The whole world is shifting towards digital, and this includes the world of pinball machines. Virtual pinball machines are faster, sleeker, easier to maintain, and more customizable. But things that are high-tech and flashy often come with an equally high and flashy price point.
The price of a virtual pinball machine can range anywhere between $850 to $10,000 when bought directly from a retailer. Similarly, building your own virtual pinball machine can cost anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars.
What is a virtual pinball machine?
A virtual pinball machine essentially a pinball machine made to be digital. Instead of a physical playfield and actual components like flippers, bumpers, and the pinballs themselves, you have a large LED monitor. These models often come with digital plungers with analog input for realistic launching, as well as synced sound effects to give the illusion of a genuine pinball machine.
Supported in a customized cabinet, you can only tell that it’s virtual when you’re up-close and playing a round. Since the LED monitor can come in a wide selection of sizes, this means that the virtual pinball machine can be made as small or as large as the owner wants. The majority of virtual pinball machines have hinged backboxes, making these digital games easy to store away when not in use – unlike the real deal!
Where can I buy a virtual pinball machine?
Virtual pinball machines can be purchased through several channels, but the most reliable source is through commercial retailers like Virtualpin_Cabinets on eBay. Buying directly from retailers tends to result in higher-end costs, but it’s a guarantee that you’ll be purchasing a virtual pinball machine in proper working order.
Another option is to look for used Pins on sites like eBay or our Classifieds section to find a better deal. You can often find virtual pinball machines being sold at a discount. Just be sure that its condition is worth the price.
Can I build my own virtual (visual) pinball machine?
The great thing about virtual pinball machines is that they can be totally customized. There are many great resources out on the internet that will guide you, step-by-step, on how to create your own. There are even do-it-yourself kits and manuals that you can buy to get you started. These starter kits come with precut boards to be used for your virtual pinball machine’s cabinet. On average, these kits can range in price from as low as $200 to as high as $800.
How much does it cost to build my own?
How much you spend on making your own virtual pinball machine model depends on a variety of factors.
- How big do you want your machine to be?
- How large is your LED playfield?
- How much are you willing to invest on the cabinet’s outer appearance?
- Have you considered what sound design you’re going to use?
Depending on how many components you choose to include on your virtual pinball machine, you can expect to spend anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars. While this may be a daunting prospect, building your own machine could save you thousands as opposed to spending the money outright to buy directly from a retailer.
What parts do I need? How much will these parts cost me?
The main things to take into consideration when building your own virtual or visual pinball machine is the construction of the cabinet, the types of monitors you plan on using, the computer that will run the actual game, the speaker system that you plan on installing, the quality of buttons and other interactive analog inputs, as well as other cosmetic materials to be used.
If you have woodworking skills, making your own virtual pinball machine cabinet will save you a lot of money. You can easily purchase the wooden needed to build the case for less than $200. Another alternative is to simply strip an old pinball machine that’s no longer in use and simply use its cabinet instead. Be sure to take careful measurements of the cabinet’s dimensions, though, as this will determine what kind of monitor you will need to purchase.
The playfield monitor is probably the most important component of any virtual pinball machine. It is, after all, what makes the model “virtual.” It’s highly recommended that you find a flat-panel LCD or LED monitor to use, as plasma screens have issues with image burning, which will definitely be a problem if you leave your machine running for long periods of time. You can typically find a compatible playfield monitor for under $200 before shipping and handling.
The backglass monitor is ultimately optional when it comes to the virtual pinball machine, but it does help to complete the look. Be sure to take measurements of the backboard to find a screen that will fit. The backglass monitor doesn’t have to be as high in resolution as the playfield monitor, so you can realistically find a monitor that’s inexpensive.
When it comes to your virtual pinball machine, you’re going to need a PC that’s fast and strong enough to run the actual software with few to no hiccups. In the grand scheme of things, the computer you choose to invest in is probably going to be this project’s most expensive component.
Be sure to find yourself a computer that has high processing power, a powerful video card, lots of RAM. A high quality and heavy-duty computer can range anywhere from $900 to $1500. While this may be incredibly expensive, the investment will ensure that your virtual pinball machine runs flawlessly.
Speakers are very easy to come by and relatively inexpensive. Speakers intended for desktop computers work perfectly and can be bought for around $40 to $50. Of course, you can always choose to buy higher end speakers if you’re really looking for crisp sound quality.
Attachable Analog Inputs
Buttons and the Plunger
One of the key components that give a pinball machine its unique character is its plunger. Obviously, with a virtual model, there really isn’t any need to have a physical plunger because there’s no actual pinball to launch. But if you’re after that retro feel, there are plunger analog inputs that can be attached to your virtual pinball machine, as well as side buttons to input paddle movement.
Launch buttons themselves can cost around $5, while an actual plunger module can cost an average of $40 to $95 depending on design and sensitivity control features. You can easily find these analog inputs on sites like eBay or Amazon.
Even with traditional pinball machines, these games can get very hot because they are rarely ever turned off. When it comes to your own virtual model, it may be a good idea to purchase cooling fans for the cabinet’s interior. These is especially true if you have a high-functioning PC operating at peak capabilities. Cooling fans can average between $20 to $40 depending on brand and size.
Paint or Decals
If you’ve decided to build your cabinet from scratch, you probably want to dress it up with a good paint job to really bring in the pinball machine aesthetic. Depending on how detailed you want to get with your artwork, a single can of semi-gloss paint can run you roughly $30.
If you’ve reused the cabinet of an old pinball machine, this section may not apply to you. However, if you’ve noticed that the recycled cabinet needs some repair, you always have the option of restoring it. Consider polishing the cabinet and touch up any scratches or dents you may find to bring its original artwork back to its prime-time glory.
Beautiful flashing lights in synchronized patterns are what draw the eye to the classic pinball machine in the first place. If you’re hoping to go after an authentic feel, purchasing lights is a simple enough task, and it’s super easy to install. You can find LED strip lights for as low as $10 on Amazon, and there are even multicolor strip lights that have remote control.
If we add up the estimated amounts you’ll need to spend for parts to make your own pinball machine, you can expect to pay around $2500 (on the low end). This, of course, doesn’t take into consideration the number of man hours and time spent ordering and waiting for parts to arrive.
In the grand scheme of things, however, building your own virtual model is a lot less expensive than buying a machine from a retailer.