Date: 26th August, 2021

Stern Pinball today revealed their online connectivity system designed to link their pinball machines to players, operators and Stern themselves.

Stern Pinball's new Insider Connected programme
Stern Pinball’s new Insider Connected programme

Launching in the next few weeks, Insider Connected expands the company’s existing Stern Insider Basic and All-Access programmes to allow players to log-on to their account at a supported Stern Pinball machine using a QR code reader built into the bottom apron.

The Insider Connected system built into a Led Zeppelin machine
The Insider Connected system built into a Led Zeppelin machine

To access the Insider Connected system, players will need to create a personal account on the Stern website. This will then give them a unique QR code which they can record – either by taking a snapshot on their phone, by e-mail or even by printing it out. There is currently no suggestion of an app which will allow registration or store the QR code.

Players need to register on the Stern website
Players need to register on the Stern website

Once they have their code, a player will be able to scan it on a QR code reader built into the bottom apron of a supported Spike 2 system game. Spike 2 games are those which feature an LCD panel in the backbox. Future titles will have this reader built-in, but replacement aprons will be sold to allow earlier Spike 2 titles to also work with the Insider Connected system.

Scanning a player's unique QR code
Scanning a player’s unique QR code

If the machine is connected to the internet – either wirelessly or through an Ethernet cable – and registered on the Stern system, it will look up the player’s details on the Stern servers and populate the player’s name and playing history on the display. Their game score and in-game achievements will then be sent back to Stern to be added to the player’s record.

A new achievements system will also be added to future titles, giving another layer of objectives to achieve during gameplay in addition to the standard game rules.

A player’s scores, achievements and play history will then be available for them to view in their Insider Connected section of the Stern Pinball website.

Many additional player features are also planned for the system, including interacting with the game creators.

Connecting the player with the game development team
Connecting the player with the game development team

The Insider Connected system will be free for players to use, while QR code reader kits up upgrade older titles are expected to be offered at an affordable price point.

A new bottom arch is needed to add the Insider Connected system to an existing Spike 2 game
A new bottom arch is needed to add the Insider Connected system to an existing Spike 2 game

The link between the machine and the players is only one of the three ways the Insider Connected system communicates.

Operators will also be able to create accounts and register their machines along with their locations. A companion system called Insider Connected Pro will provide operators with detailed statistics about their machines’ operation and earnings.

Any faults can be flagged so that a repairer can be ready when they make a site visit, while statistics about how the game is being played, which features are started and how level the machine is will be available too. Probably most importantly, the operator will be able to see the earnings information and when the machine is taking money.

There is no information yet about whether the Pro version of Insider Connected will have a cost associated with it, or how much it will be.

The third link to a connected machine is back to Stern Pinball themselves. A wealth of valuable information – including everything the player and operator sees and much more – is available for the company’s development, diagnostic and marketing purposes.

If certain features on a game are rarely started, the software developers could bring out an update to the game code to make them more achievable. Similarly, if players are choosing to always skip certain modes or awards, the scoring balance of the gameplay could be adjusted to make them more rewarding.

Stern might also see if a certain feature or toy is regularly breaking or becoming inactive, using that to make future iterations more robust or make stronger replacements available at the Stern Shop. For marketing, Stern would be able to contact operators and either advise on ways to increase earnings or let them know about the upcoming availability of more of their best-earning titles.

Loyalty rewards could also be offered to players to encourage them to seek out and play connected Stern Pinball titles.

There are many possible ways to utilise the data generated once the machine, player and operator are linked. Some of these will be available at launch, but the features of the Insider Connected system are expected to expand over the coming months and years.

Stern Pinball have an interview with their Vice-President of Game Design, George Gomez, where he talks about the Insider Connected system and how it evolved from the early days of machine interconnectivity. It is Episode 12 of the Stern Insider Pinball Podcast but is only available to those who register for the current Stern Insider programme.

However, a video by George Gomez describing the functions of Insider Connected is publicly available.

George and Stern have a history of using QR codes on their machines to promote player interaction. His Transformers design for the company included no fewer than ten of them on the translite, instruction card, bottom apron and ball shooter. Those linked to the now discontinued sternpinball-transformers.com website, however that was a one-way interaction. The new Insider Connected system provides much greater interaction and involvement from both players and operators.

Stern Pinball also released this promotional video to announce their Insider Connected programme.

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