Redemption games have always been popular, especially with families, and the chance of winning a prize is the main appeal. However, customers won't play for just any old prize. Oh no, they are much more sophisticated than that, as Helen Fletcher finds out...

The redemption market has changed in many ways over the years. New types of family entertainment centre have been developed and large corporations have begun investing heavily in pizza chains, bowling centres, adult entertainment centres and children’s play centres, all of which are perfect locations for the redemption game to succeed. However, it has to be done properly.

“The most modern looking, cleanest places that have excellent customer service are the most successful,” said Gary Balaban from Coast to Coast Entertainment in the US. “It is not just about putting 100 games in a room and expecting it to be a success. A properly planned redemption centre, traffic flow consideration and the overall look are important factors in making a good FEC work and become profitable.”

The newest addition to Coast to Coast’s range of redemption products is its Wheel of Prizes crane, which combines the fun of an old time rotary machine with the skill of a crane machine. “We have had a hard time keeping it in stock,” said Balaban. “And as far as I know there haven’t been any new developments within cranes recently so this is a really exciting product for us.”

Balaban added: “Our products work well in any type of FEC and most street locations. A properly programmed and set up crane machine will make money in almost any location. People always want to win a prize, so as long as the products kept in the cranes are good and you make sure customers are able to win the products, a crane will be successful.”

Derek Horwood, from the United Distributing Company in the UK, told us: “Owners of FECs need to be mindful of where they place the games on the floor so that they maximise return on investment. They also need to invest in the presentation of prizes, the booth where they are displayed and the personnel to man the prize station. It is not enough to put a few toys on the wall or in a cabinet next to a ticket redemption game and proclaim ‘we’re in the redemption business’.”

“Redemption is a form of retailing,” added John Brennan from Namco. “We often refer to it as ‘fun retailing’ offering a great deal of entertainment in the buying process; players can identify the prize they want and play to gain the tickets necessary. In many cases the perceived value is higher than the price actually leveraged from players, giving an overall feel good factor.”

Cranes and tickets

You will find two sorts of redemption games in arcades and FECs; there are the cranes and there are the ticket redemption games. According to Tiziano Tredese of Italian distributor Elmac, every arcade will have at least three cranes as they have always been popular and will remain popular.

“The appeal of cranes is mainly down to the product you put inside them,” he said. “The best income comes from cranes located outside of the arcades and summer resort arcades and during the winter months cranes gain the best income form the big commercial centres in arcades situated inside multiplex centres.

“In Italy in particular, there are two types of cranes available, European cranes and cranes made in China,” added Tredese. “European cranes are very popular and, in my opinion, the market is currently dominated by Elaut machines.

Currently the most popular Elaut cranes are those that are equipped with its Intellink system, a real time management system that makes it possible to manage the cranes through direct lines or mobiles, meaning there is full control of the money going in and the prizes going out.

The Chinese, however, are making great improvements to their software and hardware and their market share within Italy is therefore constantly growing.

“The producers of these machines need to invest in better software in order to give players the feeing that they are winning due to skill rather than chance,” added Tredese. “At the moment players are well aware it is all down to chance as to whether they win a prize or not.”

Ticket redemption games tend to follow a certain formula and come in the shape of light-stoppers, stomping or whacking games mainly because they can be picked up pretty quickly by the youngest of children.

However, in order to win larger amounts of tickets, a degree of skill and practice is needed, meaning the games appeal to older children and adults as well.

“They (redemption games) yield a higher return to players than other games and often include fun themes and bonus features offering players more chances to win credits,” said Fred Benschine, vice president of the entertainment division at Cadillac Jack, based in the US.

Benschine has noticed that one of the most recent trends to occur in the redemption market is the focus on developing and implementing new hardware technology and the company now provides flat LCD touchscreen monitors that can run on both CGA and VGA signals, giving their customers the option to keep the screens they have or upgrade to a new technology.

“The quality of the cabinet and its components is increasingly important. Our customers want a lasting product that can be easily upgraded with the latest features like thermal printers, quality boards and components,” added Benschine.

Changing times

“The market is changing and new technology has been introduced. Game boards have become more compact and allow for more game themes on one board. Flat screens are also paving the way for new hardware advancements. The games themselves have developed into more sophisticated themes with vibrant animation, quality sounds and dynamic bonus features.”

The redemption market has also seen new developments with the integration of card swipe systems to ticket eaters.

Collin Horniak of Deltronic Labs in the US told InterGame: “The system stores points on the magnetic cards in place of a paper receipt. There are several companies offering these systems at the moment. There are also some instant prize redemption games appearing in the market. Although these games help speed up the process, the variety of prize offered is limited.”

The prize on offer at the end of the game is of course crucial to a machine’s success. Customers will no longer pay over the odds for, let’s face it, prizes that are of low quality that they can buy from a shop cheaper and they won’t spend endless hours trying to win a prize that really isn’t worth the effort. This, some would say, has been the most significant change to the redemption market.

Importance of a good prize

According to Gary Newman, sales director for UK based manufacturer Harry Levy: “One of the most important aspects of redemption is the prize at the end. Children love the idea of winning a prize for their achievements, even if it is something small. This also gives the parents the feeling that they have received value for money. It is also important to have a good mixture of redemption machines so that the children enjoy a variety of playing experiences.”

Harry Levy’s current redemption products include the ball catch game, Jonny Appleseed, where players must move their buckets from left to right in order to catch the apples as they fall from the branches of a tree at increasing speed.

One of the main reasons for its success, according to Lenny Dean from Coastal Amusements, which distributes the product, is due to its entertainment value. “Johnny Appleseed offers a fun challenge to all age groups and game playtime is around 45 seconds,” said Dean.

As we said, it is all about the prize and if you could guarantee a prize every time but still make money on the machine, you would do it right? UK-based company Valiant Leisure is fresh on the redemption/skill game scene with its ‘prize every time’ redemption game and launched itself at the ATEI exhibition in London back in January.

“Strike A Prize appeals to all the family,” said David Columbine of Valiant Leisure, “from the youngest achieving a prize to the parent showing the child how to win. There is very little out there that attracts the whole family where even the youngest gets a guaranteed prize of a musical toy.”

There are currently three different cabinet designs for the game, Jungle, Circus and Farmyard, and the concept is similar to that of a fairground striker but aimed at a younger audience. “The player inserts a coin and then picks up the hammer and strikes the target,” said Columbine.

“At the first attempt the LEDs rise and subside a little, the player is then told to try again. On the second attempt, no matter how hard the strength of the strike, the LEDs flash further upwards. On the third strike the LED goes all the way to the top and a toy vends from a spiral at random.

It would appear operators can’t wait to jump on board this ‘prize every time’ idea and the company has received interest in its machines from across the whole spectrum, especially in markets abroad.

High-end prizes

You may be able to attract the eye of a five-year-old with a musical toy or a plush Disney or Nickelodeon character but in a materialistic world where technology is ever changing, customers’ expectations are becoming increasingly higher and if an operator stands any chance of attracting the attention of a child over the age of 11 they are going to need to fill their cranes and redemption centres with something a little more expensive. These more expensive and desirable goods come in the form of the latest MP3s, DVDs, digital cameras and so on.

“High-end merchandisers are becoming very popular as they are extremely challenging and therefore heavily rewarding,” said Satinder Bhutani of Andamiro in the US. “The success of redemption games depends on proper merchandising. A location with good prizes and a well-displayed redemption centre will definitely draw more players.”
He added: “If locations properly rotate the products, bring in the newer games, fairly and ethically compensate the players, the redemption game’s popularity will continue to grow.”

A trend in the US picked up on by Bay Tek Games, and other manufacturers of redemption games is that the market is leaning towards tournament play and Holly Miedl from the company told InterGame: “Manufacturers need to continue to make the best products available, keeping innovation and quality in mind to maximise customers’ return on investment.

“Locations need to make sure they are running their redemption businesses at full potential by investing in the prize counter and placing the correct mix of games in their location.”

Growth in popularity

Redemption and skill based games are continuing to grow in popularity. A few years ago the product mix within an arcade was 80 per cent video and 20 per cent redemption. However, according to Bhutani, the current mix in most of the arcades is more like 60 per cent redemption and 40 per cent video. In some cases it is higher to the extent of 70/30 and it is continuing to increase.

This growth in popularity is not only evident in the ratio of video to redemption games but also in the number of new and expanding markets companies are moving into. Europe, Russia, South America and Mexico are becoming huge markets for American company Coast to Coast and for Coastal Amusements the Middle East is proving to be a strong market and growing all the time.

Lenny Dean of Coastal Amusements said: “The US market continues to grow at a tremendous pace but Russia has also started to heat up as well. It seems that every so many years a new area of the world with improved economics discovers the world of redemption games.”

It would also seem people are beginning to understand the concept of redemption a lot better, according to Gary Newman of Harry Levy. “In the US redemption has always done well but many European operators were reluctant to take on a product that they felt required more work in order to get a good return.

Long-term investment

“In fact redemption can be a valuable long-term investment and we now work with many European operators who invest a lot of time and money into making spectacular redemption areas in their arcades.”

One company that certainly sees a future in the redemption market is Electrocoin in the UK. The past 12 months has seen the company re-enter the UK market with an attractive roll down game from US company Stern Pinball.

Kevin Weir told InterGame: “It is our belief that redemption has a strong future and the signs for growth in the sector are extremely positive. We launched Stern’s Simpsons Kooky Carnival last year and are delighted that sales of this product look set to continue for some time to come, as fresh shipments are scheduled from Stern to meet the current demand.”

It would appear then that the redemption business is a lucrative one and not about to go anywhere; if anything it looks like there will be more opportunities for it to expand and with gambling laws in places like Russia tightening it could be argued that the redemption market is one to watch out for. It has the growth potential and revenue opportunity to succeed and succeed well.