Wandering around the streets of Taiwan, you don’t have to walk very far before you find a bubble tea shop. Like Starbucks in the United States, they’re everywhere. Recently, claw machine (抓物機 / zhua wu ji) shops have been popping up in similar numbers—tripling in numbers even between 2016 and 2017.

It’s not too hard to find one, even if you can’t see it—simply follow the loud party music or throngs of young people, in the evenings, huddled together.

Crane machines, in general, are not a new thing. They have existed for decades along side carnival exhibitions. What is new, here, are the reasons by which crane machines have been allowed to proliferate:

  1. Renting space and machines is relatively inexpensive.
  2. Economic conditions has allowed these machines to fill the hole of getting quality goods at a cheap price.
  3. Taiwan has a pretty big gamer culture.
  4. What could be considered gambling has some level of skill attached to it.
  5. Claw machines generate a lot of revenue.

I was surprised at the lack of employees attending the spaces. Perhaps they were in the backroom or dressed like someone playing. I saw one employee making sure that the cranes were well-stocked on one occasion. Regardless, it seemed like there was an overall lack of maintenance happening, which intrigued me even more.

Notice the cups just left over on the ground of this crane shop.

During the weekdays, these shops were pretty empty. It was only really at night and on the weekends that these shops would be packed, often with people enjoying gaming with their night market experience.

Some of the claw machines offer fairly interesting and, sometimes, shocking rewards.

Care for a life-sized squishy durian?

Knowing a bit more about these machines and how they can be programmed more like slot machines, gives me a little pause. Overall, as a huge gamer myself, I enjoy seeing people having fun. Getting things that they want with just a little bit of skill, now that’s the cherry on the top.

What are your thoughts about claw machines? Are they here to stay or are they a fad?