Definitions

claw back

Claw crane

A claw crane (also called a Plush Crane Machine, UFO Catcher, Candy Crane, Claw Machine, Arcade Claw, Crane Game or Skill Crane) is a type of arcade game known as a merchandiser. They are commonly found in video arcades, supermarkets, restaurants, movie theaters, and Bowling alleys.

Machine Manufacturers

Although there are a handful of crane companies on the market today, only about 20% of them are actually assembled in the United States. Most skill cranes today are private labeled machines, which have been imported from China, Taiwan and Europe.

Located in the United States

Located Overseas

Machine Importers

Below is a list of importers which purchase machines by the container from overseas to resell in America.

Coast-to-Coast Entertainment - Based out of Sayreville, New Jersery.

Coastal Amusements - Based out of Lakewood, New Jersery.

Machine Distributors

BMI Gaming - Based out of Boca Raton, Florida and distributes all of the above manufacturers worldwide.

Machine Components/Structure

A claw consists of many parts but the basic components are a PCB, power supply, currency detector, credit/timer display, joystick, wiring harness, bridge assembly, xport and claw.

The cabinet is usually constructed of medium density fibreboard (MDF). Some cabinets are made of aluminum alloy, which makes it easier to relocate as well as cheaper to produce.

The window is normally made of glass or a cheaper-to-manufacturer substitute plexiglas. The marquee is a branded graphic (sometimes created specifically for restaurants or an operators business name) behind a plexiglas front.

Game Play

A claw vending machine consists of prizes, usually plush toys or alternatives such as jewelry, capsuled toys, hats, dolls, shirts, candy, electronics and even live animals. Higher end prizes are sometimes placed in a plastic bag so the toy is harder to pick up. The player puts coins into the machine, which then allows the player to manipulate a joystick that controls the claw for a variable time (controlled by the operator) usually 15 to 30 seconds (in some cases, a claw vending machine might offer a minute of time). The player is able to move the claw back, forth and sideways, and some machines allow the user to move the claw after it has has partially descended.

At the end of that time (or earlier if the player presses a trigger button on the joystick), the claw descend down and makes an attempt to grip. After making the gripping attempt, the claw then moves over an opening in the corner of the case and releases its contents. If the player is successful, then the prize the claw is holding is dropped into the opening and dispensed through a chute into a hatch for pickup.

An alternative version of the machine popular in arcades is the "two button" version: one marked with a forward arrow, one with a right arrow. The crane starts near the front, left side of the machine and the user presses first the forward button to move the crane towards the back of the cabinet. Once the button is released the crane stops moving and the button cannot be used again, thus requiring the user to judge depth accurately in one attempt. After this, the right button becomes active in a similar way and as soon as it is released, the crane drops to a certain depth and then raises, closing its claw on the way and returning to the drop hatch in the front left corner. These versions are generally considered to be more difficult. However, the button type machines typically do not feature the timers which are commonly found on joystick type machines. In addition, they often have better grip strength than joystick type machines.

Machine configuration and chances of winning

The success rate winning a prize is dependent on several factors, including operator settings, player skill, depth perception, type of machine, and prizes available (size, density, and distribution). A prize may be lost due to player inexperience or player error in manipulating the claw. Many modern cranes use a computer to determine a payout percentage based on the operators settings, in the manner that the claw would have a strong grasp on objects only on a certain percentage of attempts. All modern claw machines incorporate some means for the owner to adjust at least the strength of the claw's grip and how closely the claw's fingers pull together, usually with screws on the mechanism or potentiometers on the PCB. Even on older cranes, the grip strength can be adjusted by adding circuit components or additional hardware. Some machines incorporate a feature called "two-level claw power" , which, when enabled, causes the claw to at first grip at full strength, but then weaken its grip to the "normal" level after a brief delay. This can cause the crane to initially pick up the prize, but then drop it.

Late-model, high-end claw machines are fully computerized and are remotely programmable by the owner (via a hand-held device). Settings and features commonly available include :

  • Claw strength and aperture
  • Motion speed, in any direction (that is, the claw can be made to drop slowly but come up quickly, or move right faster than it moves forward)
  • Pick-up strength and retain strength can be specified separately, as well as the delay between pick-up and return.
  • Payout percentage: Cranes equipped with this setting have onboard programming which cause the claw's grip parameters to be continually adjusted to achieve a pre-set payout percentage, usually specified with respect to the value of the prizes inside
  • "Fail limit": If the machine dispenses too many prizes in a given time period, it stops accepting coins and is "out of order"
  • Free replay can be granted on a certain percentage of plays
  • Instant replay: the user can opt to touch a certain button and have the claw automatically move to where it was last dropped, in order to "try again" for a prize that was "just missed" on the previous try

Some cranes are also able to display the number and value of prizes won in a given time period , enabling the owner to keep track of how profitable the machine is.

Clearly, these parameters can be used to set a crane to never deliver any prizes, but in that case the machine would rarely be played and become unprofitable for the owner. On the other hand, if the crane were set to always grip strongly, then it would become so easy to win prizes from it that the owner would not profit much, if at all, from operating the machine.

Some machines can be configured to basically be games of chance. On a machine with a flimsy grip and a mechanism controlling the odds of a strong grip, little skill is involved in winning prizes by attempting to grasp them with the claw: the crane's random number generator decides whether the claw will grip or not. However, if the claw's grip strength is set such that it is capable of holding a prize — even tenuously — on most attempts, then experienced players will win more often than inexperienced players because an experienced player will be able to identify which toys will be easiest to win and how they should be grasped by the claw. It is also worth noting that, even given a machine with a very weak claw grip or low payout percentage, players have discovered various techniques for using the claw to drag or tip prizes into the chute without necessarily grasping them.

Claw machines holding expensive prizes, such as a Wii video game console or an iPhone are typically programmed so that the grip strength of the claw is determined according to a payout percentage that is profitable to the operator. Experienced skill crane players also say that boxes are among the most difficult kinds of objects to pick up with any claw, regardless of its settings.

Legality

The ability of the crane machine owner to set features such as a "payout percentage" obviously raises the question of whether these machines should be considered gambling devices in a legal sense, alongside slot machines. In the United States, claw vending machines are typically specifically exempted from statutes which regulate gambling devices, contingent upon compliance with certain rules. In the state of Michigan, for example, this exemption applies only if the wholesale value of the prizes inside is below a certain threshold, and if these prizes are actually retrievable with the claw. Other states hardly regulate crane machines at all. In addition, some attorneys have advised claw machine owners to avoid using the word "skill" in the game description decal present on most machines.

In other jurisdictions, such as Alberta, Canada, skill cranes are illegal unless the player is allowed to make repeated attempts (on a single credit) until he or she succeeds in winning a prize. Skill cranes in "single-play" mode (where the player has only one chance per credit to try for a prize) were found by the Ontario Court of Appeal to be essentially games of chance, and therefore prohibited except at fairs or exhibitions, where they are covered by an exemption.

State governments have been known to periodically inspect crane games to ensure compliance with the statutes. For example, in a 2008 inspection of New Jersey boardwalk games, inspectors tested whether the claw had enough tension to grip prizes, and whether they could win a prize once in approximately 12 attempts.

History in the United States

These machines became popular in the United States in the late 1980s, with a significant presence at Pizza Hut restaurants. Later on, they would spread to other venues. By the early 1990s, the NFL began to advertise their teams with stuffed footballs of each team placed in some of the machines. Soon after, the MLB, NBA, and NHL also joined, although the NBA no longer uses these machines as a means of advertisement.

By the middle 1990s, the machines' popularity had made such establishments as Safeway, Fry's Supermarkets, K-Mart, and Wal-Mart a staple of their locations. Some hotels also acquired them to satisfy their younger guests, as did sports venues that would stuff them with collectibles related to their home teams.

In the 1995 Disney/Pixar computer-animated film "Toy Story", Buzz Lightyear and Sheriff Woody climb into a claw vending machine filled with claw-worshipping aliens.

In 2007, the claw machine became playable over the internet. Before January 23, 2008, visitors to SuperClaw were able to play real-life crane machines, using multiple video feeds and web browser controls to position the claw over a selection of plush prizes.

Claw cranes in East Asia

In East Asia, notably Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, claw vending machines are extremely popular. There are entire video arcades dedicated to hosting these machines.

Japanese claw vending machines are sometimes called UFO catchers, where "UFO" stands for Unidentified Flying Object. UFO catcher is a specific model of claw vending machine produced by Sega whose name has come to be used as a genericized trademark.

In China, machines have been known to stock domestic and foreign cigarettes.

In East Asia, live animals are occasionally the prize in the claw game. In Chinese supermarkets, a live crab or lobster can be won, presumably to be eaten by the winner. In Japan, pet turtles can be won. Of course, these prizes are in addition to the standard teddy bears and toys that are offered by claw games in other parts of the world.

In South Korea, prizes are extremely varied and have included a Black & Decker power drill, women's underwear, a beard trimmer, a voucher for an inflatable raft, knee pads, fishing hooks, a radio-controlled toy helicopter, and a package of US $2 bills.

References

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