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Stern Sees A Bright Future In Digital Pinball

I've been playing pinball since the word "arcade" referred to a location, and not a style of game. Over time, the machines' presence faded into near obscurity. Manufacturers went out of business, and it became increasingly tougher to track down tables to play. That's why I've enthusiastically supported companies like Farsight Studios, which works to digitally recreate classic tables that I wouldn't otherwise be able to access. Stern Pinball is a fan of digital pinball as well. I spoke with Jody Dankberg, Stern's director of marketing, about what the future holds. As it turns out, it's a great time to be a pinball fan.

"It’s neat for a lot of reasons," Dankberg says of digital pinball. "It’s great for pinball awareness. More and more people are being exposed to pinball via these digital games than ever before. It’s educating people how to play pinball a little bit. It’s different than a physical table, but it helps you understand some of the physical concepts and the rules."

The virtual tables are also having a very real effect on the secondary marketplace for machines. "Farsight is recreating some of our older tables, and some of the older Williams and Gottleib tables, and we’ve seen some of the used values of those machines rise. We did a Ripley’s Believe it or Not with them, and then shortly after the release of the table, it was hard to get a used Ripley’s machine. That was a cool side effect, as well."

I've enjoyed playing Pinball Arcade's adaptations of existing tables, but the rosters of available tables have understandably been running behind. If you want to play the Star Trek or Metallica table, for example, you'll either need to find a place that has one or pony up several thousand dollars to buy your own. Moving forward, Dankberg sees that changing. "Ideally what you’d like to see is when we launch, let’s go back to Star Trek, when we launch Star Trek, it would be cool if there was a Stern Pinball app with the Star Trek table," Dankberg says. "I can 100-percent envision that, where it’s perhaps a one-ball preview, and maybe you have to pay for the table, or maybe it’s a full game. And that can be great for a lot of reasons. One, it would be great brand awareness. Two, it’s going to be great marketing for that game, specifically. And three, it could be a great revenue source for Stern. We’re really growing and there’s a lot of cool opportunities with advertising. And it would be educational – it would teach people how to play the games. We love digital pinball. We have to figure out how it works for what we’re doing here, but I think it’s a good thing."

Our conversation covered much more than just pinball's digital counterpart. Come back next week for the complete interview, where we talk about pinball's resurgence, the process of playtesting machines, and why bands are so excited to get involved in pinball.

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