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A Never Before Seen Look Behind the Scenes at Stern Pinball

Updated: May 25

Arggg. I literally wrote an entire massive article on my phone and Wix deleted it. I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry but I’ll get back up, dust myself off and do it again. Ahhh the joys of writing long articles on a phone :)


Yesterday Stern pinball hosted an event for pinball content creators at its massive new factory in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. I was blessed and honored to have been included in that group.


The event started off in the Stern lobby where we were greeted by Stern Pinball’s founder Gary Stern, its CEO Seth Davis and its Executive Vice-President and Chief Creative Officer George Gomez. They gave us an overview of the day’s events. The main lobby of the building was filled with brand new John Wick Premium machines fresh off of the factory floor that we were all given a chance to play. I actually GCed the Wick machine that I was on during my first game ever, so I was pretty happy with that.


Following the time with the machines, Stern pinball’s Dwight Sullivan gave everyone a tour of Stern’s HUGE new factory. I’ve seen the Stern factory in action during the Company’s always awesome and transparent Factory Friday social media posts, but you don’t really get an idea of how truly gigantic the factory is until you see it in person.


Stern allowed us to take pictures of the factory in action where it has not allowed previous tour groups to film so there’s probably going to be some areas in my pics below that you’ve never seen before. The entire event was really about transparency and explaining to us and in turn the public how the sausage is made so to speak.


Stern knows me too well, so they did a good job at hiding away any evidence of any future titles lol. At one point on the tour, Stern Designer Jack Danger realized where we were headed, said “Wait, they’re going in there?!” And ran into an area to clean up what he was working on 😂.


As you can see below, John Wick Limited Edition is currently on the line at the factory. After seeing Wick LE in person, I have to say that the launch pictures definitely do not do it justice. The foil side art and the stained glass looking backglass are absolutely stunning in person.


The factory itself had 40 foot high ceilings. It’s so big that Stern uses giant industrial fans on the ceiling to circulate the air conditioned air and keep things comfortable. Not only is the factory itself huge, Stern’s workforce is gigantic. They employ more than 500 people directly and thousands more at suppliers and as consultants. This is a big American manufacturing operation that sells products across the globe. Stern has official distributors in more than 44 countries worldwide.


A lot of the tradition and famous aspects of Stern’s former factory were carried over to the new location, from Gottlieb’s Four Poster Press that Gary Stern acquired in 1987 to the wall of microwaves in the Stern cafeteria. But, Stern has added a whole other level of new art and decor to the factory that honor the history of pinball and the Company itself.


Even the conference rooms are named after old Stern Electronics pinball machines, from Flight 2000 to Stars. After the tour of the factory floor, we entered one of those rooms and received an absolute Master Class from the industry legend George Gomez on how licensing works in pinball.


The companies that Stern deals with are rightfully very protective of their intellectual property. They are used to printing logos on coffee mugs and smaller projects, they often are not well-versed in all that goes into making a pinball machine, from the art on the cabinet, backbox and playfield, to the music, to the video assets, callouts and more. Each one of these aspects of the game has to be directly approved by the licensor along the development process.


In the case of John Wick, the game was already far along when the licensor dropped the bomb on them that no guns would be allowed on the game’s static art. At that point with tons of hours and massive amounts of money invested in a project, you can either walk away…as Stern once did from the Hunger Games license, or you can work with what you have.


Stern chose the latter and I must say, I don’t notice the lack of guns on the cabinet at all when I play the game. The video assets have TONS of guns in them. The game’s lead coder Tim Sexton even gave us all a sneak peek at a very gun-centric thing that’s coming to the game. A future code update will synchronize white flashes in the speaker lights on LE and upgraded Pro and Premium games with short bursts from the either included or added shaker motor to make it seem like real gunfire every time a gun shoots on the LCD.


Beyond that Stern has something cool coming for Wick on Insider Connected. They are going to introduce contracts, which are essentially short term quests that are either unlimited or have a limited number of spots. Players can hit certain objectives in the game to be awarded special badges.


Speaking of Insider Connected, George Gomez and Seth Davis assured me that the system will always have a free to use aspect to it for players to track their high scores and get achievements and quests. Stern may introduce additional features to Insider Connected that require more computing power from their host Amazon Web Services, such as the much requested Home Leaderboards. These additional features at some point in the future may require a small charge to help Stern cover the cost with AWS.


I didn’t see any of the rumored future Stern titles, like Pokemon, Metallica, Anniversary Godzilla, X-Men ‘97 or Dungeons and Dragons hiding around any corners of the factory. I did however see several boxes of Aerosmith art. I have a sneaking suspicion that another run of that 2017 game is coming in the future.


After some more pinball and deep dish Chicago-style pizza at the factory, Stern brought all of us to the iconic Chicago pinball bar Logan Arcade. I’m laying here in my bed still trying to recover from drinks with Gary and Seth Davis lol.


At this point in my lost article, I went into a whole diatribe about how calling people who visited Stern on this trip shills and sellouts is complete nonsense, but I’ve decided to leave it out of this version. You can go see my rant over on Pinside for that and I’ll keep things positive here as I always try to.


The operative words and key things that I took away from this event are that Stern Pinball is an absolutely massive juggernaut of an organization that is super organized and impressive in almost all aspects, but it’s a Company that’s run by people just like you and I. OK they’re probably better at pinball than most of us and they’re super creative, but they’re human and they are working on becoming more transparent. I am truly thankful for people Gary Stern, Seth Davis, George Gomez and Zach Sharpe who are keeping the hobby that I love dearly and has become such a big part of my life alive.


If enjoying playing pinball, meeting nice people and having fun makes me a shill in your eyes then so be it.


Below are the pictures from yesterday’s festivities. As soon as I finish this post on my now red hot phone lol, I’m going to quickly knock out some paying work, get cleaned up and head on over to the legendary Chicago area arcade Galloping Ghost. I’m charging up so that I can take lots of pictures to share with everyone.


Thanks for reading and hanging out here. Have a great holiday weekend!
































































Drinks with Gary and Seth…


3,820 views23 comments

23 Comments


A dude had an X-men cap on his head, near the wall of microwaves. That very same guy had a tee with the text ”Danger, Danger” on. X-Men ’97 pin by Jack Danger confirmed!

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There was a Pokemon cup on the assembly floor! Confirmed next pin!

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Replying to

In all seriousness, I really hope Brian and Dwight's next game is Dungeons and Dragons. Gomez said their next game has 'more xp' and then I saw that it was a legit rumor. Insta buy if so.

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Great pics! Thanks for bringing all of us along with you.


When Insider Connected launched the concept seemed gimmicky to me. But I've come to love the Insider Connected TVs and high-score system at my local arcades. Its fun to keep track of other people week to week (and to try and stay in the top 10!) and it's a natural convo starter when you see someone login to the Connected system.


It would be a lot of fun to have that at home next to my machines on a little 21" monitor, and probably would do a lot to spark more regular play and competition among friends. Add custom leagues and league tracking functionality and I could see myself…


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Jason
Jason
May 27
Replying to

Thanks! Yeah I wasn’t sure what to think about Insider Connected when I first heard about it. Now I absolutely love it.

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Fantastic content. Truly a small world hobby that makes you feel a part of it all.

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Jason
Jason
May 27
Replying to

Thanks man!

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Da Bear
Da Bear
May 25

So cool to "see behind the curtain".

Thanks for the article and all the great pics.

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Jason
Jason
May 25
Replying to

Thanks!

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