What is a Claw Machine?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2015
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A claw machine is a vending machine which operates like an arcade game, introducing a note of challenge into the endeavor. Someone who wishes to obtain something from a claw machine must manipulate a hanging claw in an attempt to pick up a prize. If he or she is successful, the prize will be dropped into a chute; otherwise, nothing is won in the venture. The ability to successfully get things from a claw machine is often viewed as a socially desirable trait, since they are notoriously difficult to use.

A basic claw machine is built in the form of a very large clear box filled with prizes such as plush toys and typically raised on a base to bring it to eye level. A mechanical arm inside the machine can be manipulated with the use of buttons or a joystick after the user pays a small fee, and typically the claw machine only runs for a certain period of time, forcing the user to move quickly if he or she wants to get something out of the claw machine.


The mechanical arm can work in several ways. In many cases, the user can only change the position of the arm, with the claw machine dropping the arm and making a gripping motion with the claws when the user's time is up. In other cases, users may be able to move the claw up and down as well as around the box, or to choose when the claw clamps shut, potentially increasing their chances of getting something. Once the claw has gripped, it moves over the chute and opens, releasing the prize, if there is one.

You may also hear a claw machine called a crane machine, in a reference to the way that the claw moves. Claw vending machines became extremely popular in the United States in the late 1980s, and slowly spread to other regions of the world. Like other arcade games, claw machines are sometimes accused of being rigged in a way which is disadvantageous to players, although manufacturers contest this claim, saying that players can beat a claw machine with skill or a lucky positioning of the claw.

People who are skilled at using a claw machine generally say that it is a good idea to pick out the prize you want before you put money into the machine, considering the placement of the toy, its shape, and its potential weight. It is also wise to set a budget when using a claw machine, declaring that you will not spend more than a set amount of money in an attempt to get a prize.


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