Pinball games peaked in the ’70s but are now adapting to the Internet age, reports John W. Miller in The Wall Street Journal (9/11/14). Pinball actually "grew out of an 18th-century French variation of billiards known as bagatelle." Forty years ago it was "a fixture in arcades and malls. Players controlled flippers to whack around steel balls, racking up points by hitting targets. But with the emergence of videogames in the 1980s, pinball faded in popularity, kept alive by a cult following of fans."
To some degree, pinball kept its ball rolling by borrowing ideas from videogames, "adding LED displays, intricate music tracks and features … They also designed games with more flexibility, allowing tournament organizers to set up tougher competitions. They waxed the playing surface and raised the machine’s back legs to steepen the incline," along with other modifications to make the games more challenging. They developed software to let players shake the machines a bit without ending the game — issuing warnings instead.
The Internet provided perhaps the most important new wrinkle, as it enabled groups like the International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA) to begin "ranking players online … based on their placements in leagues and tournaments." "Suddenly, thanks to the Internet, we could compare players in Chicago with players in Denmark," says IFPA president Josh Sharpe. This fed interest in tournaments.Today’s hi-tech pinball machines "retail for $5,000 to $10,000," but one thing hasn’t changed: "the ball is still 2.8 ounces of steel and 1-1/16 inches in diameter."