About prices of the Medieval Madness pinball machine

Again and again, on every forum about pinball machines, is there every few months the same question asked: Why is Medieval Madness so special and why is it so much more expensive than other pinball machines ?
This question is always about Medieval Madness, not any other model of pinball machine has so much questions or discussions about its status, hype or price / quality ratio. And what makes it special is that this is not a recent trend, 10 years ago the same question was already asked, and it has not stopped since.

Please note the prices I mention are euro prices as paid as I saw them in Belgium / Europe.
Prices in the USA for this type of pinball machine have always been higher. In some other countries prices may also have been different, and exceptions are always possible..

Prices of used pinball machines

Let's start with some background about the normal price evoluation of used pinball machines, especially for Europe.

medieval madness pinball machine for sale

Before the year 2000 there were almost no home owners of pinball machines. There were some, but it was not a significant number compared to the pinball machines owned by operators. There were enough pinball machines on location, so there was less need to buy such a big machine for your home. Used prices of pinball machines always went down, for every type.
Traditionally pinball machines are bought new by an operator. He puts it out on location (like a bar) where it earns its money.
Large operators have many locations. They keep each machine a few years and changes so they pass every location. This stops when the game is too old (economically depreciated, or just worn), when large costs were required, or just when the game did not earn enough anymore.
Whilst some popular models (Twilight Zone, Addams Family, Indiana Jones) cost more then less popular (Judge Dredd, Hurricane, Popeye, ..), the trend was the same, they lost value over the years.
The final value was quite low. Some operators even parted out pinball machines they did not need anymore or when they needed spare parts to fix others. Others traded them in at the dealer when they bought a new one, or they sold it to other (smaller) operators.

Traditionally a new pinball machine on locations earns well the first few weeks. After a while earnings start to decrease, Players get used to it, the game becomes boring. Then the operator has to replace the machine with a different type. New game, new interest, new high earnings. Some types are more popular than other and it can stay on the same location for months without starting to decrease in earnings, but sometimes a machine only lasts a few weeks, or never earns well.
A small operator with 5 location that changes every 2 months its locations, thus needs to buy a new pinball machine every 10 months so every location has a 'fresh' game. Putting a game back on location where it has been before can cause a large decrease in earnings.

Sales of new pinball machines happen through large distributors in each country. Williams announced a new type of game, and distributors just ordered a certain number of games. This number was something they though they could sell, even before they had seen or played the type. When a machine was very popular, it stayed longer in production, and distributors could place additional orders.
Once production of a certain type of game was stopped, it was final. The production facility was adapted for the newer type of game and only that was available.
This is something Stern has changed. Once they have enough orders (at least 50) and it's technically feasible (license is still valid, enough parts can be bought, ..) they will rerun any model that they created in the past.

Pricing of used pinball machines was mainly dependant on the age and condition. A newer machine cost more than an older one, as it hadn't depreciated economically. A very popular game was higher than one that was less popular, mainly because there was a little bit more demand and it would have more earning power, but all prices were much lower than what the game had cost new. It had already earned back on location part of its new price.

The used market was also limited, not a lot of private persons were interested, and there was a large supply for the operators. A game that had cost 3000 euro new , was sold after 5 to 7 years to a private person for 500 to 1000 euro max.
More recent games were usually not sold to private persons, they were too expensive, and operators wanted to keep them so they could use them on their own locations.

Around 2000 this situation changed. Less operators bought games since a few years. Williams therefor had stopped in 1999 the production of pinball machines. Only Stern manufactured pinball machines, but their types were not very popular. At first there was almost no supply anymore, but demand was low. Then demand from private persons started to increase, every year a little bit more. Especially from 2003 this increased a lot. Pinball ownership got a big boost. Compared to a few years ago, there are maybe 20 to 50 times more private collectors. More and more people wanted to play pinball and did not find any games on location anymore, so they bought one themselves. Or they had played in the past, but now got married, settled down, bought a house, so they bought a game to play at home.
Prices for used pinball machines, especially popular games, started to increase.

This trend has continued, and probably from around 2010 the majority of new pinball machines is bought by private owners and not by operators anymore.
Stern has acted to this trend by starting to make Limited Edition models of their games, aimed at home users, while the PRO version is aimed towards operators to put on location.

Pricing history of the Medieval Madness pinball machine

Medieval Madness is totally different and has mostly never followed the traditional price trend as explained above. Demand was always higher than supply, used machines were sold more expensive than what a brand new pinball machine sold for.
Many people just do not understand this. Medieval Madness is fun to play, but not double as much fun as for example een Attack from Mars, which is a similar game with a similar number of games produced. Therefor the question that always gets asked: what makes Medieval Madness so special and expensive ?

medieval madness pinball translight

The short answer is supply and demand.
Medieval Madness was a very populair type, from the first day it became available for operators. The game earned really well on location. It out-earned any other type of pinball machine that had been created in the years before it. Every player liked it, from the first game played. The machine earned well on all locations and stayed earning strong. Other types may earn well in a bar but not in a movie theatre or skating rink, or the opposite.
That is the big difference with any other type of pinball machine: the popularity and earning power of Medieval Madness was much higher.

The inital orders for Medieval Madness were probably not too high, or higher than other types. Pinball machines were losing popularity in bars, less operators wanted to invest in it. Nothing had indicated that MM would earn so well and was better than other types. In 1997 the US$ became much stronger. The price increase in Europe may also have decreased the inital orders, as some operators would skip it because it suddenly became more expensive than previous types.
I've heard that MM was never imported in Belgium. A lot however were exported to Germany and France.

Williams previous game NBA:Fastbreak had not been a success. More machines had been produced that could be sold, it was even closed out by Williams later that year at the Pinball Expo show. Many distributors also still had unsold games in their inventory when Medieval Madness arrived. Therefor some distributors did not tell their customers that Medieval Madness was already available, trying to push people to buy their remaining NBA Fastbreak machines. This strategy also hurt the sales of Medieval, its initial sales were delayed a bit.

Demand for the Medieval Madness pinball machine built up slow. Only when the first batch of games were produced, had been delivered to customers and set out on location, operators noticed how well it earned. And not only the first and second week, but earnings remained strong. Operators that had bought one or two suddenly wanted to buy more of this magic game that earned so well. Operators that did not own one heard the stories and suddenly also wanted to buy one. Distributors got new orders for this spectacular new type from Williams.

With these new orders something went wrong. We'll never know the exact reasons why the decision was made, but people in charge at Williams decided to stop the production run of Medieval Madness when the new type (Cirqus Voltaire) was finished.
Sometimes it's said they wanted to teach distributors a lesson - often they did not pre-order enough games and waited until the very last moment. Williams had to close out their Safe Cracker and No Good Gofers pinball machine too as they had produced too many of them. Other reasons may have been that Williams closed their pinball division 2 years later. The official reason was that pinball machines did not earn enough compared to their slot machines division. A sudden popular and good selling pinball game could have changed the relation between the two departments ?

Whatever is true, we only know the results. Only 4016 Medieval Madness pinball machines have been produced, the production run was suddenly halted while Williams still had orders to build many more.
Some distributors only got half the number of machines they had ordered, while they still got new orders from operators that wanted to buy one. Even when Cirqus Voltaire was at the end of its run a few months later (with only 2704 machines made, and at the end it was also closed out cheap), demand for new Medieval games was still there.

It seems all the demand to create more Medieval machines had some effect, and Williams had investigated to do an extended run and took orders for them. They needed 1000 orders and unfortunately didn't get enough.

The hype or bubble around Medieval Madness is not something that started later by pinball collectors. It started from the very beginning that the machine became available. Because distributors did not get enough machines from Williams, some large distributors in the USA even offered their existing customers to buy back their used MM machines. At the same price the distributor had sold it new. They knew they would have no problem selling it again with profit.
Most operators did not want to sell this game. It earned so well - why kill the goose with the golden eggs ?

In the first years some pinball collectors got lucky and were able to buy MM cheap from operators. But these were exceptions. Around 2000 and 2001 prices started to increase. More pinball home owners wanted this great game. Dealers realised they could charge a lot for them.. So the price was usually high - as Medieval was a game that was only a few years old, it hadn't depreciated a lot and was in good condition. And every operator had heard about this fantastic game, no one that had it would sell it too cheap. Supply was low, sometimes you had to look for months and you sometimes had to be lucky to find one that just became available for sale. Price was around 3500 to 4000 euro, similar to a new Stern pinball machine at that time.

I've heard a long time ago the high price of MM had started in Germany. One pinball dealers (or maybe more together or they followed his example) decided not to sell MM for less than 4000 euro as they were able to get this price. Very quickly this also became the price in Belgium and Netherlands as people had to go to Germany if they wanted to buy one.

Exceptions were also possible. I know someone who bought around the year 2000 his MM for 800 german marks.. you can be sure he was aware that was the deal of a lifetime - and he could quite easily have sold it for 4000 euro !
In France and other countries prices didn't follow. You could find some good deals, especially with small local operators who didn't have internet access and didn't know international prices. I some of someone who (around the year 2002) was looking to buy an Addams Family and found one for sale in France. The operator also had an MM and wanted to make him a deal if he bought both.
He bought them, sold the MM in Belgium at the price he paid for both, so he had is Addams for free in the end..
So not every MM was 4000 euro, but if you found one cheap you could easily make a profit if you wanted to.

Only around 2003 to 2007 a large number of Medieval Madness games became available for sale (at least in Germany/Belgium/..). Prices started to decrease (average 3000 to 3500 euro). One didn't have to search a long time anymore, a lot of pinball machine dealers had 5 to 10 Medievals for sale.
The lower price however wasn't caused because of the supply, but because they decreased in quality. Most cheaper games had been on location for 5 to 10 years and it showed. Some were trashed.
They had damage on the playfield, worn mechanisms that barely had enough power to move a pinball, .. These machines did not have 10.000 but 100.000 games played and more. Other types of games would have been parted out, or never would reach such condition as they were not so popular, no one wanted to play them as much.
Still these worn games got sold quite expensive, as collectors wanted to have one anyway.

medieval madness row
10 MMs ready for export to Australia. Picture by Bill Chavez.

These worn out games do influence how some people think about MM. Sometimes you hear someone played a few games and don't like it or understand why it's considered to be so great. But you really have to play one in good condition. Most games you'd find are in such bad condition it's a miracle they still earned money and were even a little bit of fun to play.

Since 2007 prices started to increase again, for other reasons.
The source of Medieval Madnesses has stopped. There are almost none to be found with operators that dealers can buy. Almost every game produced is owned by a collector or pinball dealer by now (or at an operator that absolutely refuses to ever sell the game).
The amount of pinbal collectors keeps on increasing every year. There's a lot more demand for pinball machines at home. Every serious collector wants to own a Medieval at least once, even if it's only to have said to have owned one, seen what it's about and sell again. Collectors that start with one or two cheap games get addicted to pinball machines, buy more machines and upgrade their collection to more expensive (and more fun) games.

At the same time more spare parts became available for pinball machines. New cabinet decals, plastics, ramps and even complete playfields. Today it's possible to buy a worn, trashed machine and completely restore it in (better than) new condition.
At the same time a new group of collectors appeared. Initially most pinball collectors just loved to play. As they didn't find games to play in bars, they started to buy the machines themselves. Everyone wanted a nice game, or one with good price/condition, but the main reason to buy a game was that it was fun to play and it played well.
Now more pinball machines get restored (as more parts became available), a new group of collectors started to look for perfect games. Not just to play, but to own the popular games in absolute perfect condition, and they are willing to pay the associated price.
This led to an increase of the average price of popular games. A few years ago a Medieval could be found for 3500 euro, and 4500 to 5000 for one in very good original condition, a MM in really excellent condition may now cost double as much.
Don't think that the 3000 euro game of a few years ago suddenly doubled or tripled its price.
These expensive games are in much better condition, a lot of time and money (parts) has een invested.

What also may have an influence is the price of new Stern pinball machines. The average price of a new Medieval has followed this. It's possible the price of new Stern games worked as a price point - when someone wants to spend 5000 euro for a Stern, they want to pay the same amount for a MM. Now Stern Limited Edition games are suddenly more expensive, so MM increases along..

Now you have a lot of background information about the pricing of Medieval Madness pinball machines. I do not make any assumptions for the future. But I hope you now finally have the answer to why Medieval Madness is more expensive (and always have been) than any other similar type of pinball machine. If Medieval Madness is worth its price, is something everyone has to decide for himself.

Update 2019: Medieval Madness pinball machines are now made under license by Chicago Gaming Company. Here you can buy a brand new 'MM remake'.