Stern Pinball Continues to Grow the Game
Foo Fighters, James Bond 007 Lead the Pack at Chicagoland Factory
It’s been a good year for pinball fans and Stern keeps giving players and operators alike new reasons to celebrate.
Their latest machine is Foo Fighters, created with and based around the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band. The machine brings the concert experience to players who get to go along an epic pinball adventure to 15 of the band’s tracks, including All My Life, Best of You, Breakout, Everlong, Holding Poison, I’ll Stick Around, Learn to Fly, Monkey Wrench, My Hero, Run, Something from Nothing, The Pretender, This is a Call, Times Like These and Walk.
The game was two years in the making with input from the band’s Dave Grohl, Nate Mendel, Pat Smear, Chris Shiflett, Rami Jaffee and the late Taylor Hawkins.
“The licensor was a really great partner,” said Stern Pinball President and CEO, Seth Davis. “Working directly with the Foo Fighters was an incredible experience.” He noted that the game attracts those who simply love the band but also many others who enjoy the gameplay.
Part of the game’s immersive experience is the custom animations, such as Foo Fighters Saturday Morning Action Time! – a fictional TV series based on classic Saturday morning cartoons. The plot follows the band’s quest to save rock and roll… and the world!
The storytelling element follows the Foo Fighters hopping in their old tour van, on a rescue mission to “thwart the evil, mysterious alien Overlord and his army of bots.” Players have to search the Area 51 upper playfield to unleash the pinball chaos.
“It all allowed us to tell a creative story within the game, backed by the band’s amazing music,” Davis said. “There’s a whole bunch of reasons to buy and play the product.” And people are doing just that. He added that Foo Fighters has been selling faster than any game Stern has ever released.
Stern’s George Gomez-designed James Bond 007 is another recent hit. The game is based on the six genre-defining Sean Connery films: Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever.
The gameplay lets players gather gadgets from Q Branch as pinballs are ejected through the roof of a custom-made Aston Martin DB5; break through the Osato Chemicals drop targets to battle SPECTRE at the Bird One rocket base; and shoot at the gravity defying, magnetic jetpack as it transports pinballs across the playfield.
Both games – and all new Stern Pinball machines – come equipped with Insider Connected, the company’s interactivity feature that helps players better engage with pinball.
“Insider Connected has been a game changer,” Davis said. “The community has really adopted the program and has started to understand how it deepens and enriches their experience.”
With Insider Connected, players are able to track their scores and see how they compete against friends. Leaderboards were added since the platform’s inception, which further encourages replayability.
“For players, we’ve added depth of competition,” he explained. “On the operator side, it’s allowed them to see greater engagement for the player base. It’s getting people to play more.”
Some big new features recently rolled out for operators are tech alerts and auto-downloading software, which saves them time on the route. The company said there was a lot of demand for those features since Insider Connected became available, so Stern made it happen.
“It’s really taking off,” Davis said. “We’re adding more people and locations a month now than we have ever before. It’s continuing to increase momentum.” (When you log in to your Insider Connected account, you can see the locations nearest to you that have connected Stern games.)
Another thing that’s taking off for Stern is their continued foray into the brewery space. (They even have a dedicated webpage promoting how pinball can help increase extra traffic and increase sales at such venues: www. sternpinball.com/brewcadehopping.)
Simply put, Davis said, “Pinball is the right thing to match with beer and hanging out with friends.” As such, Stern has its sales team working on new channel development with a big focus on breweries right now. They’ve also seen a lot of recent growth in FECs as well (www.sternpinball.com /fec/).
Davis explained that his pitch to locations is they’re not just buying pinball machines and installation services, they’re buying the Stern Army community that comes with it. “That’s critical to the commercial environment,” he said. Building the community through tournaments and Insider Connected features in turn creates more fun and more revenue for operators.
With Stern growing pinball across multiple sectors, including a booming home market, it’s no wonder they’re scaling up their own company. Earlier this year, they signed leases on two new buildings in Elk Grove Village, Ill., that will more than double the company’s physical size.
Stern’s current 106,000-sq.-ft. home is no longer big enough. “We’re still backordered,” Davis said. “We still have more demand than we can produce.”
The new HQ will have 163,875 sq. ft. of product development, manufacturing and distribution space. Additional manufacturing will happen at the smaller 65,340-sq.-ft. building. (For those without a calculator handy, that’s nearly 230,000 sq. ft. total. Wow!)
The company is in the moving process right now, which will be completed by the fall (they’re planning on doing tours to coincide with Pinball Expo, which is held Oct. 18-21).
Of course, Stern has been expanding more than just physically. For one, Seth Davis came aboard in 2021 as President and was named CEO late last year. Since then, Nick Parfitt was named their new Chief Financial Officer and Erica Frohm as Chief Technology Officer.
“I’ve been really fortunate to be able to join at an exciting time in this business,” Davis said. “It’s been wonderful to be able to learn from Gary (Stern) and add the things I can around our digital experiences and how we expand our market over time.”
“I think pinball is the ultimate gaming experience. There’s no other product quite like it where you can be immersed physically and digitally like this. I think the future for us holds more digital offerings with community wrapped around it.”
Expect announcements for the company’s next pinball this summer. You can visit www.sternpinball.com for updates.