Our Son Bought a New In Box Jaws Stern Premium – The First 40 Days of Ownership – What’s the Experience Really Like?

By Todd Russell Apr29,2024

This article was written and compiled during and after the first 40 days our son, Joel, received delivery of the brand new in box (NIB) Stern Pinball Jaws Premium. Our PGM Discord was used as a notes tool to record daily diary entries, so that experiences would be recorded fresh.

This is the longest and most detailed article ever posted to PGM to date, literally over three times the word count of any other published article here. To aid with reading and reference, headings and anchor links are added below for key sections:

ARTICLE CONTENTS

This will cover what it’s been like for our family playing as well as any significant moments involving the Jaws pinball.

The Purchasing Decision

Joel lives with his two brothers in a house near Tacoma, Washington. Our grandchildren visit every two weeks this house and the Jaws machine went into the living room. When you enter the house it’s less than 20 feet from the front entrance door on the ground floor.

Buying some sort of Stern Pinball machine has been on Joel’s radar for months prior to January 2024 when Jaws was officially announced. He’d talked about buying several different Stern pins and had already mentioned significant interest in buying Jaws, should Stern announce it. There were many rumors about Jaws being a new Stern pin for quite some time, so the announcement wasn’t a huge surprise.

Joel decided to buy the machine from a local amusement device vendor: Candyman — 20+ years in business locally — that offers and services machines in our area. The deal was cash on the glass, or rather, cash in an envelope that he picked up from his bank a few hours before delivery.

At the end of this article, we’ll cover what was paid and whether or not the game was “worth it” but there’s so much more to cover before getting there. If you’d like to start there and work backwards, just skip to the end and come back, you can use the one or more of the links above. We’ll still be here, unpacking Jaws.

Now, before getting to the machine delivery and setup and play, let’s talk about the game and theme.

Game Theme

Joel is a huge fan of the original movie, Jaws. So much, that he put in his preorder for the Jaws premium the day it was announced. The theme was paramount to his buying decision, but it helped that it was designed by Keith Elwin, a world recognized player and one of the current best pinball game designers. Elwin is the same designer behind some of Joel’s favorite modern Stern pinball games: Godzilla, Jurassic Park and Iron Maiden.

Jaws is the 23rd machine in the Stern Spike 2 modern pinball family. If you’re interested in a list and my personal ranking of the other 22 created prior to 2024, see: 2023 Ranking All 22 Spike 2 Stern Pinball Machines.

Delivery & Setup

Jaws was manufactured in early 2024 and delivered on March 13, 2024 around 5pm. We received updates of progress where the truck was at via text.

As part of the deal, the vendor was paid an extra $35 to walk through the initial pin setup process, of which took around 20 minutes. The unboxing process is fairly straightforward and fast, and there are videos of unboxings all over YouTube, but the simple process can be summarized in a quick paragraph below.

Open the box, remove some box padding, cut some cords, bolt on the front legs, prop up the machine to bolt on the back legs (or hold it up, if you have strong help). Two bolts go behind the backbox to hold that in place. Open the inside of the machine through key inserted in the coin door, removing two clasps for the lockdown bar, remove lockdown bar, remove glass and then a quick inspection of both the playfield above and then underneath.

Candyman showed us how to take out the playfield, pull it out of the machine carefully — pull out the plunger, he said, so that the rubber plunger tip isn’t caught and torn off or beaten down (only a $1 part he said, but easy to damage) — and the inspect the underside of the playfield. He also mentioned to make sure we either removed the balls — which I’ll cover later in the CLR -> TROUGH section which auto-ejects the balls — or blocked so they couldn’t come out before removing the playfield.

My oh my, it looked clean under the playfield. My memory of owning an Eight Ball pinball machine was that it looked a whole lot more cluttered with wires and electronics and massive amounts of dust. None of that present in this brand new machine, of course. Kinda like looking under the hood of a brand new car and seeing everything in pristine factory condition with no road wear.

Candyman’s inspection was rather brief. Guess he was looking to make sure nothing got loose in transfer and then he showed us how to put the playfield carefully back inside the machine again. You need to lift up the back part and there is this metal handle to lift by. You lift it slightly and slide back and under the machine to bring the playfield back flush with the cabinet body.

He also showed us how to setup the tilt bob for the first time with setting of how he sets up the games on location. We were curious about that, because his games seemed fairly liberal for nudge. If the tilt bob is too unforgiving, then barely nudging the machine results in a tilt, but if it plays the opposite way, too loose, you can manhandle the machine before it tilts. Joel decided to change this on day #2, but for the first day we rolled with this setting.

Before First Play, To Wax or Not?

We asked Candyman about waxing the playfield before the first play and he told us what he did for all his on location Sterns. He used a thin coat of Mill Wax. Joel ordered a bottle of it from Pinball Life that cost $16.95 + shipping (https://www.pinballlife.com/mill-wax-playfield-wax-and-cleaner.html), but it hadn’t arrived yet. Candyman told us this bottle should last a long, long time as only a small amount is needed with each cleaning and wax.

Luckily, Candyman had some on his truck and showed us briefly how it was applied. He uses blue shop towels to apply to the playfield. PGM member Major Drain Pinball told us he only uses microfiber towels to polish and wax, so that’s what we used along with this cleaner and wax Candyman recommended. The mill wax dries fairly quickly, so it doesn’t require waiting more than a few minutes before you can start to play.

UPDATE 4/29/2024 @ 5:16am PST: After publishing, I came across the following very detailed post on Pinside with mixed to negative reaction on this product being used over time on modern clear coat playfields: Mill Wax Pinball Playfield Wax and Cleaner | All Pinball | Pinside.com. This post is over 11 years old and has some very passionate posts regarding this product. Will show this to Joel and see what he thinks. Candyman swears by this stuff and he’s been working on these machines for 20+ years. The playfields for his machines on location look great. Welcome any comments on this product below: good, bad or indifferent. Thank you.

Also, as far as leg level and pitch on the table, Candyman had us setup pretty much how it came out of the box. About a week later, we would adjust this pitch, as it wasn’t steep enough pitch.

Getting close to playing it, but first … onto inserting the balls, the balls!

Did not use Factory Provided Stern balls

Joel opted not to use the factory provided Stern balls.

There are, again, multiple articles, forum posts and plenty of internet videos that talk about the provided factory pinballs being lower quality. From a looks standpoint, these factory provided new balls certainly aren’t as shiny as the Pinsound balls from France or Ninja balls purchased from PInballLife. Joel bought two sets of Pinsounds and two sets of Ninja balls. He started the very first set with the Pinsound balls. The factory balls have never been used in his machine — and never will be, he says.

Two sets of Pinsound balls after shipping cost like $50 USD, btw.

Why does the condition of the ball matter? In our research, the steel ball is the single most damaging component of a pinball machine. So, changing out with new balls regularly, making sure the balls aren’t heavily scuffed and scratched or, worse, completely damaged and then run across the new playfield to do even more damage than they already do. Steel meets wood, guess which wins? Steel, of course.

So, if you want to perform the single most important preventive maintenance to your brand new pinball machine besides regular dusting and cleaning (which we’ll get to soon), or so we’ve learned, change the pinballs out before they get too scratched and scuffed up.

We heard different amount of number of plays from different sources, but we’ll go through later in this article what actual numbers we noticed the condition of the balls under magnification worsening to the point that we felt should be changed.

Interestingly, to the naked eye, through the glass, you can’t see the actual condition of a newer ball to slight wear, but the ball’s condition becomes very noticeable under a magnifying glass. In fact, 40 days later when we go on location and look at pinball machines, we now see the condition of the steel balls and can immediately tell worn balls that (we think, anyway) should be changed. This wasn’t a skill or even something either of us had ever paid much attention to when playing pinball before, so chalk this one up to home ownership of one of these beautiful, modern machines.

Powering on and First play!

After dropping the balls in the trough under the flippers and turning the machine on for the first time, Joel of course received the honor of playing for the very first time.

The machine arrived with exactly *1* lifetime play, presumably from Stern themselves, during the QA/QC process.

In fairness, we had both played Jaws prior to this. The pro was put on one of Candyman’s route locations over a month earlier and we’d been down to the Next Level Pinball a week earlier and played the LE. I played it only once, but Joel played the LE a dozen or so times.

This, however, was the first time either of us ever played the Premium. We both like this game — a lot. It’s one of those pins you shoot the first time and have an immediate, strong reaction toward. If you don’t like it right away, then it’s not going to grow on you, but if you like it from the start, it’s really going to resonate with repeated plays.

The LE shares the exact playfield design with the ORCA upper left playfield, the drop targets and JAWS appearing from beneath the boat as a bash toy. These are the only differences gameplay-wise from the Pro which costs $7,000 MSRP. The LE costs $13,000 and is the same playfield as the Premium but has more cosmetic upgrades including a limited number (only 1,000 exist and they are numbered with signature), bigger speakers and lit grill lights, a shaker motor, different artwork and white powder-coated protective rails and side armor.

Anyway, we enjoyed the experience playing the Jaws pro. It has a very satisfying, smooth flow with multiple shots with good angles that when repeated with skill will yield great point scoring opportunities. The addition of the upper ORCA playfield and additional reel shot on that playfield adds some interesting play additions that you do notice missing when you’re playing the Pro. If you’ve never played the Premium, however, Jaws Pro is still an enjoyable flip.

The movie assets, callouts and integration from JAWS are the best we’ve seen in any pinball machine to date. One of the knocks on Jurassic Park was the lack of movie assets and that’s been solved — big time — with Jaws. You will feel like you’re playing a game inside the movie.

And that sound … the familiar John Williams score when the shark is near? OMG, it’s use in the pinball instills all kinds of anticipation. The reel sounds when the ball goes around fishing reel, the harpoon lock and bang! when you successfully hit the roving target.

The lights that turn blood red in the chum line area, oh my.

Jaws has some innovative features too like the 3D video minigame: Shark Hunter. This game can be played after accumulating 20 shark teeth by holding both flippers and choosing as a separate game mode. You can play in 3D or 2D, although we’ve found playing in 2D to be more desirable, the 3D is a bit gimmicky, but the game itself is fast-paced and fun. It even has its own leaderboard, which is awesome. If you’d like to learn more about this video mode, see: How to Play Stern Pinball Jaws Shark Hunter Challenge Worldwide Video Mode Leaderboard Competition March 13 – March 31, 2024

The more you play Jaws, the more shark teeth and shark jaws earned, you level up your fishing ranking as well, so there’s a built-in RPG-like leveling system that rewards and encourages replay. Check your current progress here: https://insider.sternpinball.com/insider/games/123/progress

As of Day #40, I would reach the Marlin level, closing in on the 9th of 15 fishing levels.

The First Week – DAY #1-7 Diary Progress

On our PGM Discord I’ve been keeping a daily diary recording key moments for our family’s experience with Jaws and any maintenance-related entries as well as tracking the lifetime number of games played. Here’s what day #1 diary entry looks like:

One of the very first things our son setup was the Insider Connected Home Team feature (see: Own A Stern Pinball At Home? Stern Insider Home Team Feature Allows Up To 8 Players Remembered On Free Play, No QR Code Scanning Needed), with this up to 8 people can easily login without using their QR code for IC on the pinball. It’s a must-do item for convenience on a home owned Stern IC pinball machine.

HOW TO USE HOME TEAM

  • Hold left flipper button before starting game, a home menu will appear
  • user flippers to select the IC and press the middle action button to add the player(s) to the game
  • ready to start playing? Press start button and happy flipping

DAY #2 our son went in and updated the tilt bob, making it more sensitive to tilts. He felt the initial setup was a bit too liberal for nudging and wanted a tighter, easier to tilt game.

By the end of DAY #3, the pin had racked up nearly 250 lifetime plays.

First ball trails started to appear to the naked eye on DAY #4:

Through the first four days, as shown by screenshot above, I had only racked up 15 plays on the Jaws premium, so the 250+ plays, I wasn’t the bulk of the activity. Joel’s brothers that live in the same house, and then there’s my wife also playing Jaws every single day so far. We live about 20 minutes away, but we were already stopping by more to check in on the (adult) kids, lol, er, to play Jaws.

After the first new ball change, a look at the original Jaws movie drink cup in theaters drew my attention. Since the beginning of the year when Joel preordered Jaws, I’d been collecting various links, pics, articles on Jaws and sharing with him.

Finished the first week of HUO (Home Use Only) pinball play at 553 plays.

WEEK #2 – DAYS #8 – 14

On DAY #8 (3/20/2024), a week since the pin was delivered, I streamed live gameplay playing. I’ve been doing this every Wednesday from 6am-11am PST (GMT-8) ever since, see the following posts:

My plan is to continue to livestream every week, every Wednesday, that I’m still actively playing Jaws. I’ve improved from where I was barely scoring 100 million to scoring 150-350 million on average, including a score over 700 million live on stream. My goal is to get to 1 billion+. Hopefully one of these streams soon!

Code 0.87 – First Code Update

Also, on DAY #8, code 0.87 was released, but that wasn’t installed until after the stream. The code update process is on the slow side, but worked good. The process involves downloading the code update, then installing, then a verification of the installation and reboot of the pinball machine before play can resume. The whole process took twenty minutes or so to complete.

The list of massive updates for code update 0.87 was impressive, with additional game modes added for premium/LE. For context of just how huge this 0.87 update was see the details below:

  • Super Cast N’ Catch
    • Added this new mini-wizard mode that lights when you collect the final fishfinder award and consists of 3 stages:
      • Lock-a-ball stage,
      • Cast n Catch
      • Jackpot stage
  • Lock a ball in the Flip-Lock to advance to Cast n Catch stage.
  • If Flip-Lock times out during Cast n Catch stage, the mode reverts back to the Lock-a-ball stage.
  • During Cast n Catch stage, lock additional balls (if any) in left orbit lane or right ramp lane for multipliers.
  • Or shoot center ramp to lock in Cast N Catch value and advance to jackpot stage.
  • During this final stage, all major shots light for locked in Cast n Catch value.
  • 1 add-a-ball on the chum bucket is available during each jackpot stage.
  • Once jackpots time out (15 seconds), the mode reverts back to the lock-a-ball stage and the cycle repeats.
  • Cast N Catch value = 500K – 5M. Max value increases based on number of jackpots collected.
  • Number of Chum Bucket hits for add-a-ball = number of jackpot stages visited.
  • Max number of balls in play = 4 balls.
  • Radio Target – Now lighting to spot shots in modes.
  • Wheel Award – New selection display arrow scrolling mechanic to pick the awards.
  • Wheel Award – New award display appears after the selection is complete to give info on what was awarded.
  • Wheel Award – Now lit at game start.
  • Night Search – Adjustment “NIGHT MODE LIGHTING” now controls the brightness of the mode background. (see adjustments below)
  • Night Swim – Adjustment “NIGHT MODE LIGHTING” now controls the brightness of the mode background. (see adjustments below)
  • Night Swim – Shots that light Encounter Jackpot will flash between Red and White and flash the Encounter Jackpot insert to call more attention to them.
  • Quint’s Challenge – Now adds +1X permanent Bonus X. Bonus X is capped at 5X.
  • Feeding Frenzy – No longer adds time when you complete a target set.
  • Harpoon Ready – Fixed an issue where the post would hold for a long time resulting in the game getting held on the “SHOOT” screen for a long time.
  • Beach Closed Value – Removed the 2X multiplier applied to the Beach Closed Value when completing a Shark Encounter.
  • Shark Ramps – Shark Ramps and Shark Pop modes have been combined into a single mode to make them more fun.
  • Shark Ramps – Award values are now displayed in “SHARK!” popups.
  • Super Spinner – Can now be lit up to 3 times. Combo any shot that feeds the right flipper for 2X spinner value.
  • Super Spinner – Now ignores backwards spins.
  • Super Spinner – Added landing strip strobe effect to call more attention to Super Spinner being lit. Will strobe faster when 2X spinner value is lit.
  • Super Spinner – Added shaker motor hits on spins at differing levels for both 1X and 2X spins.
  • Shark / Boat Mech – Added adjustment to detect if a ball is shot in when lowering the shark, which will force the ball to be immediately kicked out.
  • Hooper Drives the Boat – Spin Value capped at 250K, Bonus Value Capped to 25M.
  • Lookout Tower – When the countup reaches it’s final threshold, it lights the Wheel every 3 shots.
  • Beach Panic – Shots that light Encounter Jackpot will flash between Red and White and flash the Encounter Jackpot insert to call more attention to them.
  • ORCA Spellout – Fixed an issue where the spellout wasn’t resetting properly every time.
  • Jaws Multiball Two – Added display to show current Add-A-Ball progress.
  • Instant Info – Fixing an issue where Shark Tower Targets status was not being displayed properly.
  • Attract Mode – Adding tutorial videos to attract mode explaining how to progress the main features.
  • Light Shows – Adding many more light shows to the game.
  • Sound Effect – Adding many more sound effects to the game.
  • Callouts – Adding many more callouts to the game.
  • Shaker Motor – Adding more shaker motor uses to the game.
  • Adjustment Changes:
  • adding “NIGHT MODE LIGHTING” defaults to SUPER DARK, choose between CLASSIC (normal GI), DARK (some GI), SUPER DARK (minimum GI), Competition install will always default to CLASSIC.
  • adding “FLIP LOCK AUTO QUICK RELEASE” default to YES, when turned on if 2 balls get caught in the Flip-Lock during multiball the Mini Flipper will do a quick flip to release one.
  • adding “BALL STUCK UNDER BOAT DETECTION” default to YES, when turned on Shark hits during the sensitivity period will trigger the Shark to resurface immediately to clear the ball.
  • adding “STUCK BALL DETECTION SENSITIVITY” delays the listening for shark hits while shark is lowering. The higher the number, the more time is delayed. Decrease the number if you find that the ball is still getting stuck.
  • adding “ONLY LOWER SHARK WHEN SAFE” default to NO, set to YES to add logic that will only move the Shark below the playfield when it knows the ball is in a safe place to do so.
  • adding “REMOVE NIGHT SWIM MIDPOINT POST HOLD” default to YES, set to NO if you want the post to hold the ball when the Night Swim midpoint display and lightshow happens.

A pretty impressive list of 0.86 to 0.87 updates! The sheer amount of additions to gameplay, adding multiple new gameplay modes and more identification and help for the player, it really shows how much thought and detail go into these code updates and just how much these modern pinball machines can change with code updates.

First Noticed Playfield Dimpling

Previously, I wasn’t familiar with “dimpling” on pinball playfields, but when you are cleaning and waxing the playfield you tend to look closer at the condition and will notice dust, dirt and other issues. On DAY #10, after PGM Member Major Drain Pinball that owns dozens of pinball machine asked me about “dimpling”, I looked closer and noticed dimpling on the JAWS playfield.

Legendary pinball designer Steve Ritchie addressed playfield dimpling in the following video:

Ritchie is more than a little dismissive of the issue, labeling the subject “ridiculous” and exclaiming that this has been happening for 50+ years and is nothing new. No disrespect for Steve, but I’ve been playing pinball for almost that much time, and I’ve never seen any of these dimples before. It’s not really something you notice until you look at the playfield closely and at different angles.

I expanded on the topic in the following diary entry:

Does it bother me or my son? Not really, no.

What followed over the next few days was a bunch of discussion about playfield dimpling, historically and current, so much that I found the subject enlightening and learned some new things about how wood hardness is tested (it’s called the Janka hardness test) from none other than George Gomez — directly.

George Gomez when I raised the issue in a Facebook group covering Stern pinball offered this response:

Without going too far down the playfield dimpling rabbit hole, these dimples do exist and will appear. Not something to get too alarmed by, but to understand how they appear and why is worthwhile. I’ve now seen them on every single Spike 2 Stern pinball machine. George offered an additional explanation why they are perhaps more visible in modern playfields:

Bottom line: the dimpling doesn’t impact gameplay. That’s the most important thing both my son and I care about, so it’s really not a big deal.

On DAY #14 we changed the balls for the second time (the actual third set of balls, since remember we didn’t use the original Stern balls from the beginning).

Joel also decided he wanted to manually reset all the high scores. There is a RESET menu inside the service menu and it’s as easy as selecting two different options and confirming the reset. No need to reboot the machine as the scores are instantly gone. Also, important to remind/note that when you first receive the machine there is a default setting to reset all scores after a certain amount of plays. If you don’t want these auto reset, then turn this off (we did).

WEEK #3 – DAYS #15 – 21

Learned that Pinside top 100 (https://pinside.com/pinball/top-100) ranking for JAWS went to #1 on DAY #15 (3/27/2024):

Before getting too excited, also learned that most new Stern pins rise to the top 100 list at Pinside — briefly — before sinking down the list. Pinside ranks by the LE, not a cross section of all reviews and fewer reviews from new LE owners seem to be overly positive.

In the next week’s update, just as others on Pinside (and elsewhere) stated, and more Pinsiders jumped in and reviewed the pin, Jaws ranking would sink back down to #24 in the top 100. As of this writing, it’s at #22 (Jaws drifts at #22… | All Pinball | Pinside.com), but certainly will change — up or down — by the time you read this.

How Many Plays Before Reviewing?

Neither Joel or I have reviewed Jaws yet.

As of this writing I have over 500 plays of all Jaws versions (400+ on Joel’s premium). I’ve only reviewed one pinball machine on Pinside: Eight Ball, that I owned for 10 years. Not sure yet what scoring I’ll assign to Jaws, but do find fascinating that some rate/review these pins after only a few plays.

Also, in a way I would like to see the 1.0 code for the game, the finished state — or what Stern is saying is mostly finished anyway — before reviewing it. They just recently released 1.0 code for Venom and James Bond. It can take a year or more for the 1.0 code updates to be made available.

More balls, more balls! And approaching 1,000 plays. Still, no unusual maintenance issues!

HUO Jaws Launch Party

With our grandchildren coming to visit, we planned a Jaws launch party for home, complete with cake, cups and party plates.

The bakery screwed up the cake we wanted the shark on there and instead just had a vanilla cake, strawberry filling and the iconic Jaws font (Amity, for those looking).

The HUO Launch Party was so much fun, we decided to extend it over Easter and have a 2-day party.

DAY #21 – noticing more dirt and ball trail accumulation.

Researched how to remove the ORCA boat mini-upper left playfield and there are instructions here on Pinside: Jaws Owners “We’re Going To Need a Bigger Club” | All clubs (…members only!) | Pinside.com

WEEK #4 – DAYS #22 – 28

After the HUO party, now over 1,200 lifetime plays:

This game is getting a good amount of attention and plays. Beyond cleaning, still no issues. No loose bolts, screws or technician alerts. The system has a self-diagnostic system which will report any issues.

Balls changed again at 1,300 plays.

Left Slingshot Software Audit Counting Issue Discovered

UPDATE 5/7/2024 @ 8:40pm PST: The software audit counting issue described in this section has been fixed in code 0.89. This code update came out a day after this article was published so it sounds like they had already had this fix implemented.

While looking through some of the many, many audit settings, noticed that the left audit slingshot was not counting.

Note: that through 1,300+ plays, not a single time has the left slingshot registered any use. The switch itself is working fine and it scores correctly in game, but something in the audit software is amiss, because check out the right slingshot audit count at the same amount of plays:

I notified the vendor Candyman, asking him to check his machines for this software audit issue. Also, on stream asked another operator and he checked one of his machines — a Jaws pro — and it had the same audit issue. They will fix this, it’s minor and does not impact gameplay. Again, scoring and function of the slingshot is fine otherwise.

Chipped Target by Boat is first Plastic Casualty

Our first plastic casualty happened, we believe, during the HUO Launch Party: an airball (presumably) took out the left top corner of one of the targets. This is how it’s supposed to look without the chip.

On the machine a tiny piece of the art in the corner is missing. The actual black plastic of the target is in tact, so the ball just banged off the edge, separating the paint. A very minor and not very noticeable issue that we added to the “buy a replacement target”, which probably costs a couple bucks at best. The target itself functions fine otherwise, so this is purely a cosmetic issue.

WEEK #5 – DAYS #29 – 35

DAY #29 (4/10/2024) week #4 streaming for Humpday, covered the very small number of issues to date after first month and roughly 1,500 plays:

  • corner broken off target near boat, just needs replacement. Simple, inexpensive repair. Probably the result of airball during the HUO JAWS Launch Party because did not notice before party and noticed afterwards
  • (CLEANING) black flipper dust and coil dust creating various ball trails, so machine gets dirtier in heavy traffic areas. Fairly common concern
  • balls changed out, now on 4th set of balls. Keeping them in play for around 400 plays, so far.
  • software/code audit issue for left slingshot, not counting any left slingshot hits. However, in game and the switch itself is OK, scoring is not affected and otherwise the left slingshot is working properly.
  • default Stern glass arrived scratched in places, the plan is to replace this with Invisiglass or Voodoo.

Stern JAWS replacement parts manual — REFERENCE — https://sternpinball.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Jaws_LE_Pre_web.pdf

Scores have steadily been increasing with repeated plays, so definitely skills improving on the game. One of the things I’ve focused on this week was the ORCA wheel spinner: which awards in which order to choose from?

When I first started playing, I went after the “Light Gear” most of the time, because I was pretty focused on getting all the gear to be able to sell for 100 or 200+ million, but after becoming more skilled with the far right shot and the quickshots with the random fin target hits, the gear becomes much easier to obtain through natural play, so opted instead for the left spinner.

The left spinner if you hit just right and hard enough, you can rack up over 20 million in a single passthrough. I also like the Shark Ramps, combo and machete.

In my quest to score 1 billion+ points, I’m becoming more hyper-focused on multipliers and completing modes, because that seems to be where the biggest points lie. For those reading that have scored over a billion points and/or do so regularly, your playing tips are welcome and encouraged.

Tilt Forums offers an extensive Jaws Rulesheet for review:
http://tiltforums.com/t/jaws-rulesheet/8781#heading–wheel

Of all the games and toys that our oldest grandson (age 9) can choose from in the house, the first thing he goes to his uncle’s JAWS premium pinball machine! He’s getting really good at it and showing a definite interest in pinball that didn’t really exist much prior to his uncle buying this machine. He would play a little bit of pinball at the arcade, but he’s really getting into the hobby now.

His other uncle owns two multicades and an Atgames Legends Pinball virtual pinball machine and he played a few of the arcade games, but this pinball machine is really drawing his interest and attention. Regularly. If I’m not at the house, he will call and tell me, “Papa, I got a high score!”

On DAY #33 (4/14/2024) Jaws becomes my most played Stern Spike 2 pinball machine, edging out Godzilla.

Predictable this would happen, since having access to one of these beautiful pins makes playing it more regularly much more convenient and easier than playing on location. NOTE: I’m not saying “less expensive” because the price of buying one of these is much higher than simply paying $1 per play, but if you want to rack up hundreds to thousands of plays in a shorter period of time — to really, truly learn the game and get a lot better at it — and don’t have an arcade that is free to play, it’s going to become exponentially more expensive over time versus the fixed cost of just buying one for home play.

At the end of this article, we’ll talk more about the cost of buying and owning a machine versus playing it on location and when it starts to make more sense from a financial standpoint.

Game Validation Error, Update SD Card

There is an issue that has popped up a few times (maybe three max) in the first 30+ days that looks like this:

Each time it’s happened we haven’t actually updated the SD card like it says, we simply perform a network test and/or just wait and it fixes itself. Rebooting doesn’t get rid of the error, it seems like the system keeps trying to access the SD card.

If this happens more frequently or becomes a bigger nuisance, you can reflash the SD card from Stern’s website, so that’s the next step if the message won’t go away. With the error present, you can’t login to Insider Connected, so it is a concern if you want to login to IC and the error message doesn’t go away in time. We will continue to monitor this and if it’s a problem reflash the SD card.

WEEK #6- DAYS #36 – 40+

It took me 35 days of gameplay before I caught two sharks for the first time.

There are four different sharks to catch: Mako Shark, Thresher, Hammerhead and Tiger Shark. Catch all four and, well, I guess that’s where you get to the final wizard mode(?). I’ve never even caught three yet, but exciting to know I’m about halfway to the end … maybe.

Scoring-wise, my average score continues to be trending upwards. Regularly, I’m scoring over 150 million and sometimes over 300 million. Rarely, I’ll score over 500 million and maybe 1 in 25-50 games will score over 700 million. Still, no billion games and my highest score is 818 million. Definitely the scores are going up and progress through the modes is happening more often. Won’t say any of it is “getting easier” but maybe it’s just the normal course of continuing to practice the game and refine skills.

Joel and I had a discussion about buying replacement balls at the upcoming Northwest Pinball & Arcade Show in June. Since shipping costs for these balls can really add up, it makes most sense to buy a year’s worth of supply — until the next pinball show and simply avoid all the shipping charges picking up the balls in person. In the Discord we went back and forth talking about how many balls we estimated needing from June 2024 to June 2025?

Looks like we’re focusing on buying around 30 sets, which would be enough for 10,000+ plays over the course of a year. We aren’t sure if there will be 10,000 plays over that period of time, but we’re just trying to estimate what might be needed. This discussion prompted a great question from PGM Member Skullbox686 in the Discord:

Do you think that it’s possible you are changing out the balls too frequently? I know this is a new machine, and a first time purchase, so wanting to keep it absolutely pristine has to come into account. This is just out of curiosity, and also wondering if you could be potentially spending too much on balls with little benefit.

Both of answered that we didn’t think the balls were being changed too much, because the machine is getting played pretty heavily so far. You can see the damage these balls take from when they are brand new and after a couple hundred or more plays. Major Drain says he changes his new Stern pinballs out every 200-400 plays. We seem to be settling in on changing them closer to 400, at least the Ninjas. Now, the Pinsound ones hold up better, so we might get 500 or more plays out of those which certainly would be an optimal choice if prices are comparable at the show.

We welcome any comments from readers that own modern Stern pins how frequently — in terms of number of plays — are you replacing the balls? On location I don’t think the vendors are replacing these balls like we are in the home use situation, but we’re trying to keep the machine’s playfield, plastics and parts from taking additional damage from scratched, scuffed balls.

Under magnification it’s easy to see the condition of the balls changing after a couple hundred plays. They still are shiny to the naked eye, but upon closer inspection, marks are all over the balls, presumably from banging into each other and objects on the playfield.

Reading articles on the subject, I don’t see any specific numbers mentioned, rather to change them when it’s necessary, so there doesn’t seem to be anything more than a general guideline, not absolute rule when changing the balls is necessary. It definitely adds expense, currently to the tune of about 10 cents per play, so far, based on the actual frequency the balls have been changed.

As the machine reached around 1,500 plays, definitely noticed more regular cleaning is now necessary.

I made another observation related to the regular cleaning, particularly under magnification:

It’s interesting what you look at that you don’t see when you play pinball on location. You don’t notice a lot of this stuff that you really notice when you look up close at home. The dirt, debris, the condition of the balls .. you don’t really notice this playing in a dimly lit bar unless you look for it specifically, then you see everything.

The Stern IC badges for consecutive play really start to mean something as your daily streak increases. They have a 30 day badge and 45 day badge and it continues to go up from there.

As of the diary entry, 1,718 players have had a 30 day streak of playing Stern’s Insider Connected games. I checked as of this writing to see how much this number had changed in a couple weeks. The number had increased to 1,743. Have gone on to achieve the 45 day streak badge which looks like this:

This is all of our family (Joel’s, my wife and my) longest streak playing and we owe it to him buying this machine. Again, I haven’t played every day at his house, but on the days I haven’t gotten over there, I’ve played at the local arcade or barcade to keep the streak alive.

DAY #40, here’s where the machine was at with lifetime plays:

As of this writing, the machine now has over 2,000 plays and the consecutive days played streak is up to 47.

Pro vs. Premium

With each new Stern pinball machine, there is often (a lot) of discussion over which version to buy? An LE to me, is really just a pimped out Premium, so save that for the themes/IP that you care the most about. For me, anyway, I can count those themes/IP on one hand that I’d want to spend $13,000 for, so that leaves premium vs. pro.

Premiums tend to offer additional mechs/toys and modes than pros. These can slowdown the game flow, which some do not like and of course the more mechanical stuff you add to any pinball machine the more things that can go wrong mechanically. So, there’s an added potential burden of maintenance with premiums which, at least for me, is the major disadvantage of premiums over pros.

Gameplay-wise, however, the experience can vary anywhere from minor differences to major ones, depending on how much you like these additional mechs/toys and game modes.

As time has gone on, Joel has expressed that the Premium playfield additions aren’t as big a deal to him as he thought they would be when choosing the version he bought. At other times he’s said he liked the premium changes.

He and I currently disagree on this point — as he’s loosely in the camp that he should have bought the Pro instead — but easier for me to say, since I’m not the one that paid any $$ for the machine. Still, if I were to buy JAWS myself, after playing both, I’d rather buy the premium than the pro. Yes, it’s nearly $3,000 more, but I prefer playing the premium over the pro based on:

  • Shark bash toy (Premium/LE) vs. captive ball (Pro) – bashing another ball vs. a toy that looks like a shark? There is no comparison in fun factor one over the other. Also, for younger/newer/inexperienced players it’s much more exciting seeing the shark appear vs. being a static plastic toy there all the time. There is a sense of excitement and drama around hitting the shark with that iconic music vs. just hitting a ball.
  • Drop side targets (Premium/LE) vs. static (Pro) – I like the feel/experience of hitting a drop target vs. banging into a target and it doesn’t fall. Give me a choice of one over the other and it’s more satisfying every single time to knock down the targets, almost like bowling. Static targets don’t provide the same satisfaction. They are kind of boring by comparison. Something to bounce off of vs. make fall.
  • Upper ORCA playfield (Premium/LE) vs. loop ramp (Pro) – those that dislike the mini ORCA upper playfield will say the experience is too fast, you are there and you are gone, but that’s not completely true: there are goals there and you can semi-trap and redirect the ball through the spinner or the outer lane. Also, the outer lane shot eight times will give you an extra ball you can’t get in the Pro. There is also the cool wheel spin you can select with the action button by hitting the spinner when it’s lit. So, you’re saying all of this vs. just a loop on a ramp is not adding a bunch more to the game? Of course it does.
  • Code as of this writing is at 0.88 right now. You just know by 1.0 there will be even more to do using the shark and ORCA boat — like Play As The Shark .. how is that going to play on the Pro when there is no shark that appears? I see a future for more game possibilities and modes with premium over pro. Yes, this isn’t an existing feature/function, but just judging from 0.87 code notes contained earlier in this article it’s easier to see why this seems more than likey to be the future for this game. I would not want to be sitting with the game thinking, “you know, if only I’d paid XX

Joel? He does not seem to agree that the price difference for the features was as significant. He even said recently that he would have been just as happy with the pro and have another $3,000 towards a second pin. From a financial standpoint, I understand his thinking, because he could be almost halfway to another game vs. more features on JAWS. It’s compelling, but to me, anyway, I’d rather have one fully featured game with all the fun modes vs. two that lack modes/features I wish could be played — and can’t.

An aside here for toppers: another similar issue facing Stern pinball owners. Some (many?) of these add additional modes too. It’s like Stern’s way to get into your pocket for one to two thousand more $$$ and add some bling on the top of the machine, additional achievements that can be earned and modes. I’m more inclined to say: skip these overly expensive toppers, but if it’s a game you really love, they put you in a similar situation: buy the topper to be able to play the modes or save the $$ for another game? This is a tough one, but at least pro owners can buy the topper too, so it’s something you can buy down the road to add to your game regardless of which model you buy: pro or premium. Luckily, with new machines anyway, this isn’t a concern right away. The topper usually doesn’t come until 1-2 years after the game is released. Sort of like, hey, did you forget about me? Here’s a way to get back into me buy buying this. Smart business move by Stern, but the wallet feels the pain.

My son and I have talked quite a bit about the pro vs. premium over the last 45+ days that he’s owned the premium. My play stats for all three versions are attached.

Back to Jaws and for those that decide on a pro.

The pro isn’t “barren” like Venom, IMO. There are still a bunch of things to do like the full side flipper shots for quickshots, but there is much more to do on the premium that you learn after playing that or the LE many times. Is it worth $3,000 more? I say emphatically yes. Some of these shots to make with the premium are harder, which might explain why some are saying the premium doesn’t offer enough to pay more, but once you get better at playing the premium, I feel like you’ll miss these features when you play the pro. No shame toward the pro, it’s still fun, but it’s missing a fair amount of game — and we’re not even 1.0 code yet.

Worth Buying For Home, Yes, No or Maybe?

Ah, we’ve reached the question to ask anybody after that newness begins to wear off for any larger purchase:

Was it worth it or not?

Am going to cheat a bit on this answer and add the rather vague: “maybe” but that’s not to tease for a future article, but to be realistic that the newness in this purchase after 40 days hasn’t worn off yet.

Heck, I have played JAWS every single day since Joel had it delivered to his house. On a few days where I didn’t get to his house to play, I went to a local barcade about 8 miles away and played Jaws there — because I still wanted to play the game. Joel has played every day and my wife has, too. The Jaws streak continues! It’s not something we planned to do every single day, or out of any need to validate Joel’s purchasing decision, but it’s become a reality.

When does it end? Don’t know. Am certain it will end, as all streaks eventually end, and because you can’t play JAWS pinball every single day forever, but right now, while writing this, I still look very much forward to playing the game every day. As does the owner.

Joel paid a little less than the MSRP of $9,699 USD for the machine itself and it was delivered in the box and brought inside his house. Candyman also promised to provide any warranty service, if needed. As noted in detail above, Candyman’s services beyond the delivery and setup haven’t been needed so far in the first 40 days.

Let’s just call it $10,000 and, yes, that’s no small amount of money to be paid for a single game. Any game, period. You can spend roughly half that and get a pretty darn good high end gaming PC. This is a commercial grade quality pinball machine, not some home arcade machine built with a bunch of particle board. It’s meant to withstand moderate physical play in public venues like arcades, bars and the like. To be nudged, pushed, banged and perhaps (slightly) beaten around. It’s not built to withstand negligent or violent abuse, few machines like this could be, but it’s a sturdy built professional grade machine — or so it appeared to us, anyway.

Whether or not you, friendly reader, want to buy one of these and/or can afford to buy one is entirely up to you. Owning a pinball machine at home involves a number of variables with cost being a large one, but also physical space constraints. Some people just don’t have the room to own their own pin. The good news is at least in 2024 these machines are more widely available to play on location in various businesses, so you can go out and try them in person for something like $1 per play, at least in our area. In some parts of the world, the cost to play is higher, but in general, these pinball machines are out there and you can find them to try out and play in/around most major areas in the United States.

There are more costs involved besides just buying the machine, however, and the price of playing one can vary, especially if you can find a place that has an entrance fee and then all the pinball machines are free to play like Next Level Pinball about 2.5 hours from us. They charge $22 for the entire day. You can play all 23 Stern Spike 2 machines there as much as you want throughout the day and never have to worry about any of the maintenance and upkeep of the machines.

If you are fortunate enough to live near an arcade that offers free play for a set price for these Spike 2 Stern’s, run, don’t walk, to that location and play them. Get as many plays in as you can and see if you still want to play any of the games more. Focus on the gameplay and how long you will continue to want to play the machine.

In my opinion, owning one of these is a great idea if you have the space, the money and plan to play the game a bunch of times — either yourself and/or family and friends. If you just want to own one to play once in a while, I think it’s much wiser financially to simply play them on location.

Simple math, assuming $1 per game, says a machine needs to get something like 10,000 plays if it costs $10,000 to buy and that will take some time to be played that much.

Joel’s machine has crossed over 2,000 lifetime plays and, as of this writing, we’re not quite at 50 days played. We likely won’t continue to play at this same level and frequency for the next 50 days and beyond, but who knows (maybe we will!)?

At this rate, anyway, JAWS might get to 10,000 plays within the first year. If that happens and we’re all still enjoying JAWS as much as we are through the first 40+ days, then the $10,000 seems like a good purchase. Especially, because if it continues to be kept in excellent condition, it will hold a lot of its value should Joel wish to sell and/or trade it. for another game.

One should note am not using the word “investment.” A pinball machine isn’t an investment. There are collectors that buy and sell pinball machines to make money from the buy low, sell higher transaction, but that’s not what we are interested in. Our interest is in the games themselves and the joy, memories and fulfillment they bring.

In closing, I don’t think it’s a great idea to do what Joel did: buy a machine when first announced new by Stern without playing the game first. But, if you do what he did, then make sure it’s a theme you absolutely love — and he really digs Jaws, so this story has a happy ending. At least through the first 40+ days.

However, I tried to talk him out of buying this on launch day.

Not because I thought it was a bad purchase, but because I didn’t know if he’d like playing it enough. Also, because I was a bit fearful of him getting a lemon. You know, a machine with all kinds of manufacturing problems. It happens, even with Stern, the #1 pinball manufacturer in the world. In Joel’s case, Candyman promised to have his back, which added confidence in the deal.

Joel was encouraged to wait and play each version and decide which version he liked best. He doesn’t necessarily have buyer’s remorse, he’s happy with his JAWS premium, but has said more than once that he wished he bought the pro instead. The main reason why he’s saying that is because he wants that $2,500-$3,000 to put toward a second pinball machine. Again, I’m encouraging him to wait to see what else new comes out in 2024 and beyond. No sense buying an older machine if a new one comes out that he really wants to play more.

What I’d really like to see is him still fairly regularly playing Jaws past 10,000 plays. At that point, he’d own a machine he’s gotten his money’s worth and then some out of and it’s still worth a good amount of money if he wants to sell or trade or just keep for others to continue enjoying.

We see it said in this hobby that pinball machines tend to multiply.

After the first 40 days of my son owning a modern Stern pinball machine, an extremely positive experience by any account, it’s easy to see how that happens.

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6 thoughts on “Our Son Bought a New In Box Jaws Stern Premium – The First 40 Days of Ownership – What’s the Experience Really Like?”
  1. I change balls only as needed. Every 10 years or so.

    Almost all balls come from same chinese ball bearing companies mace to spec.
    Balls are about .10 cents a price direct ftom china. Some .20 cents a pop. Marketing is pinsides job.

    Use wax that does not leave white residue.

    1. Can you buy these *same* balls direct from China and cut out Pinsound and NInja? Have you? Link us up, please, if you have done so. Thank you for reading and taking time to comment.

  2. Hi Todd!

    What did you think of buying balls from China for 20 cents each soudns like a great deal. Did he list a website you can get them from?

    Over 500 plays is impressive and I think you’ll hit 1 Billion points within the next two months.

    Is Joel still really want to get the Megacade? Have you been able to talk him into getting a more DIY version of it?

    1. Thank you for the note of confidence on breaking 1 billion points and reading the article 🙂 Joel isn’t interested in the Megacade, that’s his brother that owns the house, and he hasn’t said anything new about that in the last week or so. We of course will consider using any higher grade balls that other pinball owners have used and recommend. Pinsound and Ninjas have received many, many thumbs up from other pinball owners and we’ve seen their quality firsthand. Using lower grade pinballs would mean having to check and change more frequently and/or possibly buff out more scratches caused by the damaged balls.

  3. I enjoyed reading this, and I’m so happy to see all the wonderful memories it’s made with your family.

  4. As an FYI Pinside ratings are not based on the LE but the highest ranking for any version of the game.

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