ByNicholas Montegriffo, writer at
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Nicholas Montegriffo

Anyone who's ever played a "crane game" at the boardwalk arcade or carnival knows that they can often be an exercise in howling frustration as the mechanical claw feebly spasms, refusing to pick up the toy that you've so carefully maneuvered it to. But that could be about to change.

Crane have a not unjustified reputation of being rigged to fail on most attempts, and plenty of would-be players are now inclined to steer clear of these chump-traps. But now a major industry trade group is aiming to win back player trust, promising its members will only offer games that can be won "by the application of skill."

A Promise To Play Fair

[Credit: Fox]
[Credit: Fox]

The new commitment to fairness comes from the American Amusement Machine Association, a non-profit lobbying group that represents everyone from arcade game manufacturers like Bandai Namco and Sega to operators like Dave & Busters and Cinemark theaters, even the distributors and suppliers in between.

Members of the AAMA are now obligated to sign on to a 'Fair Play Pledge' (FPP) which includes a promise that all their games will "meet a standard of performance that allows a player a fair chance of winning with every game played."

The specific criteria for FPP-compliant games include the following standards:

1. An opportunity exists that allows for players to win by the application of skill such that the player will have sufficient time to identify, recognize and react with every game play.

2. A player can improve with practice and experience.

3. The player's input controls the outcome of the game.

What this means is that the game should technically be beatable every single time by a sufficiently skilled player. It doesn't preclude the game being fiendishly difficult, however. But you won't have any software that steps in to make winning impossible for the player, or say, a basketball hoop smaller than the actual ball.

Yes, Most Claw Machines Are Rigged

Crane games are generally pitched as a game of skill, but more often work like a game of chance, with systems in place to manipulate "luck" and make sure people don't win too often. Automated processes can relax the claw's grip every x number of tries or add a randomized delay that basically make it impossible to win, even for a player with perfecting timing.

These dirty tricks have led to lawsuits from consumers, especially when child friendly establishments such as Denny's or Chuck E. Cheese could be seen to be promoting childhood gambling activity. Even Sega, which has been in the arcade business for over 70 years, has come under fire for rigged machines.

Here's a clip from Toy Story showing a rather unconventional way claw machines can be manipulated:

On the other hand, there are arcade machines out there that are sufficiently skill-based so that good players can milk the system, trading their prizes on eBay for profit.

Under pressure from lawmakers who want to crack down on luck-based arcade machines and classify them as casino-style gambling, the AAMA is looking to self-regulate by introducing the FPP and enforcing an industry wide standard of fairness.

Iron Claw In Velvet Glove

So does this mean it's time to git gud and make your career as a crane game hustler? Honestly, I'd advise you not to quit your day job. In an interview with Ars Technica, Pete Gustavson, Executive Vice President of the AAMA, has stressed that they will be relying on their members to self-regulate:

"We're not a police force...This is a code of conduct. Member companies will be signing on to this. I don’t see that we need to be more big brother than that."

It would still be possible, for example, for an individual operator to mod a machine that was manufactured to work fairly.

But the FPP isn't without teeth. A compliance committee has been set up to review any incoming complaints. Outside software engineers will investigate the validity of some complaints, but Gustafson suspects "99 percent of situations will be cleaned up with a phone call."

Non-complying members will be warned to retrofit or pull their machines. Otherwise they risk expulsion from the organization as soon as the AAMA's next annual meeting in 2018.

What are your experiences with the crane game. Are they for suckers?

(Source: ArsTechnica)


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