BY RACHEL CHAN
CRANE game machines, better known as UFOs or toy catchers, are catching on among the well-heeled and elderly here.
While those who flocked to the machines in the past were teens, amusement-arcade operators told my paper that they now see young executives, housewives and grandparents.
These people are responsible for a resurgence in the popularity of such machines, once a fad in the early 1990s.
Operators said that there are as many as 20 toy catchers to every 100 arcade-game machines in amusement arcades.
Five years ago, there were only two to every 100.
These machines are filled with soft toys which can be extracted only by a set of mechanically- operated claws. Each attempt to do so costs $1 to $3.
Mr Lao Jiwei, 24, business director of Prize Stage, a store devoted to the toy catchers, started out with eight crane machines in his Marina Square branch last June. Now, 36 machines occupy the store space across his outlets' three locations.
"I'd always wanted to own all the different types of crane game machines," said the self-confessed crane-game addict.
His main shop at Marina Square houses 20 machines that hold limited-edition soft toys from Sanrio and Disney, and even household items such as frying pans.
"Although it's very expensive and (the) margin is very low, we focus solely on original, limited- edition products," he said.
Ms Stephanie Wong, a 25-year-old bank analyst who has over 30 Hello Kitty toys from toy catchers, said: "It can be addictive. It's not just about the product, but the thrill of snagging it."
Ms Ng Bee Lin, 33, the marketing- and-communications manager of Zone X, an amusement- centre chain which has eight outlets, said: "We really want to follow the style that Japan has, including the service culture."
There are promoters at hand to provide specialised services, such as exchanging the toy the customer caught for another one that he or she prefers.
"It's our secondary business at the moment, but we can see it being on a par with the more popular video games soon," she said.
HOW TO CATCH THAT TOY
HERE are some tips from the experts if you are intent on capturing that plushie:
- The strength of the claws' grip can be adjusted at the operator's discretion.
- An in-built device within the machine randomly increases the claws' chance of grasping a toy firmly.
- You can ask the operator to adjust the toy's position for you.
- Machines with two claws may look tricky, but are less likely to drop the toy than those with three claws.
- Sometimes, the toy need not be picked up - it can be pushed into the chute instead.
THE first 20 readers to flash this page at a Prize Stage outlet will each get 10 free games valued at $1 per game.
The next 300 readers get three free games each.
The offer is applicable at all three Prize Stage outlets located in Marina Square, E2Max at level four of The Cathay and E2Max @ Cine-L9 at Cathay Cineleisure Orchard.
The offer expires once all 320 readers have redeemed the games.
For more my paper stories click here.