BENTON - The pinball industry is alive and well according to Charlie Emery of Spooky Pinball out of Benton. Spooky Pinball is one of only three pinball manufacturers in the United States.
“My son and I re-themed an old game into a Godzilla game when he was really little. We took it to a gaming show in Milwaukee for fun and the printing technique garnered some industry attention. That lead to some phone calls,” Emery explained.
The printing technique came from SSi Decals in Galena where Emery had worked for over 20 years. After showing off their game, phone calls started coming in wanting more games like that one. Emery worked with his employer and they helped another pinball company get their start.
“But at the same time we wanted to do our own thing and make our own games. So after three years of that I quit and started Spooky Pinball.”
The name Spooky Pinball came from the podcast that Emery and his family, wife, Kayte, and children Corwin “Bug” and Morgan “Squirrel”, created.
“To give the podcast sort of a theme, I’m a spooky, horror movie loving guy. I love all things creepy and weird.” The podcast became really popular and the name flowed over to the company.
The company started out in the Benton Business Incubator but in March 2016 they moved to their new building just down the road at 184 Ridge Ave.
“We are already over full. We are looking to probably add on next summer.”
It probably doesn’t take long to run out of room when everything that goes into the pinball machine is made in house, in the building. The only things not made in Benton are the electronics, which are designed and engineered by Parker Dillmann from MacroFab in Houston and Ben Heckendorn who hosts his own internet TV show in Madison called “The Ben Heck Show” and was the one who helped them design and set up their first game “America’s Most Haunted”. Common pinball parts come from Pinball Life in Chicago but all the unique pieces, all the cabinets, everything else is engineered in house. Emery’s daughter Morgan, who is only 16, makes all the wiring harnesses.
“I spent the first year of Spooky Pinball engineering [“America’s Most Haunted”] then learning how to set up a manufacturing process.”
The very first game they sold was to Joe Newhart from PinballSTAR Amusements in Pennsylvania. The first game ever built is still in town, down at Lawrence Pub and Eatery.
“The village wanted to keep it in the community as did we. So the Benton State Bank stepped in and Steve Malone bought the game to keep it here in town so that the very first game we ever built would stay here.”
They just débuted their pinball machine for Domino’s Pizza. They went to Pinball Life’s open house last October, right around the pinball expo when Adam Gacek, Vice President and General Counsel at Domino’s, approached them about potentially building a game for them to help their Domino’s Partner Foundation, the charity that Domino’s runs.
“We have been approached by a few corporate gigs to do that kind of thing but they rarely go through because pinball is incredibly complicated and expensive. But Domino’s was all over it and stuck with it.”
The big reveal was out in Las Vegas at the Domino’s World Wide Rally for 9,000 people. Celebrities from Pen and Teller to Magic Johnson were there along with the world’s fastest pizza making competition. Emery saw someone make three pizzas in 36 seconds. But to date, they have sold upwards of 150 Domino’s Pinball games.
Each pinball machine is different in the manufacturing process. The current pinball game, “Rob Zombie Spookshow International”, is a fairly complicated game to build. The crew of only ten employees, including Emery’s family, has been making about two pinball machines a day.
Their first game, “America’s Most Haunted” sold out of 150 units in two years. The Rob Zombie pinball game is the first licensed game they made. They could make up to 300 units and were sold out of them in three weeks.
“A decade ago, pinball was almost dead. It has really made resurgence. There are a lot of younger people getting into it. You just cannot replicate what happens in a pinball machine into a video platform. It has to be real. They are incredibly complicated. But the people that are into it will throw everything into restoring and rebuilding. Once you’re hooked, you’re hooked. There is no going back,” Emery joked.
Spooky Pinball games can be found around the world. They have been sent to Australia, Germany and there are two games in the shop looking to be shipped out to New Zealand.
Emery commented that he has just a fantastic crew working at Spooky Pinball. He is thankful for the Village of Benton for helping them have the chance to grow. Out of the three companies manufacturing pinball games in the United Sates, Spooky Pinball is the smallest. But they are turning a profit and growing rapidly.
“It keeps growing and getting crazier and bigger. We’re making toys; what’s not to love.”