Arcade Game Boosts Play With RFID

By Claire Swedberg

Smart Industries has released a UHF RFID-enabled version of its Ticket Time skill crane game, known as Ticket Smarts, that automatically links a player with the rolls of tickets he or she earns so that the winnings can be redeemed.

Family Entertainment Center (FEC)'s bowling alleys and skating rinks are ordering Smart Industries Manufacturing Corp.'s Ticket Time skill crane game with a new radio frequency identification feature. The RFID-enabled version of the game, known as Ticket Smarts, was released in November 2016 and aims to improve players' experience in redeeming their winnings, and thereby boost revenue related to game usage. The skill crane, which allows users to attempt to pick up rolls of tickets via a suspended claw, includes an RFID reader beneath the "playfield" that contains RFID tags on ticket rolls, so that a player is automatically linked to his or her wins, and can then redeem those tickets at the location's redemption counter.

Smart Industries makes games for FEC's amusement parks and other facilities that offer video and arcade game play. It was launched in 1963 as a traveling amusement operating company, then expanded into permanent arcades at amusement parks throughout the Midwestern United States. The firm began developing and creating coin-operated amusement games in 1985. Its latest offering, Ticket Time, features rolls of tickets, which players pick up using a joystick-operated claw, that can be redeemed or accumulated to win prizes of varying value. Instead of picking up a toy or stuffed animal with the claw, players aim to retrieve as many ticket rolls as they can.

Smart Industries' Jim Dupree

The Ticket Time game is a response to the evolving interests of game players, says Jim Dupree, Smart Industries' VP. Instead of simply playing once to earn a toy, players can build up points to win a higher-value prize. The games are typically installed in FEC's bowling alleys and skating rinks, as well as areas in which players may only be present for a few days, such as resorts where families are vacationing. As such, players can build up their tickets during the course of an afternoon, weekend or week, and then redeem those tickets for something of relatively high value, such as headphones, skateboards or jerseys.

Throughout the past few years, FEC's games have been transitioning toward card-based systems rather than coin-operated versions, and that includes Ticket Time, which can be activated via a prepaid card. With RFID added to the game, each win can be allocated to a particular player's card, thereby eliminating the need for a ticket dispenser to present the player with the physical tickets he or she retrieved with the claw.

Upon arriving at FEC, a player proceeds to a counter, where he or she can purchase a playing card, similar to a credit card, which is loaded with credit to enable the number of games for which that person has prepaid. At the Ticket Smarts game, the player swipes the card at the terminal, thereby deducting the value of that game, while the machine also stores the card's unique ID number. The player can then operate the claw, pick up ticket rolls and drop them into a hopper.

Each roll has an adhesive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tag attached to it. The company uses a variety of UHF RFID tags from multiple vendors, Dupree says, though he declines to name the specific tag or reader providers. The reader built into the game (also from an unnamed provider) interrogates each tag as it comes within range at the playfield's opening. The reader captures and stores the ID, which is linked to the ticket roll's value in the machine. That ticket value is then allocated to the player's card and is also stored in Smart Industries location-based management software.

Once finished playing the game, the player moves to the arcade counter and presents his or her card, which can be swiped in order to access data in the Smart Industries software, thereby indicating how many ticket rolls that individual was able to collect. The player can then request a prize based on the number of tickets earned. In the meantime, machine operators can remove the ticket rolls from the bin and return them to the game for the next player to win. The Ticket Time system saves labor costs for the location owners, Dupree explains. "They do not have to expend labor counting or handling tickets," he says—returning them to the game from the redemption counter, for instance.

The game's RFID technology is aimed at boosting players' convenience, since they do not have to actually collect the ticket rolls, which encourages them to keep playing. Ticket Time is currently one of FEC's most played games, Dupree reports, and the use of RFID is raising the company's revenue generation even more. The firm started developing the games with RFID about 18 months ago, he says.

The Ticket Smarts system's use of UHF RFID—as opposed to another type of RFID, such as high-frequency (HF)—ensures that tag IDs are always read, while shielding in the game machine prevents stray reads from rolls outside the hopper. Smart Industries conducted tests during the summer in Orlando and Panama City, Fla., as well as in Tennessee. All three sites are now still using the RFID-enabled games. According to Dupree, at least one of those customers reports that the Ticket Smarts machine earns more revenue than machines that cost three times as much.

Smart Industries commercially released Ticket Smarts in November, and is now shipping the game to customers.