5 Future Wishlist Stern Insider Connected Features

Let’s look into the future and imagine what Stern Insider Connected might/could/should look like someday. Some features we’d like to see implemented. And if you want to use the comments for the opposite features you would not like to see added, feel free to chime in as well.

We are fans of Stern Insider Connected (IC) in our household and several PGM members have spoken positively about the program. For the small corner of the pinball universe not yet familiar with IC, it’s Stern Pinball’s online server-based system that keeps track of achievements in games as well as worldwide leaderboards across their modern pinball machines (Spike 2+ machines since 2016 are IC-capable). You can earn badges for a wide variety of different activities, and Stern regularly releases updates to earn new virtual badges, which we report on here like this recent one: What’s Coming in IC Future? (UNOFFICIAL) + June 2024 Stern Pinball Insider Connected Quests

The order and importance of these wishlist future Insider Connected features isn’t prioritized. Will leave that to individual readers, because what features some care about, others don’t and vice versa. Also, disclaimer: nobody here at PGM works for Stern or has any affiliation with Stern Pinball. These are purely wishlist items, we don’t have any idea if any of these will ever be released or even taken seriously in any way by Stern. Hopefully, if somebody from Stern is reading that has some juice, pass this article around and discuss it internally.

1. Home and on-location Stern Pinball IC Registered Owners can create worldwide tournaments and leaderboards

Think Zen Pinball virtual pinball tournaments, only with Stern IC pinball machines. The ability for anybody that owns a Stern Pinball that’s Insider Connected to create and share online tournaments for their family, friends and others to play in/with/against would be amazing.

Currently, only on location owners can create local leaderboard tournaments. At Next Level Pinball, our favorite on-location place to play, they have several TVs above Stern Pinball Alley featuring monthly leaderboard tournaments, so anybody that stops in and plays any of their IC machines can play.

Are there downsides to mixing home/non-verified with verified pinball games? Absolutely. For one, others can play with the glass off and enter your tourney with bogus scores. This sort of user-manipulation currently exists with open source code virtual pinball (VPX, FP) tourneys.

But most have the “verified” for achievements already, so it’s an easy way to separate the leaderboard results (verified vs. non-verified/home use only [HUO]). Stern already has a way of determining this with registered machines.

2. Add Additional Game Play Modes like Video mode games, Timed-Challenges, One-Ball and all with shared Leaderboards

Jaws is the first IC game that has a video mode with its own leaderboard. It also offers a unique 3D or 2D view mode. Imagine more video mode games like this being added increasing interest in/around a machine you might not be playing as much. (UPDATE 6/28/2024 @ 7:55am PST: Yesterday, with code v0.91 release, they added a new 4th of July challenge mode, with 3 position leaderboard. They also added a 3 position leaderboard for Shark Hunt. Additionally, contracts that are being sent via the Stern IC app for mobile devices started 6/27/2024, another potentially innovative way to drive pinball players to IC games).

Maybe Stern needs Spike 3 to be able to expand further upon video mode capabilities, maybe they need bigger backbox/LCD screens like Jersey Jack is doing, whatever it takes, give us some more games we can play with our flipper and action button controls.

Beyond video mode games, however, there are multiple different game modes Stern could add like:

  • one ball challenges – score as much as you can with only one ball, no extra balls. Separate leaderboards.
  • time-restricted – score as much as you can with unlimited balls, with a limited amount of time — 5 minutes, 10, configurable
  • number of flips – score as much as you can with a limited amount of presses of the flippers: say 200, 500, configurable
  • objects hit – score as much as you can by hitting a certain amount of objects maximum – say 200 objects, configurable
  • mode focused – score as much as you can within a specific mode, perhaps a multiball mode challenge for example
  • ??? – readers and others, including Stern, can come up with even more different play modes, each providing a unique gameplay focus and return us to playing the pinball machine again

These different gameplay modes provide additional replayability beyond playing the standard pinball, 3 balls, beat the wizard mode, score as high as you can as well as a practically limitless amount of tournaments in/around a game. If people don’t want these modes, it’s simple: don’t play them. But for those of us that would love to see these additional modes added, Stern Insider Connected offers the ability to track and add these types of additional game modes.

3. Home and On Location Registered Owners Custom-Created Virtual Badges

Badges aren’t for everybody, no. But for those of us that like them, there’s plenty more that can be done in this area than what’s being offered as of this writing.

Currently there are a small few badges that only on-location owners can create. Why not open this up so that Stern Pinball Home [HUO] customers can also create custom badges. For example, if we buy a Stern Pinball, I’d love to make a PlayGamesMore badge earned if somebody comes to my location and plays. The only on-location badges you can earn are typically badges like: Pinball Hall of Fame and the year they visited there and for Stern Pinball launches.

Now, there are downsides here, perhaps many. But players could have lockers and, again, these badges could be separated by official Stern badges, on location/business badgets and owner/custom-created badges. It is a digital world, so having an unlimited amount of different badges and when/where/how they were earned is a neat feature.

Being only able to earn Stern and a limited number of on location badges makes them more rare, yes, but sharing and allowing any Stern Pinball customer that buys one of their machines to be part of the experience.

Just to be clear, this wishlist feature request applies only to owners of registered machines, not anybody that’s registered as a Stern Insider Connected customer. The most inexpensive new (NIB) Stern Pinball as of this writing is $7,000 USD, so this isn’t a huge pool of people that could be creating these.

4. More Achievements beyond 1.0 Code

Once Stern releases game code 1.0, the game is generally considered to be “finished” but adding additional achievements beyond 1.0 code should be considered. Stern benefits most when their customers keep playing their machines. The kiss of death for their business is a lack of interest.

One way that Stern has already established making a game better from when it’s released, is continuing to add achievements through game code updates, however, once they reach 1.0 code status, other than minor things, usually Stern moves on. What if they don’t?

This is where we get into the controversial world of paid DLC. This leads to #5, easily the most controversial wishlist item.

5. DLC for older games past 1.0 code – yes, even if *some* is paid

Everybody likes free DLC. So do I. Heck, you didn’t pay anything to read this article, so I’m a strong believer in free.

But free doesn’t pay the bills. Free doesn’t keep a business operating forever.

People don’t like paid DLC. They think: hey, I just paid multiple thousands of $$$ for this machine and I want everything for free forever. You don’t sell me something this expensive and then get to charge me more.

Here’s the reality: servers cost somebody money. There are ongoing costs to maintain for these hosting-related expenses. Stern can’t continue to provide all of this free forever. If beyond the completed game 1.0 code we want additional game modes, features and access to these servers, a reasonable cost for this might not be popular to customers, but could be necessary for the survival and thriving of the business.

Now, 100% not saying or even suggesting that games that are unfinished should be released and sold at a premium — which is what Stern Pinball has been and continues to do (read my detailed thoughts on John Wick being released “too soon” here: John Wick Pro + Premium (Stern 2024 v0.81 code) Detailed Thoughts after Flipping On Location + Show) — but once they reach what they consider to be complete game code — 1.0 code — then going beyond that time, continuing to add to completed games costing some kind of reasonable amount is worth entertaining.

This doesn’t mean your game won’t work if you don’t want to buy the DLC. It means you won’t get what’s been added to the game after it’s been completed (1.0 code currently, but Stern could always set a new, higher bar for this).

I’m OK with the $39.99/year for “All Access” that Stern has already setup as a potentially reasonable cost in exchange for all/most the future wishlist items mentioned in this article. $40/year for 10 years is $400. That’s not much more than the cosmetic side armor on the Godzilla machine ($300), but in exchange for that $40, registered owners could gain access to additional gain modes, tournament options and so on.

IMPORTANT: People that have no interest in buying a Stern Pinball machine and only want to play on Insider Connected machines should always have a free account option. They should be able to play on any IC machine, register scores, access their stats for free forever. This IC service is a benefit to on location/business owners and if Stern tries to charge players, not owners, for access to this service it will dramatically reduce the number of active players.

Again, read this carefully, I’m not suggesting Stern should be overcharging for their machine, then charge more money to complete the game code. No, no, no. The original purchase should include Stern doing what they’re already doing today: complete the game code to 1.0. Beyond that, adding additional achievements and goals on finished (complete to 1.0) and/or older games, that’s what’s being considered.

Some readers will get this wrong and flame me for this suggestion, saying: “all DLC is bad!” — no, it’s not. Microtransactions, different story. I don’t want to see pinball become some kind of microtransaction hellscape. No gamer with any sort of experience in the hobby wants this world invading pinball.

We don’t need our pinball machines becoming mobile phone games, but at the same time, Stern has an opportunity to set a platform model that provides expansion to already completed games, older games, add additional functionality and still make some kind of money to pay people to program this stuff and pay for the ongoing server and hosting infrastructure.

That last part is important. Read it again before reacting. Here, I’ll make it even bigger and bolder:

Stern has an opportunity to set a platform model that provides expansion to already completed games, older games, add additional functionality and still make some kind of money to pay people to program this stuff and pay for the ongoing server and hosting infrastructure.

If we just assume Stern should forever be providing free servers for Insider Connected functionality, than we’re living in Fantasy Land. The cost of their machines doesn’t cover lifetime server access for the entire world and simply cannot sustain. If it does, then people buying should expect prices to continue to increase, maybe over $20,000+ a machine — and even that won’t guarantee servers won’t be taken down.

This model is putting the cost of these features, which benefits all players, not only owners, mostly on people buying the pinball machines and I realize that some might be or are offended by this reality. Maybe many will. I’m not as outraged by the concept, so long as I continue to get something new that returns me to the games, ability to enjoy the games to friends, family and bring others into the hobby. If all I’m doing is financing features for others by overpaying for a pinball machine and then paying money for added features that I don’t use, who wants to do that?

The ideas proposed here provide some kind of reasonable ongoing income stream for Stern and for registered owners to continue to receive new content. I don’t see this as a bad thing, but am curious what others think. It’s your turn. Use the comments if you like, and my only ask is to keep the discussion civil. The internet is capable of civil discourse — sometimes.

If you’re a pinball purist that doesn’t want any kind of connected pinball machine this probably isn’t the article you are interested in, I get that. However, having a hobby that stays stuck in the past with little innovation will eventually die or become some kind of fringe, limited activity.

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3 thoughts on “5 Future Wishlist Stern Insider Connected Features”
  1. Good stuff.
    My personal wishlist is out of control.

    I think expanding game quests beyond 1.0 is an interesting concept but right now every game gets 2000 xp points. 1000 for home users and another 1000 if you can finish it in the arcade for a total of 2000. Not sure why they have to be locked into this number across all games. Maybe that should just be the base requirement.

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