Stern Pinball had a major presence at CES 2022 this year, introducing Stern’s Insider Connected and a number of new tables. Gamers Heroes got a chance to sit down with Stern Pinball Chief Creative Officer George Gomez to learn more.
Gamers Heroes: CES focused on Stern Insider Connected, which enhances player engagement and provides a robust set of tools. What inspired this feature?
George Gomez: Connecting the games was an opportunity to not only bring service related features to the games but more importantly to transform how people engage with them both at the games and also away from the games. Insider Connected very much extends interactions related to the games into any connected device; phones, tablets and pc’s. In our world we engage with connected devices in so many ways, especially in the gaming space. In the early 2000’s I was the Executive Producer of a development team at Midway Games working on XBox and PlayStation games. At that time XBOX Live and PlayStation Network were coming alive. I was very influenced by that experience. Connecting those games transformed how we interact with them and I wanted to bring something very similar to pinball. It was important to me to be true to the game and extend the elements that made sense to extend. I have no interest in making pinball something that it is not. So not every feature that works in the video game space may apply.
Gamers Heroes: On this note, how will this tie into the Stern Pro Circuit?
George Gomez: Insider Connected is an ecosystem, it will affect every element of the Stern Pinball universe, the games, the Stern Store, Stern Events, Technical Service and Operations. The Pro Circuit will benefit from an entire suite of tournament tools that is being developed. The first impact of that set will be leaderboards.
Gamers Heroes: In the San Francisco Bay Area, we have places like the Pacific Pinball Museum and Free Gold Watch, along with pinball events like Pin-A-Go-Go and the Golden State Pinball festival. How is Stern Pinball looking into working with the Stern Army and other enthusiasts in the future?
George Gomez: Stern Army is a vital street team that we love because it helps to grow the fan base and it enhances the social aspects of location pinball. We will continue to support this effort and enhance it with Insider Connected features like Challenge Quests and event and location badges.
Gamers Heroes: What inspired you to work with Rush for your new pinball machine and getting the voices added?
George Gomez: Rush was a dream property to work with because Geddy and Alex were both interested in contributing directly. They were very engaged and generous with their time and talent. That type of collaboration makes the game genuine and brings unquestionable credibility. They also selected the music; 16 songs out of their incredible portfolio.
Gamers Heroes: Another machine revealed during CES is the Jurassic Park Home Edition. Pinball has typically been something played in public areas – how do you see the home market evolving with tables like this?
George Gomez: We are very interested in growing the home market. In the last 10 years a large part of our market has consisted of consumers purchasing our commercial grade product for the home. The Home Editions like Jurassic Park and Star Wars are intended to provide a lower entry level price point that will be more accessible to families and hopefully helps us create the next generation of hard core enthusisasts. Unique to our time is a scenario where lots of little kids are playing pinball at home. This is a relatively new phenomenon that was facilitated by enthusiasts putting commercial machines in their homes. To me this is very exciting because this generation of children will have grown up with the games, which means that there is a great chance that it will be part of their entertainment mix for the rest of their lives. This guarantees the future of the game unlike anything in pinball’s history. And bringing the conversation back to Insider Connected, I’ve heard from numerous dad’s that the kids are more focused on earning Achievements than playing for score, which when you think about it, is very consistent with how they interact with their other games.
Gamers Heroes: Since the beginning of the pandemic, more people have been buying up pinball machines and arcade machines – I have a friend in particular with two in his living room! While you have these home editions in place, do you see there being more of a market for more limited edition tables for collections?
George Gomez: Our audience is diverse; some people collect, some people mod games, some people are casual players, some people are tournament players, some people enjoy clubs or league play. We will continue to create games, features, events and models that try to address every element of the audience.
George Gomez: Stern Pinball has the SD Card Images for the Spike System, which see regular updates. How has this changed the world of pinball in your eyes?
George Gomez: With Insider Connected those updates will hit your machine in a more modern way just like the rest of the connected products that you own. Updates are a part of the world as we know it. Your computers, phones, cars, watches and any connected device routinely get updates. In our world this power allows us to keep the games fresh and enhance the audience’s engagement with the hobby.
Gamers Heroes: What would you say goes into a successful pinball machine?
George Gomez: A pinball machine is like any other form of entertainment in that it must be fun and engaging. Compelling games give you many ways to play, they allow the progression through the game to take many distinct paths. Humor plays a big part, if you can make a player laugh, you’re way ahead. I think players want new experiences within the familiar. Pinball is a medium just like film or music is a medium. You want to see and experience new stories in films and you want to listen to new music. In all of these scenarios there are common elements, the tools of creation, instruments, etc. and artists within each medium have to create and bring new experiences to the audience.
Gamers Heroes: Gamers Heroes primarily deals with console and PC titles for platforms like the Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4. What has it been like working with simulators like Stern Pinball Arcade that provide a purely digital experience?
George Gomez: Video pinball is a product in and of itself. I’ve always enjoyed both but in different ways. Video pinball should take advantage of the things it does best, meaning that things like fantasy and versatility should always be the focus. Both mediums are best when they play to their strengths.
Gamers Heroes: After previously working with properties like The Mandalorian and Godzilla, are there any licensed properties you’d personally like to work with in the future?
George Gomez: I think that pinball will always reflect pop culture and we are always looking for interesting themes that could fit the medium.
Gamers Heroes: What pinball machine are you most proud of?
George Gomez: Honestly, nowadays I’m most proud of the performance of our dev studio. Managing that is my day to day. I’m very focused on helping the teams generate amazing stuff like The Mandalorian, Godzilla and RUSH. I’m very lucky that my portfolio includes a strong mix of games that people really like. Amongst the games that I’ve designed I’m very proud of games like Monster Bash and Deadpool because I enjoyed making them as much as I enjoy playing them.