Redemption Holds Steady
The Top-Earning Games, New and Old

According to arcade operators and the vendors who supply them, the motto for today’s redemption game industry could be “new is good.” However, it’s not so much about the latest high-end technology as it is about keeping challenging and fun games in the mix, where players can not only have fun but win unique prizes.
“Redemption games, unlike video, don’t lose their value as quickly,” said Joe DiGiovanni, owner of Montachusett Vending in Leominster, Mass.
New machines that have performed well for DiGiovanni are The Stacker, a “skill with prizes” game that requires players to stack blocks with the goal of reaching the highest level and with that, the major prizes. He also has had much success with Winners Cube, where the objective is to guide a slim rod into the correct position so that it is aligned with a prize and then push the prize off its shelf, delivering instant gratification.
DiGiovanni attributes his success with these games to their appearance. It’s not about how the game is made, but what it offers to players, most of whom are adult patrons at area bars and taverns. Games that act as a storefront for the prizes available create a big draw, he said.
“These games offer a different look,” he added. “Because you can see the prizes, you just need to change the prizes to change the look.”
Prizes include everything from T-shirts to iPads, all with adult gamers in mind, DiGiovanni said. For kids, popular items today include temporary tattoos and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles merchandise, which is enjoying a resurgence in popularity.
The Boxer is another money-maker for DiGiovanni, which he attributed to the rewards that winners can take home with them after slugging it out with the machine.
“This and other redemption games can’t be reproduced at home,” he said. “The redemption factor helps differentiate them from personal video games.”
Keeping redemption prizes fresh is also how Mike Gelatka draws new players to games he places in high-traffic areas such as bars, pizza restaurants and sports arenas. As the owner of Mike’s Amusements in Lansing, Ill., Gelatka makes sure he knows the current trends, taking advice from vendors regarding redemption prizes that meet the demand of what’s current in pop culture.
“Whether the game is skee ball or the crane, keeping the prize products fresh will bring back players as well as attract new players,” he said. “For example, things like Star Wars figures and Angry Birds are popular.”
While some redemption game vendors and arcade operators gravitate to the latest offerings showcased at annual industry conventions, others stay true to the old standards of gaming. George Nabhan, a partner at Carefree Arcade in Salisbury Beach, Mass., attributed the success of his oceanside arcade to the strength of traditional games, such as skee ball, which he said brings people back year after year. His perspective comes from spending 45 years in the arcade and family entertainment business.
“I check out the (vending and arcade game) shows every year to see what’s new and then I’ll buy what they say is going to be popular,” he said. “But I can still count on the traditional arcade games to bring in customers.”
Among the more than 250 games at Carefree Arcade are traditional pinball machines and other games like “Wheel of Fortune” and “Deal or no Deal” based on popular television shows. Nabhan said that while cell phones and gaming consoles might create competition for arcade operators, there’s still no match for the type of beachside entertainment his arcade provides.
“Kids might have games at home, but it’s not the same as sitting down and playing games in an arcade,” he said. “There’s still a desire to participate with other gamers when playing.”
Nabhan said the human contact is also important when it comes to counting tickets to redeem prizes. His arcade has a manned redemption counter where guests can take their tickets and “shop” for prizes. “You still need a person to handle the merchandise,” he said.
There’s a hands-on preference among players as well when it comes to earning tickets, Nabhan added. In general, games that offer tickets to be redeemed for prizes are most popular, but the lure of watching machines spew paper tickets as the game progresses is a bigger draw than over the electronic card-swipe point redemption options. He said this is especially true in a family-oriented arcade like his where younger players might not remember to swipe cards to redeem points earned. “Kids like to collect the long strip of tickets and then take them to the redemption counter to pick out their prizes,” he said.
When it comes to the redemption business, all parties involved would agree that happy customers and a healthy bottom line are the payoff for placing the right games in the right locations. –

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