Yes, Arcade Crane Games Are Rigged - Here’s How

Why those cute stuffed animals always slip through your mechanical robot fingers

She probably lost. Image: Shinichi Higashi

You’ve probably always suspected that those crane games at arcades were rigged. Of course, that hasn’t stopped you from pumping quarters in and being disappointed when a plush My Little Pony fails to come out. But, sadly, your suspicions are correct. Crane games are designed not to reward skill, but luck.

Zack Baker, a video game programmer, answered the question on Quora:

Basically, most crane games are designed so the claw is randomly (and only once in many games) strong enough to let players win. Some even weaken in strength after a short time so players get close to victory only to see it slip from their grasp! Since the manuals for many skill games are available online, this is not hard to verify.

He points to the owner’s manual for the Captain Claw crane game. In the manual, it explains that the default setting is to randomly assign a strong enough claw to one in every 18 people who play. Another manual, for Panda Vending’s Treasure Centers, explains that there are multiple settings that can control the strength of the claw and the length of time it holds that strength.

Another video game expert answered a similar question on a Reddit IAmA thread. Redditors asked: Are the claws rigged? An arcade owner answered:

Yes :) Indeed they are!
Most machines have a CMS (Command Module Settings) which allow the owner to change a couple factors:
* Chance of winning. Win/Loose, typically 1/12 In Cali or 1/15 In Nevada!
* PSI of claw. Most claws are 5-8 PSI requiring 10-13 to grab an item. Note, the setting module for the PSI is usually manual, there are springs on the claw that have little red marks. The module will tell you which mark to tighten the spring for the desired effect :)
* Cost/Accepted Money. Either DBA(Dollar Bill Acceptor) or Coin

Under California law my claws are set to 1/12 which means 1/12 players will have a chance to win. The example I used before is a ‘toy’ requires 10 PSI to lift. My claw during 11/12 tries will apply 4-6 PSI, or just enough to shuffle it or barely pick it up. During the 1/12 tries the claw will apply 9-11 PSI, sometimes picking it up and dropping, some successful :)

So, try as you might, you’re probably not going to win that stuffed toy. Unless you’re willing to play about 18 times.


More from

Abandoned Arcade Game

Old School Games Make a Comeback – How Arcades and Rubik’s Cubes Are Becoming Cool Again

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.