"Fair Play Pledge" says all redemption games can be "won by the application of skill."
Anyone who's played a crane game on the boardwalk or any number of timing-based ticket-spewing "redemption games" at an arcade has probably suspected at some point that these machines are rigged against them. Now, a major industry trade group is trying to win back player trust, promising its members will only provide games that can be won "by the application of skill."
The American Amusement Machine Association (AAMA) is a non-profit lobbying group that represents everyone from arcade game manufacturers like Bandai Namco and Sega to operators like Dave & Busters and Cinemark theaters, even the distributors and suppliers in between. Those members will now have to sign on to a "Fair Play Pledge" (FPP) that promises all their games will "meet a standard of performance that allows a player a fair chance of winning with every game played." (thanks to Arcade Heroes for the heads up)
More specifically, FPP-compliant games will have to meet the following criteria:
1. An opportunity exists that allows for players to win by the application of skill such that the player will have sufficient time to identify, recognize and react with every game play.2. A player can improve with practice and experience.3. The player’s input controls the outcome of the game.
"That’s not to say it’s going to be easy," Pete Gustafson, Executive Vice President of the AAMA, told Ars. "But with correct application of skill, they can win every time... there's no situation where the software will manipulate the outcome such that the player can't win."
Gustafson made an analogy to a midway basketball game, saying that under the pledge "the hoop can never be smaller than the ball." Maybe the ball is only 1/16th of an inch bigger than the ball, but that's still technically winnable through skill.
"There needs to be more oversight"
Reports of "skill" games that lock out potential winners at a certain, operator-set rate are easy to come by. Skeptics can point to dip switch settings on some games that limit the gripping strength of claw games or add a randomized delay that forces losses even on players with perfect timing. These kinds of settings have led to lawsuits over Sega "Keymaster" machines and legal complaints that Chuck E. Cheese or Denny's endorse childhood gambling habits.
On the other end of the spectrum, extremely skillful players have exploited Dave & Busters ticket games to earn up to $50 an hour by trading tickets for prizes that can sell on eBay, proving that winning those games is not just a matter of luck.
A number of states have at least looked into laws to differentiate skill-based amusement games from their primarily luck-based casino cousins. The California Bureau of Gaming suggested that retail chains remove crane games from their premises back in 2013, and the organization cracked down on operators that offered cash or cash-equivalent items around the same time.
Those legal efforts have put pressure on the AAMA to self-regulate, just as it did when concerns over violence in publicly displayed arcade games led to the AAMA's Parental Advisory System. But the more significant pressure in this case, Gustafson says, came from a Today Show report from 2016 that said quite directly that "yes, most claw machines are rigged."
This video from Clawstruck explains how claw machines work and how they can be rigged.
"There needs to be more oversight," Claw Machine expert Jeremy Hambly said in that report. "Right now there's basically none. If something is going to only pay out one in every 50 times, they should have to post something on it for people."
Who watches the claw machine watchmen?
Even the claw machine in that Today Show report could run fairly with the right internal settings, though. And Gustafson left some wiggle room by pointing out that he can't do much about individual operators that modify fairly manufactured games to be unfair. "You could put a bowling ball in a crane game… that’s on the operator," he said.
As far as enforcement of the pledge, Gustafson said there's a compliance committee that's been set up to review any complaints that come in. Members found to be out of compliance will be given an opportunity to retrofit or pull their machines. Otherwise they risk expulsion from the organization as soon as the AAMA's next annual meeting in 2018.
While the AAMA will use outside software engineers to investigate the validity of some complaints, Gustafson said he suspects "99 percent of situations will be cleaned up with a phone call."
"We’re not a police force," he said. "This is a code of conduct. Member companies will be signing on to this. I don’t see that we need to be more big brother than that. We’re the only industry association that requires compliance to such a high degree... I find this to be a banner day for the industry, and I’m really proud our members are willing to sign up for this."
In any case, Gustafson said that the kinds of games that "would not give a player an opportunity to win" are losing popularity in the marketplace anyway. "As an industry we’re moving rapidly away from games that don’t give players a fair chance," he said.
The extra revenue from one unfair game isn't worth souring the reputation of an entire family-focused location, Gustafson argued. "Just like any other industry, you want players happy," he said. "There's nothing better than a kid walking through [a location] with a big stuffed animal saying, 'Look what I got, mom!'"
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