Date
28 May 2018
The excitement of winning a prize with a little bit of skill and luck is one reason claw crane game players keep coming back for more. Photo: japan4fun.com
The excitement of winning a prize with a little bit of skill and luck is one reason claw crane game players keep coming back for more. Photo: japan4fun.com

Virtual-world fatigue boosts popularity of claw crane machines

Will the rapidly growing internet economy overwhelm the real economy? Not necessarily. In fact, some physical experiences have gained popularity as a growing number of people feel lost in the virtual world.

For instance, claw cranes are a big thing in Taiwan. This is a type of arcade game in which a player inserts a token into a machine and operates a joystick to try to pick up prizes – stuffed toys, usually – with a claw-like crane inside a glass-encased box.

The number of claw crane game operators on the island more than doubled to 2,037 last year from 920 in 2016.

Claw crane machines can be seen almost everywhere in Taiwan, especially in downtown Taipei. It’s a big attraction for tourists and young people.

The island’s claw crane game operators made a combined revenue of NT$800 million (US$27.1 million) in the first 10 months of 2017, compared with a full-year income of NT$470 million in 2016.

On average, each claw crane game shop earned a monthly revenue of NT$64,000 last year, up from just NT$30,000 in 2013.

Most claw crane game operators in Taiwan are small and mid-sized companies. They normally just rent the machines from suppliers. Some would start out with short-term leases to keep things flexible. In short, it’s quite easy to open a shop.

As we all know, stuffed toys, are very cheap. A mid-level player may need to spend NT$300 on average to get a prize, the same amount of money can buy you three of those stuffed toys.

The game seems to make no economic sense, but customers are drawn to it by the excitement of winning a prize, which requires a bit of skill and also some luck.

Although video games are booming, there is a market for traditional amusement, too, because real-world experience is quite different from virtual.

Claw cranes are also booming in Hong Kong and China.

While no statistics on the game operators are available in Hong Kong, their shops can be found in many shopping malls.

In mainland China, the number of claw crane machines has surged to over 2 million from just 300,000 in 2014, and they can be found in small towns as well as big cities.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 18

Translation by Julie Zhu with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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RT/CG

Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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