Pinflation: The Data – Guest Post by Ted Finlay

Pinflation: The Data - Guest Post by Ted Finlay

One of the most discussed topics on the forums, podcasts, and Facebook pinball sites is “Pinflation” – the dramatic rise of used pinball machine prices over the last 18 months.  But are pinball prices really up? And if so, how much? What is causing the rise and which types of pinball machines have risen the most?

An analysis of the 6,300 used pinball machine sales records from PinballPrices.com covering 2018 to June 2021 reveals pinflation is indeed real, but not for all types of pinball. 

In the first six months of 2021, the average1 used pinball machine sold for $4,003, up $696 or 21% versus last year (see Figure 1). That increase includes all types of pinball from early electro-mechanical (EM) “project” sales to HUO Pirates of the Caribbean.

But pinflation has been going on for more than just the past year.  Looking back just a few years to 2018, the average pinball sold for just over $2,000. Following a big jump in 2019, the prices have continued to skyrocket, almost doubling from 2018 levels.

Figure 1

If prices feel like they are increasing way more than that, you’re probably buying newer games (see Figure 2).Our PinballPrices.com analysis separated EM’s (all machines prior to 1978)2 and modern games (1978 to 2021) and found a dramatic difference in pinflation. While the average EM sold was only up $40 (+4%) to $1,044 versus 2020, modern machines increased by $1,149 or 28% in just the last year. The average3 modern used pinball now sells for $5,251, an 85% increase since 2018. Truly Pinflation.

Figure 2

Median Price of Modern Games

Often in price analyses the median4 price is reported instead of the average. This is very common in reporting housing prices to correct for the influence of mega-million dollar homes that significantly affect the mean or average price. This could be true for used pinball machines also. However, the median price of newer games is very similar to the average price and shows a very similar year to year trend with a $1,000 jump in the median price so far in 2021 (see Figure 4).  Recent run-ups like $30,000+ POTC have not unduly inflated the data due to the large sample size each year.

Figure 3

Pinflation Drivers

Everyone has their own opinion on why pinball prices are up so substantially and often cite, and correctly so, an imbalance in supply and demand. Higher demand with limited supply pushes prices up.  But what factors might be the drivers behind higher demand? In the absence of a proper marketing research study, we can only venture a guess of a few drivers.

  1. COVID: The pandemic over the past 18 or so months caused a lot of pinball locations and arcades to shut their doors.  Lack of location play availability likely led to many new home pinball buyers entering the market.  Couple that with increased disposable income for many (vacation plans cancelled, dining out pared way back, etc.) and in-home boredom and the result is higher demand for new and used pinball machines.
  2. MSRP Increases: Our data only considers used pinball machine sales, but higher new pinball prices directly impact the used sale price of those same titles.
  3. Change in Buyer Make-up and Markets: There has been an influx of new pinball hobbyists over the past few years (see Dennis Kriesel’s TWIP article from May 2018), likely accelerating in 2020 and continuing into 2021. This also puts pressure on the buying market. Additionally, pinball discussions and sales are no longer concentrated on just a few “hard core hobbyist” sites like Pinside.com but have exponentially expanded on Facebook, Facebook Marketplace, and other selling apps.  This diversification of sale channels expands awareness of pinball, thus bringing in new buyers.

Individual Machine Examples

The analysis for this article looked at the totality of the database, not individual titles. But it is interesting to examine a few titles and do a comparison of sale prices over the past three years. Looking at the graphs below two things jump out. First, the large variability in the sale price for the same machine in roughly the same time frame (this happens on the majority of titles but not all).  The condition of the machine is the primary driver of the variability.  The database contains everything from non-working project machines to full mint restorations.  Second, who it was purchased from, an individual or dealer, also impacts price5.  Dealer sales of used pinball machines are included in the database because they are a sales outlet, just like Pinside.com or online auction houses and impact the overall pinball marketplace.

Where it was purchased from (eBay, auction houses, or Pinside.com) has not been fully examined yet for the impact on price.  The data has been casually examined but there is not a clear conclusion.  That is, one cannot say eBay prices on a particular machine are always higher than Pinside. There are many examples that go both ways.  And finally, everyone has their own story of paying way more or way less for a title than the average price discussed here and shown on PinballPrices.com.  That is very true. This is reflected in the variability of the graphs below (linear trend lines shown dotted).

Data Source

The analysis was conducted using the PinballPrices.com database of 6300 verified sales records of used pinball machines totaling over $18 million in tracked sales.  For the years included in this analysis the sample sizes were:

YearNumber of Sales
2021907
20201,799
20191,701
20181,399

Sales records are manually transcribed from Pinside.com, eBay, Liveauctioneers.com, and several other online auction sites based on final sales price, not asking price.  Only sales records that include the final sales price are included. For auction sites the sales price recorded includes the “Buyer’s Premium”, usually ranging from 10% to 28%. Data that is not accepted includes any sale that includes “Free Shipping”, eBay sales marked as “Best Offer Accepted” and Facebook Market or Craigslist sales because there is no record of the actual price paid. Multiple sources are used because this more accurately reflects the total marketplace of buyers, not just “hard core” hobbyists.

For more information go to PinballPrices.com.

Note 1: The “average” is the arithmetic mean of all recorded sales of used pinball machines. This includes machines in a variety of seller reported conditions from non-working projects to fully restored. It does not include partial machines (cabinet only, back box missing, etc.).

Note 2: For ease of analysis EMs were classified as all machines prior to 1978. This includes a few of EM machines produced in 1978 but does not significantly affect the overall analysis.

Note 3: For all the stats junkies out there, the median price thus far in 2021 for a modern game is $4,500.

Note 4: The median is simply the middle price of a data set. To find the median, the data is ranked from high to low and the middle price is found.

Note 5: Used pinball machines purchased from dealers are noted in the PinballPrices.com sales information.

Disclaimer: Any articles, interviews, or mentions of pinball manufacturers or pinball products is NOT an endorsement.

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Niles Mitchell
Niles Mitchell
1 month ago

Gottlieb made EM pins into 1979. 1980 was the first year with no EM games.

Tony Faggetti
Tony Faggetti
Reply to  Niles Mitchell
1 month ago

Your pricing chart apparently only covers project machines. I am really sick of buying project myself.

Mark Koehler
Mark Koehler
Reply to  Tony Faggetti
1 month ago

No, it covers “used” pinball machines. Not all used machines require project level work. Yes, they will require upkeep. I have 5-7 games going up for sale soon that I’ve barely had to touch since they were bought or restored. I’m sure you can find other non-projects.

Ted Finlay
Reply to  Tony Faggetti
1 month ago

Actually less than 5% of the 6300 sale records are project machines or non-working.

Donald
Donald
1 month ago

Or the source of Pinflation is actual inflation… gas prices have doubled, food prices over 100% depending on the food… wood prices, it goes on and on.

Ted Finlay
Reply to  Donald
1 month ago

A quick check of the US inflation rate is 5% over the last 6 months, less than 2% before that.

Cesar
Reply to  Ted Finlay
1 month ago

Inflation has very little impact on this. Its demand and supply

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