Wisconsin-based "spooky" pinball scares up business all over the world

Published: Oct. 30, 2018 at 12:26 PM CDT
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A local man has a passion for pinball! His love for the game has turned into a career. Now, he’s scaring up business all over the globe.

Charlie Emery grew up playing pinball. In 2013, he decided to quit his day job in the printing industry.

“It was extremely daunting. I had no idea what I was doing, I was in way over my head,” said Emery. “Because I had no ‘Plan B’. I went from literally working the same job for the same company for 21 years to I’m going to make pinball machines.”

Emery started “Spooky Pinball LLC”. At the headquarters in Benton, Wisconsin, employees design and build their own pinball machines.

“Well we were in a 900 square foot room and I was just me by myself for a year,” said Emery. “We were just hoping to survive and it’s to the point where it’s really thriving right now.”

Their first game was called “America’s Most Haunted”. He sold 150 of those. Today, he’s working on a brand new game with rock legend Alice Cooper. “Right now my design, my newest one is Alice Cooper’s Nightmare Castle so now I can say Alice Cooper is literally my boss.”

His business has been growing steadily and so has his workforce. Today he employs 17 full-time employees. Each employee helps put together each game. They’re busy sifting through a complex rigging of lights and colored-coated wiring.

“Well, there is no school to go to for pinball engineering so you just kind of have to dive in,” said Emery. “It is like building a small car, writing a movie script, producing a video game, and then engineering all of it mechanically to fit together. It is a nightmare, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, to say the least.”

Pinball is in the emery family DNA. 19-year-old Morgan Emery is Charlie’s daughter and works for her dad.

“There are so many different moving parts so many things that get plugged in, that kind of thing, no one really understands until you get up in there,” said Emery.

Each game takes about 30 hours to complete. The Spooky team is shipping 12 to 14 games a week all over the world.

“New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Japan. You name it we will send a game there," said Emery

Emery says the horror genre speaks to him. “Somehow (it) grabs a hold of my soul. I identify with the misfits.” And with his business booming, playing pinball is no longer a hobby, it’s a perk of the job.

“I mean once this (pinball) grabs you, you’re in for life, you’re not going anywhere,” added Emery.