Anyone who’s played a crane game on the boardwalk or some timing-based ticket-spewing “redemption games” in an arcade has probably at some point suspected that these machines were rigged against them. Now, a major trading group in the industry is trying to regain players’ trust and promise its members to only provide games that can be won “by applying skills.”
The American Amusement Machine Association (AAMA) is a nonprofit lobby 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. Those members must now sign up for a “Fair Play Pledge” (FPP) that promises that all their games “meet a performance standard that gives a player a fair chance of winning on every game played.” (thanks to Arcade Heroes for the heads up)
More specifically, FPP-compatible games will need to meet the following criteria:
1. There is an opportunity that allows players to win by applying skills so that the player has sufficient time to identify, recognize and react in each game.
2. A player can improve through practice and experience.
3. The player’s input determines the outcome of the game.
“That’s not to say it’s going to be easy,” Pete Gustafson, executive vice president of the AAMA, told Ars. “But with the right application of skills, they can win every time… there is no situation where the software manipulates the outcome in such a way that the player cannot win.”
Making an analogy to a midway basketball game, Gustafson said that under the promise “the hoop can never be smaller than the ball.” Maybe the ring is only 1/16 inch bigger than the ball, but that’s technically still achievable by skill.
“There needs to be more supervision”
Reports of skill games excluding potential winners at a certain operator-set speed are easy to find. Skeptics may point to dip switch settings on some games that limit the gripping power of claw games or add a random delay that forces even players with perfect timing to lose. Such institutions have led to lawsuits over Sega “Keymaster” machines and legal complaints that endorse Chuck E. Cheese or Denny’s childhood gambling habits.
At the other end of the spectrum, highly skilled players have exploited Dave & Busters ticket games to earn up to $50 an hour by trading tickets for prizes that can be sold on eBay, proving that winning those games isn’t just a matter of of happiness.
A number of states have at least looked at laws to differentiate skill-based entertainment games from their mostly luck-based casino cousins. The California Bureau of Gaming suggested that retail chains remove crane games from their buildings in 2013, and the organization took action against operators offering cash or similar items around the same time.
Those legal efforts have pressured the AAMA to self-regulate, much like when concerns about violence in publicly displayed arcade games led to the AAMA’s Parental Advisory System. But the greater pressure in this case, Gustafson says, came from a… Show today 2016 report that pretty directly said that “yes, most claw machines are rigged.”
“There needs to be more oversight,” Claw Machine expert Jeremy Hambly said in that report. “Right now there really isn’t one. If something is only paid out once in 50 times, they should post something on it for people.”
Who’s watching the claw machine guards?
Even the claw machine in it Show today however, report could work reasonably well with proper internal settings. And Gustafson left some leeway by pointing out that he can’t do much about individual operators who alter fairly manufactured games to be dishonest. “You could do a bowling ball in a tap game…that’s up to the operator,” he said.
As for the enforcement of the pledge, Gustafson said a compliance committee has been set up to review all incoming complaints. Members found to be non-compliant will have the opportunity to retrofit or remove their machines. Otherwise, they risk being kicked out of the organization once the AAMA’s next annual meeting takes place in 2018.
While the AAMA will use outside software engineers to investigate the validity of some complaints, Gustafson said he suspects “99 percent of situations will be cleared up with a phone call.”
“We are not police,” he said. “This is a code of conduct. Companies that are members will sign it. I don’t see the need to be a bigger brother than that. We are the only industry association that requires compliance to such a high degree.. I think this is a banner for industry and I’m really proud that our members are willing to sign up for this.”
In any case, Gustafson said the kinds of games that “wouldn’t give a player a chance to win” will lose popularity in the market anyway. “As an industry, we are quickly moving away from games that don’t give players a fair chance,” he said.
The extra revenue from one dishonest game isn’t worth ruining the reputation of an entire family-oriented venue, Gustafson argued. “Like any other industry, you want players to be happy,” he said. “There’s nothing better than a kid walking through it” [a location] with a big hug that says, ‘Look what I’ve got, Mom!'”