There is a pinball factory in Chicago that is the last of its kind. Stern Pinball in Melrose Park is the only maker of arcade-quality pinball games in the world.
If there is a Pinball wizard these days his name would be Gary Stern, who as CEO of Stern Pinball in Melrose Park, carries on a legacy forged by iconic Chicago gaming manufacturers like Williams, Bally and Gottlieb as the only company on the planet still making full size arcade quality pinball games.
"We don’t like to say the last, we say the only. We don’t like saying the last because it makes it sound like we’re quitting, and we're not quitting,” Stern said.
The place literally hums with dozens and dozens of workers producing some 5,000 games a year, half of which are exported overseas.
Each game contains 3,500 different parts and a half mile of wire!!
“This isn't like your home computer, where one plugs into your monitor and the other into a computer,” Stern said. “There's four man days of labor making a pinball machine. That relates to about 30 hours a game. That's more than the Ford Taurus that was manufactured near here.”
Titles with widespread appeal like Batman, Spiderman and Avatar are important for any game, but it all comes back to Gary's favorite word: fun.
“That's the most important thing: the game has to be fun. Capital F, capital U, capital N, fun,” Stern said.
Stern's biggest target demographic is men in their late forties and fifties, who might not be very skilled but are easily seduced by flashing lights, flippers and nostalgia.
Stern has been in pinball his whole life, as his Dad was before him, carrying on a great Chicago tradition.
The entry-level games cost around $3,500. but the premium, special edition models can go as high as $6,500