-By Sara Karnish

After a quiet two years resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent shutdowns, the redemption game industry is thriving once again. Vending and amusement distributors interviewed for this article said the classic redemption games continue to attract players of all ages; some games have gotten upgrades which make them even more appealing. “From what I’ve seen, the basic redemption games are going more toward bigger and more interactive. They have more of a carnival experience,” said Jeff Prescott, president of Valley Vending Service in Plattsburgh, N.Y. He added that “pusher” games (which require players to continually insert coins or tokens) “always do well. There are some great ones out there—Avengers, Angry Birds. The Break the Plate game [when the player tosses a ball at three interactive monitors to try “breaking” a plate. Players can watch and listen to a real plate being shattered] is really good as well. It’s kind of fun—players always like to hear breaking stuff.”
Scott Dougherty, owner of D&D Amusement Games in Waupaca, Wis., said his focus is largely on self-redemption games that dispense prizes to the player right away. “We fill our own eggs. Kids want the candy in there. We used to fill them with trinkets and candy, but the kids would take out the candy and leave the other things. We just started putting candy in them and saw a lift in our egg machines. The Really Big Crane Co. does a Find-the-Key game where you have a prize box with different colored keys. They’ve also been very successful for us.” He added, “We try to customize our stuff so we stand out. We operate over 200 crane and prize machines.”

Rick LaFleur, owner, I.F. LaFleur in Devils Lake, N.D. LaFleur said there are interesting new games coming out.

On the street level, Rick LaFleur, owner of I.F. LaFleur in Devils Lake, N.D., said, “People are embracing cranes and other self-redemption products. We have the real estate to put them in; they are often under-utilized. On the route side, there are some interesting games coming out. One good example—Golden Tee seems to be doing well. On the FEC side, there’s no doubt the redemption dynamic is there. Operators have to be engaged with running a redemption counter. It has to have the appeal for people who come in and want to have that particular prize. Then you have the rainbow of games out where which are very dynamic.” Prescott said he hasn’t seen a significant decline in any trends.
Prescott said in his market, the most popular redemption games are “The old stand bys—Big Wheel, Avengers pusher…they do well from week to week. We’re also seeing a big uptick in cranes. People are looking for a better prize experience.” Prescott said the Jurassic Park cabinet game continues to dominate his market. “It’s got such a wide appeal—it really appeals to all demographics. It’s something people want to play again and again. That’s probably one of the best ones. Pinball machines are making a comeback, depending on the title you have. They’ve [pinball machine manufacturers] have done a great job with that—putting them online so players can be interactive, compete in tournaments, et cetera. Everything is being connected.”
Vendors anticipate virtual reality (VR) games will be the next big trend in the arcade industry. “VR is doing extremely well,” LaFleur said. “There have been a half dozen really good games in the last year which are earning their keep.”

Mark Struhs of I.F. LaFleur. The company’s owner said customers are embracing cranes and other self-redemption products.

With the COVID restrictions lifted in most markets, vendors said the redemption game industry is nearly back to post-pandemic levels. “It depends where you are in the industry,” LaFleur said. “Some places that were locked down suffered a great deal. And some people, when they reopened, they found the people returned quickly. Some people didn’t want to go on a vacation or weren’t comfortable traveling or flying, so they went to their nearest FEC. If taverns were open, people would gather with friends and try to figure out next steps.” Prescott said, “Short-term, the pandemic left a significant impact. Long-term, as an industry we’ve come back bigger, better, leaner, and able to give our customers the experience they’re looking for. [The] guys who are still left are doing better and are stronger.”
As the industry continues its return to normalcy, vendors are optimistic about the remainder of 2022 and beyond. “I still think there’s an upside in the redemption world. Families still want to get out and have something fun to do and have something to show for it after a day at the arcade. Redemption games—manufacturers are making them very entertaining, and we’re having fun doing it,” Prescott said. “Through end of year, they will continue to do well. We’re on the Canadian border—just this month the Canadians started coming back to the U.S. That and the price of fuel is preventing people from traveling too far. They’ll take time off but stay closer to home and spend money locally.”
LaFleur said, “It’s a great industry—always has been. There have always been challenges—i.e., high interest rates, changes in technology—but I have always been very positive about the industry in regard to where it’s going.” Sometimes it’s up to the operators to dictate the direction of the industry, such as those who successfully navigate a global pandemic. He noted, “The most successful operations are run by people who aren’t afraid to throw open the hood, get their hands dirty and figure out what the next step is going to be.”