Next Level Levels Up

Next Level Levels Up
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Next Level Levels Up
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Next Level Levels Up
Published on
March 21, 2024
Updated on
March 21, 2024
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Next Level Pinball Museum (2023 TWIPY winner for Favorite Pinball Location) located in Hillsboro, Oregon, has officially completed a new 7,000 square foot addition to their arcade. Called Boss Level, the space allows for the addition of 150 new games to the collection (a mix of pinball, arcade games and claw machines). This will put them at about 300 pinball machines in total, making it the 4th largest public pinball collection in North America behind Past Times Arcade, Pinball Hall of Fame and Pinball Perfection.

Those who would like to visit the new expansion can do so starting today, March 21 2024. Next Level will feature expanded hours through the end of the month.

We had a chance to have a quick conversation with co-owner Jordan Carlson about the expansion, what it means for Next Level, and their secret to getting oodles of TWIPY votes year after year.

Interview with Jordan Carlson of Next Level Pinball Museum

Kineticist: Besides adding more games, what does this expansion mean for Next Level? Is it just an opportunity for more room, or does it open up additional business opportunities?

Jordan: Saturdays can get pretty busy at Next Level, so as basic as it sounds, we also wanted to add more restrooms to the facilities. It ended up being a cool starting point actually to build around, so we designed the whole room to be Nintendo/Sega/Gaming system themed and the bathrooms were then designed to look like a castle you'd see in Super Mario Brothers.

We're also just the land of more, so or course it meant more pinball machines, more arcades, and more collectibles for the walls. One thing that is so fun about the place is that it appeals to non-gamers as well because of the way we put together the toys and collectibles in the museum on the walls. We've heard over the years different types of toys that people grew up with and this also allowed us the chance to fill in the collection with some cool things we've heard people reminisce about but we didn't have represented yet - like 8-track tapes, or video games they played on consoles, or Lego, or beanie babies.

This really was just built to be an "and more" add-on for our customers. Construction wise, it actually had to be built with a firewall between the OG space and the expansion with a door that closes automatically in case of an emergency. Because of that, we actually could close that section off for a private event if we wanted to. We actually fairly often get requests to rent the facility for a wedding, or private corporate function, or high school grad event, but we've always said we won't close Next Level during regular hours because we don't want someone flying in cross country disappointed that we're closed on Saturday night for a private wedding. In theory, we now have the option to close off that space, but we haven't made any decisions on that yet and just want the space open for all our customers!

Kineticist: By our count, this expansion will make you the fourth largest public pinball collection in North America, behind Past Times Arcade, Pinball Hall of Fame, and Pinball Perfection. Are you aiming to compete with some of these larger destination locations, or is this more a reflection of the demand by your local community?

Jordan: We could have had more pins if we wanted to absolutely- but we want to cater to a wider market of who is playing games. We love pinball. But we also like classic arcade games and some more of the modern racing and shooting games as well. Nostalgia is a tricky thing because it inherently is about experiencing a game from your past. We wanted to make sure that when a father/daughter comes in or a mother/son that the parent gets to relive the show of the nostalgia of the game they played as a kid, but also be mindful that we still need to build tomorrow's nostalgia for the kiddo coming in and appeal to the games they like playing as well.

And you know, it's a question that we get fairly often from the die-hard pinball fans that know about some of those awesome places across the country, but we've never seen it as a competition. Realistically, it would only be competition in the small sliver of folks that are say sitting in Florida planning a pinball vacation and making a decision to fly to Oregon, Ohio, or Nevada. There's lots of variables from types of games, to a freeplay/coin drop model, to how many days a week you're open...  and what works well for us here in Oregon maybe wouldn't work in Ohio or on the Las Vegas strip.We realistically want everyone to succeed as we think it lifts up the whole profile of the gaming community!  

Kineticist: We spoke to a large operator recently who said that, by and large, the main draw for their customers was the classic games, like the 80s/90s Bally/Williams titles, versus the newest games or what might appeal to a hardcore pinhead. How does that align with what you see? How much interest does pinball draw relative to your other core offerings, like arcade games?

Now this is an interesting question that we really only have anecdotal experience with. Since we're a free play model, I can't tell you exactly how busy Tapper is compared to Xenon compared to Mario Kart Racing. Realistically, it probably is a generic 50/50 split of what people play when they come here and I would say pinball is roughly an equivalent play amount as arcades.

Within those categories there are more popular pieces by far. The modern Stern pinball row is always busy. Insider Connected really appeals to a bunch of locals that come often and like the idea of monthly leaderboards and achievement badges. Jersey Jacks are also super popular because of their deep ruleset that it's hard to play other places for long periods of time and get super deep into the games. Then we have quite a few rare pieces that you see very infrequently or only at pinball shows - those are popular because people like the idea of "collecting" pinball machines either for a Pindigo Score or to say they've played.  

I would say that the arcades are more popular with kids and families. Don't get me wrong, we'll see an 8 year old playing a game or two on pinball - but it's not as common to see that younger kid playing 4 hours on Congo as I might actually see with someone older. I also think the arcade games tend to be "group activity" games so it's easier for a family of four to sit down and play Fast and the Furious Racing together. I don't often see those families of four playing a single four-player pinball game together. If anything, they may play "together" but they'll each individually play their own game next to one another. So I would say pinball is more of a "solo play" activity and arcade tends to be "group play".

Generally speaking, I think the collection at Next Level reflects the demographics of what people are playing. We're about 50/50 pinball and arcade because that's typically about how the crowd splits in what they want to play. I think if pinball was more popular and appealed to everyone - we'd have 600 here. If no one was plunging balls any more, we'd maybe move to a few more arcade pieces.

Kineticist: Any special events planned to celebrate the expansion?

Jordan: We don't have any specific events to celebrate the expansion, but we are really proud that at a time when Cookie Monster is tweeting about "Shrinkflation" of his cookies that we're able to keep the same price point for people and add another 30% more on top. We also specifically opened up the expansion this Thursday as it's right before Spring Break. This is one of the most popular weeks for families to come into Next Level while kids are out of school, so we're open every day from March 21st - March 31st when we're usually just open Thursday - Sunday.

Kineticist: What's your secret to getting TWIPY votes? In the last few years, it seems you've demolished the competition (in 2023, for example, you received 581 first-place votes compared to 172 for the runner-up).

Jordan: You know, I would say it's a dash of our drive, but the lion's share is that we have just awesome fans. At the end of the day, we're a mom and pop shop and we work hard to make people feel welcome here. At check in new and first time visitors get an explanation of how it all works and returning customers get welcomed back and asked about how their week went, or what they think of the newest pinball release. People often stop by at the desk at the end of their visit and share about their experience. During TWIPY voting weeks we usually ask if they have a spare moment to vote for Next Level or their favorite games, and our fans have just really shown up for us the last couple years. I think it's a by product of how we view Next Level - it's not just a bunch of games, it's about the overall experience and vibe you feel when being here. I think people actually really love voting for us because in some ways, it allows them to share in on the experience of having their hometown arcade be voted best in the world.