The International Flipper Pinball Association just released its annual “State of the Union” address recapping 2022. The big takeaway is that attendance is up in the competitive pinball scene and the slate of events is expanding. According to the article there were over 8,366 IFPA-sanctioned events in 2022, a 10% increase from the 7,591 events in 2019. This is of course, ignoring the Covid-stricken years of 2020-2021 where almost no IFPA sanctioned pinball tournaments were held.
Pinball has roots stretching back to the late 1800s and has seen many changes over that time, with varying levels of popularity. But has retained iconic status since exploding onto the mainstream in the 1970s. As a sport, it’s been thriving under the IFPA’s care and prior to the pandemic they had celebrated record levels of growth in their 2019 State of the Union. It’s great for everyone involved to see them returning to a more familiar growth trajectory.
There Were Some Rough Times
The pandemic caused a downturn for all public entertainment venues, but arcades were hit particularly hard. Many were forced to shut down permanently, and even giants like Sega shut down operations in places like Japan and pulled out of the coin-op industry entirely. There was much doom and gloom with some speculation that arcades were dying out entirely.
This has proven to not be the case. Many smaller arcades even remained open during the pandemic, adapting their business practices to the environment at the time. Those that were able to weather the storm have anecdotally seen business and interest gradually return. Sega’s former arcade assets were bought by another arcade game company, Genda GIGO, who reported a profit of over three billion yen in 2022. According to experts like Marketwatch, global arcade revenue is expected to grow by more than a billion dollars over the next few years.
But We’ve Bounced Back
This coincides with not just the end of quarantine and the economic rebound, but a general trend of public interest in retro and physical gaming. For the Millennial and Zoomer generations, games are a big part of life. But consoles and PCs, despite dominating the industry for years, lack the physical interaction you get from arcades and in-person tournament events. Years of quarantine have exposed this flaw more openly and for modern generations, who often struggle with socializing through traditional means, activities like board games and pinball machines are a way to bridge that gap.
In 2022 there were 188,308 attendees for IFPA events, with 24,772 unique players. These numbers beat the previous marks in 2019 by 8% and 1.5% respectively. Increasing player engagement and attendance give the world of competitive pinball a very solid foundation to continue growth in 2023 and beyond. It’s a prime time to get involved, if you haven’t already. If you’re a beginner to the world of competitive pinball, check out our guide to playing pinball.