Video may have killed the radio song, but now, it seems, smart phones have killed the video game.
At least that’s been Mark Aikman’s experience. After spending time observing customers at popular game and amusement locations, Aikman, owner of Able Vending in El Paso, Texas, has noticed a shift in the way kids and teens entertain themselves on family outings.
“It used to be that a family would go into a pizza place, and mom and dad would give the kids $5 to go play games,” he said. “Now, they just give them smart phones, and they play Angry Birds or text with their friends. They really seem to have no interest in the games.”
The only thing that seems to lure kids (and adults) away from their easy-access virtual worlds is the prospect of something concrete, tangible and valuable – a prize.
“Redemption games are really the only thing that can compete with smart phones and home gaming systems,” Aikman said. “They offer a chance to not only play a game, but possibly walk away with something of value.”
Aikman said his redemption games seem to do best at family entertainment centers, which frequently host children’s parties, and at bowling alleys. But really, he said, they do well in almost every location.
“It’s just a very good time to have redemption games,” he said.
The key to optimizing the appeal of redemption games is to offer quality prizes, said Steve McCaul, owner of Global Coin Op Equipment in Kingston, Mass.
“It’s all driven by product, and the better product you offer, the more revenue you’re going to generate,” McCaul said. “We’re basically in retail: we’re retailing products, and using the games as a vehicle to get there. A lot of people in this business don’t seem to realize that.”
McCaul said he follows this retail model in virtually every aspect, from acquiring unique and sought-after merchandise, to creating appealing displays.
“If you have quality prizes dressed in beautiful showcases, you’ll make the game worth playing,” he said. “If someone sees a prize they want, they’ll keep their eye on the prize. They might not win it this time, but they’ll come back and try again until their skill level improves, and maybe they’ll win.”
Challenges are great, but it’s also important that the games be winnable, said Kelly Armstrong, Senior Game Tech/Redemption Manager at Action City Metropolis in Eau Claire, Wis. He said the experience of repeat failure – and wasted money – tends to leave a sour taste in consumers’ mouths.
“We’ve found that if people feel like they have a chance of winning, they’re more encouraged to come back,” he said. “If grandma and grandpa spend their money for the grandkids to play games, they don’t want to feel like they’re just throwing that money away.”
Armstrong noted that the redemption game industry is not only in the business of selling fun and prizes – it’s also selling memories.
“If a kid comes away with a stuffed animal, that’s a victory,” he said. “That family will remember that experience, and they’ll remember us.”’
According to John Sanders, owner of Florida Music and Vending in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., it’s also important to meet the needs of the particular venue.
“We’re in the service business. We’re accommodating our customer, who is the location owner,” said Sanders, whose redemption games do well in family chain restaurants and sports bars. “You want to give the location equipment that will hold the attention of their customers. Families want to go out and have dinner, have a beer, and the kids want something to do, too. It’s part of a fun night out.”
Sanders said he also likes to select prize merchandise based on the location: he might choose baseball caps branded with the name of the local sports team. He said he also selects seasonal prizes for holidays such as Halloween or Saint Patrick’s Day.
“Part of the business that’s really good for us is that the prize manufacturers keep mixing it up,” he said. “They’re always coming out with new and unique prizes.”
According to Brian Schnettler, manager of Gameroom Champ in Chesterfield, Mo., having the prizes clearly visible is another important factor in successful redemption games. For this reason, he said, he avoids ticket redemption in favor of crane prize games.
“The cranes do the best for us,” said Schnettler, who has redemption games mainly in coastal family resorts. “Kids like to see what they’re getting, rather than getting a ticket and having to stand in line for the prize. With cranes, they see the prize, and they can get it themselves.”
Such details as sparing consumers the “hardship” of waiting in line with a ticket might seem excessive, but according to Steve Toranto, owner of Birmingham Vending in Birmingham, Ala., there’s no such thing as catering too much to today’s over-stimulated, option-inundated consumer.
“There’s just so much competition for entertainment right now,” he said. “You really have to give them something that can’t be replicated.”
Or, perhaps, if you can’t beat the portable electronic devices, try joining them. Toranto seems to have struck a nice balance with one of his high-end, jackpot-style prizes, something of such clear value that it has the power to draw people away from their iPads for a few minutes.
“It’s an iPad,” he said.