Woke Waffles

John Wick Launch | Marketing Rant | Boutique Numbers Update | Multimorphic Updates | Kidforce Pinball | Poll Results

It’s always something with a Stern release, isn’t it? Last time, there was no ball-eating shark in Jaws. Now, there are no guns in John Wick.

The thing is, usually how this plays out is over the next 6-12 months, everyone will get a chance to play the game, the code will mature, and then folks will start coming around to it and forget all about the initial controversy.

But it’s giving us a lot to discuss This Week in Pinball, so let’s get at it.

This Week’s Pinball Agenda:

  • Song of the Week

  • Pinball News of the Week

    • John Wick in 3 parts: the launch, a marketing rant, and quick takes on the game

    • Updates to pinball market data

    • Multimorphic updates

    • A new Danesi release

    • Kidforce Pinball upgrades

  • Creator Highlights of the Week

  • Poll of the Week (I’m scared for this one!)

Song of the Week

I started off the week thinking I’d throw a Dogstar song in here ‘cause did you know Keanu Reeves is in a band? That’s funny! Then I actually listened to some Dogstar tracks and I decided I couldn’t subject any of you to that.

Then Stern released a gunless John Wick, and I had to cycle through every gun-related song in the iPod in my brain, from Mission of Burma’s That’s When I Reach for My Revolver to CHVRCHES Gun and Har Mar Superstar’s Lady, You Shot Me.

Finally, I settled on Frankie’s Gun! by The Felice Brothers, which is stylistically the opposite of anything related to John Wick, but maybe that’s part of its charm in this situation. The Felice Brothers are a folk-rock/Americana act from upstate New York that started in the mid-aughts. This song is supposedly about a gangster in Chicago who gets shot by his partner after a routine job. The storytelling is what grabs me in this song, but it’s also super catchy.

Should you get the chance, I highly recommend seeing them live in Texas on a hot, cloudless Sunday morning, hung over, after staying out till 2 am the night prior, preferably with a tallboy in hand.

Pinball News of the Week

Stern Releases John Wick

The news of the week, as it usually is when Stern releases a new game, is the launch of John Wick pinball (code named Waffles).

Unlike prior recent releases, they did a pretty good job keeping leaks mostly buttoned up, which is something I believe Gary Stern had indicated they would do in an interview following the Jaws leaks.

Things seemed to go a little pear-shaped starting Friday morning, however, when an astute community member noticed a John Wick listing on Stern’s Insider Connected location page for their factory arcade.

Oops.

The teaser trailer dropped shortly after that image started making the rounds on Pinside and elsewhere.

On Monday, we got the Story Trailer. Then, on Tuesday, just before the Insider All-Access LE sale at 12pm (EST), someone somehow found a link to an unlisted YouTube video by Kongs-R-Us, who is one of several YouTube influencers Stern partnered with for the Wick reveal (more on this later). That was quickly shared to Pinside, made private again, and then released minutes later alongside the rest of Stern’s opening salvo. Bee of Kongs-R-Us would explain the whole thing in a follow-up live stream later.

My guess is that this snafu accelerated Stern’s content release schedule a tad. If we had followed their published schedule, we’d have gotten Premium photos on the 8th and Pro photos on the 10th, but both of those were published on Stern’s website alongside everything else on Tuesday the 7th. And we still don’t have the Stern Insider Podcast, which was supposed to come out on the 8th.

What can you say? Best laid plans, etc. etc.

From there, the community conversation quickly shifted to the game’s lack of gun imagery found on the playfield, the cabinet art, or the translite (LCD clips, however, seem to feature plenty). Conclusions were reached. Shots were exchanged (figuratively). How could this be a John Wick-themed pinball machine without guns? Has Stern gone woke?

Turns out it was a licensing requirement, as Stern’s George Gomez would later clarify on Facebook.

Largely, this makes sense to me. While John Wick the movie is a bullet-riddled “gun-fu” action romp, it is a fundamentally different product from John Wick the pinball machine.

Putting myself in the shoes of the IP holder, they might want to treat John Wick the movie (the thing that generates related money-making opportunities) differently from any market-expanding derivative products like a pinball machine, so that the derivative is more of a complement to the core product and to minimize the potential risk of detracting from the core in any way.

Every licensor is probably going to be different in that regard, like how Stern could only use approved movie poster assets in James Bond or how Deadpool’s guns needed to be fantasy weapons. The product has to serve the needs of the licensor first and the licensor is going to have a different set of priorities than what Stern or the average pinball fan might have.

For what it’s worth, after writing the launch article linked above, which required a few hours of combing through photos and other content, I didn’t even notice the lack of guns until it was pointed out by someone else on my team. Everyone is going to see things differently depending on what their priorities are.

That said, this is part of the reason why I thought John Wick was a weird theme choice for Stern in the lead-up to the reveal. A John Wick game that leaned into the realistic modern gun imagery would not play well in the market, at least at the scale Stern needs to reach.

Anecdotally, I’ve heard plenty of stories from operators and collectors who had issues with games like Walking Dead and Iron Maiden, mostly due to the depicted blood/violence/gore.

Frankly, I’m surprised they pulled it off with Wick as well as they did!

A Pinball Marketing Rant

Regarding the marketing push… my one major (and admittedly self-serving) frustration as someone who has been focusing on creating pinball content almost exclusively for the last 2 years is that Stern (or realistically, Stern’s PR agency) seemed to turn a blind eye to the dozens of pinball-focused content creators who would have jumped at the kind of opportunity that Kongs-R-Us and others received.

It sounds like Stern did West Coast, Midwest, and East Coast media previews for the game. I live just north of Boston and certainly could have found a way to get to NYC for something like this were I invited.

Heck, I would have settled for a package of high-quality images so that I didn’t have to trawl Stern’s website for them myself.

I understand the media and marketing logic. Stern needs to focus on larger audiences that help expand the pinball buying market, and they have the enthusiast market (which this publication mostly caters to) already cornered.

I’m going to cover their launch whether they engage me or not.

On the other hand, I have what is essentially a public list of active pinball creators, and I know what it takes to run media events and conduct outreach (I’ve done both).

With just a little due diligence and marginal effort, couldn’t Stern push to include their core audiences and creator networks a little more in marketing efforts like this one?

For example, before every launch Stern holds a briefing with their dealer/distributor network where they talk about the new game and answer questions.

You can do the exact same thing with a group of pre-approved, vetted content creators. Heck, Zach Meny, as both a distributor and a creator, is able to leverage this information in his podcasts and they are stronger content for it.

As pinball enthusiasts ourselves, even though we may not have the reach of larger media outlets, we’ll do a far better job of getting good launch content out the door than some of the junk I see at every Stern release (Guns. Lots of guns. as a sub-head for the game where the main talking point is its lack of guns, for starters).

Or this atrocious monstrosity of a podcast (Tim Sexton saves it from a substance perspective). How do you work with this outlet for the launch and not include any of the regular pinball podcasters at the same time?

All we need are the tools (information, content, access) and time (what embargos are for), and we’ll take care of the rest.

Quick Takes on John Wick Pinball

Back to the pinball of it all. I had a number of snap reactions to the game, with the standard caveat that I haven’t played it yet, and that’s the most important part.

Randy Martinez nailed the art direction.

One of my favorite aspects of the Wick film franchise is the way director Chad Stahelski and cinematographers Dan Laustsen, Fraser Taggart, and Jonathan Sela use light and color throughout. It’s almost as distinctive as the gun-fu fight choreography. Martinez has perfectly captured that Wick vibe on the playfield and elsewhere. Check out some of the stills I pulled from the film to see what I mean.

The games are packed with mechs and toys.

Moreso on the Premium and LE trims of this game, between the Blood Oath Marker, Weapons Crate, Muscle Car Bash Toy, Center Ramp Diverter/Ball Lock, Red Circle Club, etc. There are a lot of physical goodies for folks who have been clamoring for more things on the playfield.

It has a number of shots that will be fun to explore.

The game was quickly dinged for being a “fan layout” (a favorite enthusiast critique). That critique is often used to denote lazy or contrived design work, but when I look at the playfield, I see that every major shot is going to have its own unique “feeling.” Hitting the left ramp will feel markedly different from hitting the right ramp and the left scoop will feel different from hitting the weapons crate and the right scoop. For Eisman’s first design, that’s impressive.

More advanced Insider Connected integrations.

I’m enjoying seeing the advancements in the Insider Connected platform game-to-game. Some people may not like the push notifications concept, but it sounds like another fun layer for interacting with the machine.

New design blood!

There are at least two people on the John Wick team who are new to pinball production or in new roles. Elliot Eisman will get all the press as the designer, but also notable is Joshua Henderson helping on the code front. Joshua is an incredible competitive player and was hired at Stern in 2023. Good for both of them!

Overall, I’m far more impressed with this release than I was expecting based on rumors and the theme alone. I can’t wait to play it!

Multimorphic Production Updates

Multimorphic CEO Gerry Stellenberg published a few updates this week on P3 production and various odds and ends. Notable highlights include:

  • Getting caught up on the Final Resistance backlog ahead of Princess Bride production this Summer.

  • Availability of Backbox and Side Target LED Board update kits.

  • Pre-order availability for speaker panel and front cabinet artwork kits.

  • New print files for 3D-printed parts so customers can print from home as needed.

Speaking of Multimorphic…

Scott Danesi Releases Final Resistance Soundtrack

Pinball designer/music producer/cool dude Scott Danesi released a high-quality digital download of his work on the Final Resistance soundtrack. I grabbed a copy, and it got me super hyped to write this newsletter.

Kidforce Pinball Upgrades

This is a cool story from Matt Owen about the recent arcade upgrade that Kidforce Pinball undertook outside of Cleveland, Ohio. They now have 30 pins available to play!

I don’t have the numbers to back this up, but one thing I’ve noticed while running Kineticist is that businesses that invest in large collections of pinball machines tend to be pretty resilient. Thriving even. It’s the places with smaller collections where I see most of the churn.

Correlation ≠ causation and all that jazz, but there’s something there.

Which Boutiques are Moving Units; Numbers Update

Here are a few interesting updates to our piece last week on the boutique manufacturers and which ones are selling games. They are small nuggets of data but reinforce the point that there’s a good portion of the market we can’t yet see.

  1. A reader who recently received delivery of a Big Lebowski from Dutch Pinball said the machine's serial number indicated at least 1250 units had been sold so far. We had it at closer to 600.

  2. Barrels of Fun told us they just got Labyrinth #200 out the door. We had them closer to 150.

  3. On the latest LoserKids Pinball Podcast, Davey from Stumblor Pinball said he’d sold about 2,000 of the Noodle Bar mods for Godzilla. Unless he’s got an insane hit rate on this specific mod, I’m comfortable saying Stern has sold way north of the 5k we referenced in the newsletter.

Creator Highlights of the Week

I’m way over my word count for the week, so we’ll go quickly through a few creator highlights.

Poll of the Week

What's the more important aspect in a John Wick pinball machine?

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Last Week’s Poll Results

If Stern took a page from Dave & Busters and added betting to the Insider Connected app, would you participate?

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ Yes (35)

🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 No (134)

“I lose enough money already with this hobby. ”

“Only via IC, Scorbit or similar can a mechanism include the vital aspect of handicapping based on skill levels, odds, etc.”

“I don't even understand gambling on arcade games. Don't people have anything better to do with their time? What are the propositions? How long until a Rush node 10 board blows? How many rage tilts on Star Wars and Jurassic Park in 1 hour of play? Over/Under on many people fell asleep while playing Led Zepplin between 6-10 PM?”

“In my opinion, gambling does not belong in pinball. I have negative thoughts about gambling in general and adding that to arcade and pinball gameplay pushes me away from participating. I like friendly high score competitions and tournament play. Not betting.”

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