It's Oh So Quiet

Number Crunching Stern IC Badges, Pintastic Highlights, Black Knight Returns & More!

It’s quiet in here. Too quiet. It feels like everyone is waiting for Stern’s next cornerstone release. We’ve still got plenty of content to help you bide your time, though.

This Week’s Pinball Agenda:

  • Song of the Week

  • Pinball News of the Week

    • Pintastic highlights & new game takes (plus pinball gangs?)

    • Number crunching Stern Insider Connected badges

    • Stern brings back a recent cult favorite

    • Kineticist goes corporate (j/k)

  • Creator Highlights of the Week

  • Giveaway of the Week

  • Poll of the Week

Song of the Week

I’ve thrown a lot of eclectic tunes at you over the last few weeks, and somehow, you’re still with me, so let’s keep it going with some classic 90s Björk.

It’s Oh So Quiet was released in 1995 as part of the album Post and is a cover of a 1951 song from Betty Hutton. I wish there were a higher-quality version of the music video out there because that’s my favorite part of this song. It’s directed by Spike Jonze, who, besides being an accomplished film director (Being John Malkovich, Her), is one of the GOATs of music video directing (Praise You, Buddy Holly, Sabotage, Weapon of Choice). His work on It’s Oh So Quiet is meant as an homage to early Hollywood musicals and features elaborate dance numbers and camera moves.

And as we sit here waiting for the next big game release (Stern’s John Wick?), it’s feeling oh so quiet in here.

Pinball News of the Week

Quick Hits on Pintastic New England

Baby’s first press badge!

Last week, I spent some time at my hometown show, Pintastic New England. It’s always a fun event that punches above its weight class compared to some of the larger shows.

It’s sort of like a smaller version of Pinball Expo. You can get time on the newest games, mingle with industry people, nerd out on seminars, hit up free-play games, explore homebrew creations, and more.

One of the unique components fest organizers have really leaned into in recent years is the inclusion of several dedicated “club rooms.” In New England, at least, we have a lot of pinball clubs and cooperative-style models - like the Western Mass Pinball Club, Southern New Hampshire Pinball Club, Vermont Pinball Co-Op, and others. Each club gets its own room on the expo floor, and they all bring a selection of free-play games from their locations and usually run a few casual tournaments throughout the weekend. It’s a fun way to showcase the local pinball community and facilitates this unique dynamic where it’s a point of pride to represent your micro-community group, whoever that may be.

This arrangement is completely normal to me, being immersed in the New England pinball scene and knowing the various factions. But I share this because I ran into Barrel of Fun’s David Van Es during the weekend and was able to chat briefly about his experience (it was his first Pintastic).

As an outsider, he sort of struggled to describe the club rooms and humorously referred to them as “pinball gangs.” This certainly isn’t a wrong take, but it’s also a hilarious visual to imagine; in my head, I picture club members breaking out in spontaneous split-flipper battles and sweet dance moves to resolve territorial beefs at any moment in time.

Do other pinball shows have this dynamic, or is it unique to New England?

Anyway, I have quick takes on some of the newer releases (as does contributor Derek Karamanian, who was also in attendance). Judging a game in a show environment is extremely difficult. It’s loud, games aren’t always set up correctly, it’s crowded, and you have to wait in long lines to play new games. So, I like to try and share my gut reaction after a couple of plays, mostly viewed through the lens of answering the question, “Would I want to spend more time playing this game”?

Barry O’s Barbecue Challenge (American Pinball):

Colin’s Take: I wanted to love this game. With some more polish, I could come to love it one day. There are little nuggets of things I want to explore more, be it shots or code, but the packaging of it all leaves a lot to be desired. The flippers on this copy were off, and the build quality seemed poor (as an example, some of the BBQ PIT targets were notably crooked), and not all the shots worked as a result (ramps felt oddly hard to hit properly). But I do want to spend more time with a copy, so that’s a good sign for me and the types of games I enjoy. Plus, the T-shirt is pretty comfy.

Derek’s Take: Good mixture of hard/easy shots and in typical Barry fashion you have to work for your score. I can see this game becoming popular in tournaments. Barry always had a way to make a novice player a great player the more you played his games. Paired with Steve Bowden on rules and Ryan McQuaid using a clever "Bash Lock" toy/gameplay mechanic you have a fun solid-state feeling game.

What makes this game really come alive is the rules, as Steve has described in various seminars and podcasts. Simply put, the better you do in a mode before cashing out, the better the payoff. It's an insanely deep ruleset, just like almost all American Pinball games, but it seems like Steve really went all out on this one. Ryan used the ever-so-slight lifting of a ball off a contact switch in a ball lock area to act as a bash target. Pretty brilliant, actually, and if you bash it out of a lock, you get points and an instant multiball.

The game's worst part so far is the story or narrative, but I think it's still early codewise before Jack Haeger is able to polish it.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Spooky Pinball) 

Colin’s Take: Historically, I have not loved Spooky Pinball gameplay. Theme selection is always top-notch, but nothing besides Total Nuclear Annihilation has completely clicked with me for various reasons. But I really enjoyed my time on TCM. Theme integration was very well done; there’s a lot to shoot for, and Spooky maintains a lot of visual confusion for the player without sacrificing shot visibility like in other recent releases (Scooby comes to mind). Others have called it Spooky’s best shooting pin to date, and I would have to agree with that assessment.

Derek’s Take (note this covers Looney Tunes as well): By far my favorite Spooky Pinball title. I pretty much liked all of it, and I wish I could play this more to explore the bajillion shots this game has. I liked the film clips they used; the theme integration was well done. The powder coating on EVERYTHING actually looked good, didn't affect gameplay, and lasted the entire weekend, surprisingly. I thought there might be paint chips all over it at the end of Pintastic, but it looked the same way it did when the show opened. They only had 1 of each title, so they were played heavily. You have to get TCM, I feel, however, because it's just so well done thematically compared to Looney Tunes.

Negatives is the audio package on primarily Looney Tunes. TCM has a pig squealing constantly, but Looney Tunes has a lot of sound effects borrowed from Scooby Doo, like the "zip" sound effect. It feels like everything makes that sound effect upon the ball impact. Since it's so packed with shots, you may brick your shots a lot initially, but it doesn't take that long to find them.

Looney Tunes (Spooky Pinball) 

Colin’s Take: Same playfield layout as TCM, but different rules/code and different theme. For some reason this didn’t click as much with me. Could be a disconnect on the theme, but the gameplay didn’t grab me and if I had to choose one of the two to return to, it’d be TCM.

Princess Bride (Multimorphic)

Colin’s Take: I don’t have a ton of time on Multimorphic games broadly, but I found myself left wanting by this gameplay experience. The theme integration is crazy, and there are assets galore if that’s your thing, but otherwise, it was kind of a muddy experience where everything sort of felt the same to shoot, which was exacerbated by long ball times.

Derek’s Take: I only played this once but wasn't thrilled to play Princess Bride. Out of all the official P3 releases, I felt this one was the least impressive, unfortunately, and I really like their games and the P3 system. It has a ball levitating up the Cliffs of Insanity, which is neat. The game, though, felt very easy to play. So much so that I didn't want to be that person at a pinball expo going for Grand Champion and drained to let others play. It's a fan layout, but unlike most fan layouts, the majority of the shots are straight up the middle, and you can backhand just about everything. The code makes the game neat as you have to avoid certain shots, make combos, or switch up your hand playing during that sword battle mode. Again I want to emphasize this but I only played the game once and drained before I got deep into the game. Compared to Heist, Weird Al, etc, I thought this was a miss.

Crunching Numbers On Stern Insider Connected Badges

I’ve been working on a collaboration with Dan Rosenstein (Pinball Innovators & Makers Podcast), pulling together a public database of Stern Insider Connected badges and tracking usage data to see if we could glean any useful insights about the state of Insider Connected broadly and its reflection on the current pinball market overall.

We’re still wrapping our heads around some of the takeaways, but at a high level, here are some data points that stood out. We may revisit this in a longer form at a later date.

  • Insider Connected likely has well over 100,000 account sign-ups

    • As of April 8th, 99,173 people have earned Stern’s easiest milestone badge, “Play 5 total Insider Connected games.” Assuming there’s a non-insignificant number of people who signed up and never reached the first milestone (typical of many digital services), I’d guess the pool of account sign-ups are anywhere between 150,000 and 200,000.

    • As far as active users, it’s probably far less than the 99,173 who hit the 5 total games milestone as not every one of those users will remain engaged, but for the sake of this piece let’s say the app has 100,000 active users.

  • Most Stern Insider Connected players don’t play daily

    • Among milestone badges (Consecutive Days, Different Days, Total Games) Consecutive Days is by far the weakest performer, looking at both total engagement and the drop-off rate between each level. For example, where 99,173 people have earned the first Total Games milestone badge, only 33,629 have earned the first Consecutive Days milestone (3 days) and only 16,891 have earned the second Consecutive Days milestone (5 days), which is a drop-off rate of almost 50%!

      • In the entire universe of Stern Insider Connected users, only 1,682 have made it to the 30-day streak.

      • This suggests that most pinball players, at least the ones who sign up for something like Insider Connected, are not in the habit of playing Stern IC games daily, which may or may not extend to pinball as a whole.

  • The app launch has made a big difference in user engagement

    • The Stern Insider Connected mobile app launched Nov 21, 2023.

    • The last campaign to run without the mobile app was the Jurassic Park Dino DNA Quest, which ran from October 2 to November 1, 2023. That received a total of 10,333 badge earns or roughly 344/day.

    • The campaign that ran immediately after, 7 Days of 007, earned 10,402 badges during its run from December 7-14, 2023, or 1,486/day. That’s a 3x boost!

    • Similarly, November’s seasonal campaign (Godzilla Day, George Gomez Quest, The Heroes Quest) saw 10,948 badge earns while the December seasonal campaign (Sci-Fi “O” My, Stay Frosty) saw 45,466 badge earns. Another 3x boost! It’s amazing what happens when you remove friction for the end user.

  • Stern IC is definitely growing, but it’s still a small pool of users

    • Insider Connected launched in August of 2021. That year, 628 people earned the dedicated Pinball Expo event badge. In 2023 (prior to the app launch) 1,193 people earned that year’s badge. A 90% bump in a couple of years is nothing to laugh at, but relatively speaking, that still feels like a small number.

  • The hardest quest badge to earn was the Overlord Defeated badge from the Stop the Overlord, Save the Tour campaign

    • Of the 66,748 total badge earns, only 116 users earned the top prize (0.17%).

If you’re into this kind of stuff, be sure to join the Stern Pinball Insider Connected Enthusiasts group on Facebook!

Stern to Re-Run Black Knight: Sword of Rage Pros

In a surprise move to everyone except Don Garrison, Stern has indicated plans to produce a small run of Black Knight Sword of Rage pro models later this year. Originally released in 2019, Steve Ritchie’s third Black Knight game received a tepid response from the market and was discontinued by 2020. It took a few years but I guess this means BK:SOR has found its audience enough to warrant putting the game back on the line.

Kineticist Goes Corporate?

Hah, just kidding. As if this tiny pinball business could go corporate. That’s just not how I roll. But something that is in the cards, thanks to a generous gift from a supporter, is a fancy upgraded domain name!

Kineticist can now be found at Kineticist.COM instead of Kineticist.CO. For anyone who is even remotely familiar with the complexities of acquiring many .com versions of domain names, you’ll know this is no small feat. Both Kineticist.co and Kineticist.com will take you to the same place, so nothing changes for you, but for me, it’s like putting on your very first tailored suit.

Giveaway of the Week

Speaking of Don Garrison, of Don’s Pinball Podcast fame, he is currently running a giveaway for some Jaws side armor from CabCustom. To enter, email a photo of yourself and a Jaws pinball machine to [email protected] by 4/29 for a drawing on Facebook Live on 4/30. Go, go, go!

Creator Highlights of the Week

Poll of the Week

How often do you use Stern's Insider Connected platform?

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Last Week’s Poll Results

How much do you care about pinball rumors and gossip?

🟨🟨🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️ A lot (22)

🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 A little (46)

🟨🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ Not very much (18)

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ Not at all (11)

“Hype-Train goes whooo whooo!”

“I may be an outlier but there's enough in life already: Pinball is fun but too much gossip/noise detracts from enjoying games already on this earth.”

“I want to know if something is potentially coming that I should be saving my money for before I jump at the game that pops up for sale that I've been thinking about buying.”

“The constant desire to break rumors (usually completely unfounded) is tiresome.”

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