Sunday, 15 April 2012

We weren't playing around.

Inspired by seeing the wonderful viral video "Caine's Arcade" a group of kids have decided to have a go for themselves and roped me in to help. The group is made up of three 9-year-old children one boy and two girls. The words and phrases inside of the "" quotation marks are things that the kids themselves have discovered and said aloud to the group. We started off by having a brief discussion in the morning about some of the ideas they had for arcade machines, to keep the project manageable we are going to let each participant build two arcade machines maximum, this will also help limit the budget. Planning it all out in their "Arcade" diaries, the group decided by themselves that one diary is going to be about the "tactics" that arcade machines use to convince you to spend and keep your money, one is about the "mindstorms" or brainstorming ideas for the machines and the third is about the "Arcade" which is the detailed plan and components list for each of the machines. I wanted them to plan out these rough ideas first in their diary before the next stage which was actual field research.

I explained to them as researchers either for purely academic or commercial situations a group like this would apply for funding to do the research, research costs money, parts cost money traveling and lunch costs money. So after they presented their approximate ideas I announced that the children had successfully been awarded a £15 research grant plus travel and food expenses to travel to see a "proper" arcade in action. Needless to say they were very excited. I briefed them before we left that although we had our initial ideas, they may change over time, I asked them to think about how they spent their money (how much and on what machines), I asked them to ask me to take pictures of interesting things they find. I asked them to step back and think while playing these games what makes them fun, this last one is incredibly tricky but this is how I did it. I quite simply only allowed them access to £1 of change at a time after they had spent that they had to ask for more change and we would have a discussion about the machines we had played on as a group. I gave them no rules, they could play on whatever they wanted (except for the gambling 18+ machines) but interestingly they focused on a certain type of game or price of game, they two 2p machines. The classic "penny pusher" or variations of. It certainly makes the £5 playing/research money go further.

This is what we learnt from playing on the 2p penny pusher.

1) The toys over hanging the edge which are about to fall in to the prize slot also help hide an extended "sneaky hidden" ledge which helps keep the prize from being won as long as possible.

2) Down each side of the pusher there are ledges which allow coins to fall in to the machine releasing the tension of the coins and prevent the prizes from being pushed forward. The money that falls down these channels is kept by the arcade, and not returned to the player.

This is what we learnt from playing on the claw crane.

1) Despite having perfectly grabbed a toy, their is a chance that the machine will "drop it on purpose" or have a grabber to weak to pick up the item or what Wikipedia cites as "Payout percentage: Cranes equipped with this setting have onboard programming which cause the claw's grip parameters to be continually adjusted to achieve a pre-set payout percentage, usually specified with respect to the value of the prizes inside". After successfully managing to grab a Yoshi 10 ten times in a row we noticed that the machine claw "seemed to loosen" at the same time every time, so much so we stopped watching the Yoshi and watched the motor.

2) The higher the price 20p or 30p the "better" the prize

This is what we learnt from Arcades in general

1) Some arcades get you to change your "real money" in to tokens, possibly because they know you might "get bored", and they still get to keep your money as you can't change back small amounts of tokens.

2) The prizes or amounts of prize tickets you get from the "actually fun" games are smaller.

3) You need an awful lot of tickets to get even a small prize.

4) We spent £20 in total on a trip to the arcade (I also had £5), we earned 341 prize tickets, a dolphin keyring and some stickers. We are saving the tickets for our second visit to the arcade later in the year.

We didn't come away from the experience thinking that all arcades are evil money grabbing places, actually it made it even more interesting knowing all these systems were in place, it certainly didn't stop us spending money in them. Looking at it from the perspective of making your own arcade as a project and thinking of it more as a business it raises interesting question about how we should run our own. Should our focus be on fun or on prizes? Could we offer better prizes? We are also planning to visit Tim Hunkin's arcade in Southwold to see a very different take on how to run an arcade and what to put in it.

There is going to be lots in this project which will span the summer holidays, lots of technology and hopefully lots of fun. Any questions just ask me on Twitter @pixelh8

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