It won’t be easy to get a ticket to ride the flippers of Beatles’ first-ever pinball game.
In honor of 1964, the year that Beatlemania first gripped the nation, Stern Pinball is making 1,964 units of a special Fab Four-themed title, about a third of a normal production run for the Elk Grove village manufacturer.
Some industry sources say that a special “Diamond Edition” of the game, limited to only 100 machines, could become the most expensive pinball machine of all time.
The company is not ready to reveal a price tag but CEO Gary Stern says he’s already been contacted by obsessive pinball collectors ready to place orders.
“It’s a title of a lifetime. I’m 73, and I may need to retire after this one — it’s the culmination of my career,” said Stern.
Landing The Beatles wasn’t easy. Stern says he’d wanted to make the game for a decade, but the licensing deal had to go through a labyrinthine approval process involving Apple Corps, the Beatles’ multi-armed multimedia empire, and Universal Music Group’s Bravado, which handles the group’s merchandising rights in North America.
Those organizations were strict about the kind of Beatles game Stern could make. Designer Joe Kaminkow, of Ka-Pow Pinball, “did a lot of work, and spent a lot of time getting the game to where they wanted it to be,” Stern said.
The result is a colorful retro-themed machine set during the Beatles’ invasion of America in 1964. The game even includes a clip of Ed Sullivan’s famous introduction of the band on his Feb. 9, 1964 variety show. Players can unlock versions of eight hits of that Beatlemania era, including “Can’t Buy Me Love” and a “Hard Day’s Night.”
To take the title of priciest pinball game of all time, The Beatles would have to beat American Pinball’s Magic Girl, an obscure 2017 game whose two dozen machines were sold for $16,000 a piece. The most expensive Stern game is another piece of ’60s pop culture nostalgia: the Adam West-led “Batman” TV series. A Super Limited Edition of Stern’s Batman ’66 game retails for $14,999.
That’s quite a bit pricier than the average Stern machine, which ranges in price from $6,000 to $9,000 depending on the number of bells and whistles. Arcade owners and man-cave enthusiasts may shrug at bonus features, but hardcore collectors are more willing to pay bigger bucks for deluxe editions for their personal collections.
The big question: will “pinheads,” as they’re sometimes called, act like the throngs of screaming teens who flocked to Beatles concerts when the game goes on sale next month?
Stern is banking on it.
“This is special, it’s definitely a collectible,” Stern said. “I mean, it’s the Beatles. Are you kidding?”