Quick! Get yr questions in to Mike Mahaffey!

Posted: May 3rd, 2008 by BounceBack

So I found this in one of my various inboxes this morning:

If you’ve played pinball at just about any bar in the metro Portland area, you’re familiar with the work of Mike Mahaffey. As head of route operation for Quality Entertainment, he decides which games to operate, where to place them, and how to adjust their scoring and features. He’s also responsible for ensuring that all of Quality’s tables are clean and working properly. Now’ s your chance to tell him what you think: he’s agreed to field questions and comments from Portland Pinball League members. Want to tell him what he’s doing right or wrong? Got a question? Post here on or before Monday at 5PM, and I’ll compile the responses and send them to Mike at that time.- Anthony– Anthony Ramos, Co-OwnerGround Kontrol Classic Arcade * 511 NW Couch St. Portland, OR 97209p: (503)796-9364 * e: anthony(at) groundkontrol. com

So my dudes and dudettes, let’s get some discussion flowing. We speculate and ruminate enough about the goings on of pinball operations here and elsewhere, but now Mike’s agreed to have some direct open discussion about it, which is awesome. Post some Q’s here and then be sure to pass them along to Anthony to pass them along to Mike, and then stay tuned.

A few I’ve been thinking about to kick things off:

1. Is there a standard maintenance schedule for quality games? For example, are they cleaned a minimum of X times weekly/monthly/yearly? Are all the games routinely played and tested for problems, or does the company rely on notices/reports from users to identify problems?

2. What can dedicated players do to establish a better rapport with their operators and pinball providers to keep the ball rolling as well as possible? Should players keep a list of problems they find with games and submit them regularly, and how would you recommend doing this? We have some clear ideas on what we’d like from our operators– what would operators like to see more of from their customers?

3. What’s the overall attitude toward pinball at quality? It seems quality games at some locations are more consistently serviced than others, and some games have the same problems seemingly forever even when maintenance has heard about the issues time and again (i.e. the right orbit on CFTBL dropping onto the slingshot at billy ray’s, the constantly broken Frank switch on monster bash at billy ray’s, the non-working meadowlands ramp switch on sopranos at florida room, the often generally rough condition of games at the clinton…). Obviously it’s a business that has to make a profit; but is there any official policy about how that’s done? A lot of us believe that well-maintained machines will earn more than poorly maintained machines. Sometimes it seems that at some locations the attitude is that enough people are going to play the machines regardless of the condition that it doesn’t really matter how often they’re shopped and serviced, because they’re still earning. Does quality give consideration to the general level of pinball competition in portland, or have an interest in providing top working machines to serious players who want to go on to compete at the national level? Does quality have a strategy for getting more players interested in playing pinball? Basically, is pinball just another vending machine at quality, or is there a sense of connection to the pinball scene and community?

4. I’m less likely to play games with super strict difficulty and tilt settings when they’re not setup to play smoothly– often there seems to be a discrepancy between the settings, and the condition of the games. I don’t always mind a game that’s not in great shape, if it’s set so you can work the table– it’s like streetball vs. the NBA. But a tight table that’s fully working, with high difficulty settings and a sensitive tilt is joy to play when it’s 100% right. Does quality shoot for that, or is there a different overall standard for how any given game should play? Should people feel that they know what to expect when they step up to a machine with a Quality sticker on it, or is it kind of a crap shoot? The Clinton is a great example of a place where the difficulty settings don’t match the condition of the games, and I’m far less likely to go out of my way to spend quarters there than elsewhere. The No Fear at Goodfoot is another game that’s consistently brutal in its tilt settings and difficulty while being pretty unfriendly as to overall feel. How intentional is this? Since Quality games dominate the market in portland, is there a sense that players don’t necessarily have too much leverage?

5. How did the .75 cent per game experiment go on family guy machines? Should players be expecting a rate hike on all quality games? Is this an effort to balance against declining play, increased cost of maintenance, general inflation, or to fund some newer game acquisitions?

6. Obviously players see the same games all over portland because those tables are proven to earn money; what do you say to players interested in seeing some unique titles, who would go out of their way to play something OTHER than sopranos, for example? What games are currently in the Quality arsenal that haven’t seen play in a while? Is there any chance of seeing some less-common games on site again any time soon? For example older Sega/Data East games? Or that Cactus Canyon that used to be on site? A Twilight Zone somewhere outside the “pearl” (aka “the asshole…”)?

7 . Would Quality consider setting up some of these games in a location that was geared specifically toward serious players, where all games were fully and consistently kept working at 100%, with tournament-level difficulty settings? Possibly in an alcohol-free environment, if there’s a concern about bar patrons abusing machines? It would be great to see a location that had 2-3 really choice machines that were rotated out regularly and shopped, so there was a “premier” pinball destination in town for those games you can’t find anywhere else. It would be great to play some cactus canyon, big bang bar, circus voltaire, TZ, and other great games that tend to need some attention when they’re on site.

8. What’s quality’s attitude toward scores? Are they reset every time settings are changed? Does erasing high scores seem to increase revenue? Is this at the discretion of the operator? Some sites seem to have their scores wiped almost bi-weekly, while others stay up for a while. Is there a policy about this?

9. How’s Quality’s relationship with CFF? Do you have thoughts or suggestions about the gang? It seems like CFF’s had a reputation in the past for being hard on machines, but in the recent past it’s been common to hear people chastise other players for getting too rough with games at sites around town, whether they’re CFF or not. Have you noticed changes during the lifetime of the gang? What would you say CFF’s impact has been on portland pinball? What about Portland Pinball League? What about other scraggly, unmentionable, and amateurish pinball collectives or affiliations rumored to exist around town?

Yeah… that’s probably a good starter. But I’m sure there’s more to ask, and I’m really looking forward to hearing some thoughtful responses. Thanks Mike for taking the time to do this!


Categories: CFF

Comments: 15 comments


15 Responses to 'Quick! Get yr questions in to Mike Mahaffey!'

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  1. BounceBack   3 May 08 at 12:05 pm

    Oh yeah–

    what are your thoughts on home machines/home players? does quality sell used games to collectors and basement players? have you ever intentionally destroyed a game? i heard this crazy rumor once…

  2. rom   3 May 08 at 5:14 pm

    Good questions.

    I think it would be cool if operators put comment boxes near the machines. That would be an easy way for users to communicate with the operators about various problems.

    Note: That email you’ve pasted up top is dated August 30, 2007. So it took Mike quite a while to reply to the first questions posed to him (about flipper settings).

  3. Danny Backglass   3 May 08 at 9:56 pm

    Actually, Ive talked to Mike and I just wanted him to know the level of respect I have for him. He has been in the buisness since the 50’s if I’m not mistaken. He took over the buisness from his parents. I think the guy does a great job. When we were kids, if we broke a machine, we knew we were fucked for a month. Mike stays up on the games. Just stop erasing my grand champs. PLEASE! They are all legit. Some, im still sad to have gone. They are like the pride I never had. Thanks mike! till death!

  4. autofire   5 May 08 at 2:21 pm

    Is Mike hiring or is there a way to learn the inner workings of the games. like matinence or cleaning, replacing the bumpers or rubber bands. because thats something i would like to know.

  5. JEF   9 May 08 at 2:43 pm

    haha. mike is only 45.

  6. Danny Backglass   13 May 08 at 4:41 pm

    Oh. well shit the bed.

  7. Mike Mahaffey   22 May 08 at 10:45 pm

    Thanks for fielding the questions & comments. We’re still breaking in our fairly new pinball techs but Jacob is catching on quick. It’s actually rare to find a good tech that actually likes to play pinball & it’s a big advantage.

    We have 2 field techs for 115 locations so we get behind from time to time. We try to keep the pins fairly dialed at Clinton, B-Rays, G-Foot and other heavy play pin locations. I need to stop by BR’s and fix Frankie. It’s a weird intermittent problem.

    1) There is no set maintenance schedule for a location but I try to get a tech out to clean and re-lamp machines on location when we have any down time. Rotations are done purely on location owner requests and when a machines revenue has droped below a certain level. If a machine you are playing has problems write them down and give them to the bartender. They will call our tech service line and we’ll get the problems fixed. When we get a call saying “the machine is not working right but thats all I know” it makes it much tougher on the techs to find all the problems on their own. Especially “intermittent” problems which can be a bitch to troubleshoot.

    2/3) You can keep lists of problems that don’t get fixed after a tech has been to work on it. Email them to me @ mwmahaffey@comcast.net I will make sure they get fixed.

    3)Pinball maintenance is time consuming & can be expensive but it needs to be done. A lot of amusement operators in the PDX area got rid of most of their pins back in the early 2000’s because of the high maintenance and high cost of parts.
    We’re still running a lot of Williams/Bally pins from the 90’s that have 100’s of thousands of plays on them. All parts are not available for all games. Once a pin is so trashed and wore out we trade them in on a newer model.

    4) When a machine gets installed in a location it is leveled and the tilt set to a “normal” level. What happens is most bars have floors that are far from level and just moving the machine a few inches can throw it out of level which also throws off the plum-bob tilt maiking it tilt easier. Again, if you find a machine that has a hair trigger tilt or has issues let me know via email.

    5)One problem is a game of pinball should be a buck not 50 cents. 50 cent pins were introduced back in early 80’s when a new machine cost around $2K. New Sterns are $4K and operators are getting flack for trying to get .75 per game. A typical service call costs an operator about $65. Pins have a lot of mechanical parts and like to break a lot but thats pinball and will probably never change.
    Family Guy, Spiderman, WOF, Shrek & IJ4 are all set from the factory with 75 cent pricing.

    6)The problem is the older pins are a lot more prone to being service call nightmares. We have kept a lot of the higher earning older pins on the route but they are getting close to the grave and becoming service call whores. Several of our MM’s have earned over $65K each but we keep them since they still make good money and usually will out-earn a newer Stern sitting right beside it. We got rid of most of our Data East, Gottlieb & Sega pins due to them falling apart and not earning very well when they actually worked. We have one TZ & TAF left on the route but we got rid of all our IJ’s, STTNG’s, CC’s, CV’s, Shadows etc since they were killing us in the service call department. However just because a machine is newer doesn’t make it any more reliable, some of the newer Sterns break down as much as a 10 or 15 year old Williams pin.

    7)That might be a reality in he near future.

    8)Generally we only reset high scores if they are known to be bogus (machine malfunctions awarding a pile of points), or the location owner requests they be reset. When a machine comes in to be shopped out we usually reset the scores since it will be going into a new location.

    9)CFF players have helped Quality continue to operate over 100 pins in the Portland area. Rarely do players inflict damage to a machine. Graffiti on the glass and cabinets really sucks, if you see anyone doing this throw his ass out.
    Leagues and tournaments can only help pinball stay strong. The more players the more money goes into the machines which is an good incentive for operators to buy more pins.

    We don’t sell directly to the home market, we usually trade them in to a local Distributor like Specialty Coin. So far we have never destroyed a pin, video games? well thats another story ;)

    “Just stop erasing my grand champs. PLEASE! They are all legit. Some, im still sad to have gone”

    Ha! I never erase scores unless I know they are bogus so it must’ve been someone else or the batteries died. If I had more time I might try to get out more and actualy beat some of those scores myself ;)

    Keith Elwin will be in town June 5th & 9th and will be at the Seattle show. Last time he was in town he de-throwned DEN’s GC’s on WH2O & TAF @GK playing only one game each! You might see some more KME GC’s around town but he prefers early 80’s Bally’s if they’re available.

    Keep those questions coming!

  8. bounceback   23 May 08 at 9:11 pm


    thanks so much for those responses! they’re very much appreciated. it really helps to know these things about the games, and that you’re available to your public :)

    thanks for all your hard work

  9. Backglass   27 May 08 at 3:11 am

    Wow. This is like a childhood dream come true. This rules.

  10. Backglass   27 May 08 at 11:01 am

    Dear Mike. (Santa) Any chance of putting a “Viking” or “Banzai Run” out? Shit, we could put it in my house and it would make a garanteed killing. GK guys call me a pinball purist. Damn, I aint seen a Banzai since I was 12. Any chance? ANY?

  11. autofire   29 May 08 at 12:59 am

    do you have a cot in your pinball repair area because thats where i would like to sleep at night.

  12. Danny Backglass   30 May 08 at 1:21 pm

    can i sleep next to autofire?
    he’s hott!

  13. MWM   4 Jun 08 at 8:24 pm

    Funny you mentioned Viking since i’ll be getting mine back home soon from my sisters house in Salem. She gets a Frontier in trade.

    The gameroom floor is actually the guest room since my 3.5 year old daughter occupies the real guest room. I sold my POTC so the Cybernaut from the garage will be taking its place in the gameroom in good company with Mystic, Skateball, Space Invaders, Xenon, Flash Gordon, Fathom, Centaur, Lady Luck, HUO TOM & some vids (mini Missile Command, Stargate, Joust 1 & 2, Robotron & Tempest)



  14. QuentinInnog   4 May 23 at 10:42 am

  15. ShaneMex   11 May 23 at 12:52 am


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