM machines have seen in their lifetime).

As my maintenance skills improved, combined with the availability of parts that are more easily (and in many cases more cheaply) obtainable over the last few years, I've felt more comfortable in maintaining a machine. This also means I'm more willing to take a risk on a Gottlieb or Data East machine than I would have in the past.

Shunning the ownership of certain machines, however, had nothing to do with game play. Give me a pinball machine and a quarter - it doesn't matter what it is, I'll play it. Yet I constantly see arguments like "Sterns suck!" or "I wouldn't touch anything but Bally/Williams", or "I shouldn't be forced to like EM games." I can understand having a soft spot for games a person played when they grew up; as I've stated in previous posts, I grew up on games like Black Knight and Gorgar. I play EM games despite the fact that these were made before my time. It's the broad generalizations that slam a particular brand (like those I've mentioned above) that really drive me crazy.

The person that says "Sterns suck!" - do they really believe that Lord of the Rings or AC/DC sucks? Maybe they tried a few Sterns, like Wheel of Fortune or Avatar and didn't like them. Does that mean they should deny themselves a chance at playing a fun title like The Simpsons Party Pinball or Tron? No, what's more likely at work here is "fanboy" syndrome.

Fanboy Syndrome means to associate with a brand and put down other brands, pointing out the faults of the "competition" while being blind to their own brand. The worst examples I have seen of this involved the Gamecube/Wii vs. Playstation vs. Xbox platform. Some people who owned a Playstation would put down the other consoles; fans of the other consoles would do the same. This mentality comes down to two root causes: 1) the decision to purchase only 1 platform, whether financially or for other reasons and 2) the psychological need to associate with a "winner" that allows the consumer to feel like their purchase was justified. In this context, someone who owns Bally/Williams or Stern machines might slam everything else in order to associate with "a winner" and justify their purchases. The effect is amplified for pinball purchases due to the high cost of ownership, but should never be a factor when stepping into a pinball arcade.

My response to the console wars "fanboyism" was to buy all 3 consoles, giving me the opportunity to play the best of each brand. And as for pinball? I'm moving away from purchasing more Bally/Williams machines and looking at Gottlieb and Stern titles. And I'm building a virtual pinball to simulate playing a multitude of EM games that I'll never have the money or space for but find intriguing. Limiting oneself to a particular brand limits the possibilities that other brands offer. So don't fall into the fanboy hype - it's just a psychological trick your mind is playing on you - and experience all that pinball, in its varying forms, has to offer.