Whether you call them crane games, claw machines, or UFO catchers – Japan loves these fun and challenging arcade games. Learn everything there is to know about how to play and win!

Whether you call it UFO Catcher, a crane game, or a claw machine, you’ve undoubtedly seen these big arcade-style games dotting your local arcades, restaurants, shopping centers, movie theaters, and virtually anywhere else where teens and youths spend their time (and money).

Most often, games like UFO Catcher allow players to win prizes, such as plush toys, video games, or other knickknacks, by maneuvering a robotic claw inside the machine to pick up a prize and drop it into the receptacle slot.

Japanese claw machine game at an Akihabara game center

However, winning at these games is often easier said than done.

On that note, below, you’ll find everything you need to know about games like UFO Catcher, including the history of crane games and a few tips on how you can tilt the odds of fortune in your favor during your next arcade adventure.

What Is UFO Catcher?

UFO Catcher is a Japanese arcade-style game created by Sega and released in 1986.

Although there are many other claw machines or crane-style games made by different manufacturers, Sega is the brand responsible for the variations that are aptly called UFO catcher.

Initially, Sega arcade launched UFO Catcher in Japan. However, the brand has since released other similar game variants across Europe and North America.

Today, Sega’s UFO Catcher is a customizable arcade-style unit that includes an in-built LCD screen. It’s also fully equipped with several directional joysticks, which several players can use to control the machine and pick their prizes.

Why Is It Called UFO Catcher?

The game is called UFO Catcher because of the way it is designed and built. When you’re playing the game, it’s easy to imagine the claw or crane being the UFO, which reaches down and beams up the prizes below.

That being said, it’s not uncommon to find other variations of claw games, similar to UFO Catcher, but they might have different names.

Regardless, all claw machines have a similar design and are played similarly, typically using one or more joysticks to maneuver the claw.

The History Of UFO Catchers, Crane Games, And Claw Machines

No matter what you call them, trolley-style claw machines and similar arcade games were initially manufactured by Sega and Taito in the early 1960s.

The first iteration from Sega was called Skill Diga and was launched in 1965. Thanks to its success, Skill Diga was quickly followed by Super Skill Diga, released in 1968.

Following that, throughout the 1970s, machines from Sega and Taito continued to evolve and gain popularity.

By the 1980s, games like Skill Diga had evolved to include much larger plush toys, dolls, and significant prizes. The machines were now popping up almost everywhere in Japan: at movie theaters, carnivals, shopping malls, and arcades.

Then, in 1985, Sega released its first iteration of UFO Catcher, which has since become synonymous with all crane games and claw machines in Japan.

And the rest, as they say, is history!

Today, you can find UFO Catcher and countless other versions of the game in Asia, Europe, North America, and virtually everywhere else in the world.

How UFO Catcher And Other Crane Games Work

Most claw machines operate in more or less the same way. They use basic 3D movements, being either front to back, side to side, and up or down as gameplay.

Japanese man playing UFO catcher in Tokyo

Typically, players are given two buttons, one which allows them to move the claw forward or backward and the other for side-to-side movements. These buttons are used to maneuver the claw above the target price.

However, the trick is that you can only press the buttons once. Then, the claw is dropped as soon as the second button is released. It will then attempt to close on whatever prize it lands up, and, if you’re lucky, it will grab the prize and move it into the prize slot, allowing you to take it home.

That being said, this original style of gameplay is typically found on older, traditional claw machines. Today, you’ll often see devices with joystick controls rather than buttons.

With joystick controls, players are allowed to maneuver the claw similarly. However, they have a separate button that will enable them to choose when they want to release the claw.

Lastly, you might also run into claw machines where you’ll use a wheel or crank to position the claw before dropping it on your intended prize.

No matter how your claw machine is built, playing and winning can be extremely fun and challenging! 

Claw Machine Features And Settings

While most claw machines are played the same way, you’ll often find different devices easier or harder to play than the next.

That’s because most machines have a range of features and settings that the owners can adjust depending on the type of prizes they plan on having available.

For instance, if most of the prizes are cheaper, inexpensive prizes, such as plush toys or dolls, owners will typically make the games easier to win. They might even set the machine to allow for multiple free plays or allow players to “play until you win.”

On the other hand, if the owner fills their machine with expensive prizes, such as video game consoles or mobile phones, it’s usually in their best interest to adjust the settings so that it’s considerably harder to win.

This way, even if players win, they’ll likely have to spend more money practicing before they walk away with their coveted prize. 

Tips To Help You Win At UFO Catcher

While UFO catchers, crane games, and claw machines are relatively straightforward, the way they’re designed and built makes picking your prizes and winning more challenging than most of us would like.

Fortunately, there are some tips and tricks that you can use to tilt the odds in your favor.

Know Your Machine

While virtually all claw machines are the same, each can usually be customized according to many factors, making it more or less challenging for players.

For instance, claw strength and speed will often vary, making it more challenging to win on machines equipped with a timer. Other devices might offer instant free plays or “play until you win” settings.

Either way, you must understand the rules and settings of your specific machine. By knowing the particulars of the device, you’ll have a much better chance of winning that particular prize you’ve had your eyes on.

Practice Makes Perfect

Just like anything in life, claw machines get easier the more you play them. Therefore, it’s essential never to play a claw machine, thinking that you’ll win the highest, best price on your very first try.

Most machines that offer expensive prizes will have more challenging settings.

So if you want to win that big-eyed plushie, know that you’ll probably have to put in some time (and money) to practice first.

Pokemon ufo catcher

Slow And Steady Wins The Race

I’m sure you’ve heard about the classic children’s fable of the tortoise who raced against a hare and won. And if you have, then you certainly know the old saying that slow and steady always wins the race.

Even if the machine you’re playing has a timer or a time-release claw, it’s important not to rush. The more you rush, the easier it will be to make mistakes.

And more importantly, the more you rush, the more frustrating it will be when you drop your prizes just millimeters away from the target.

Know Your Prize (And Its Value)

It’s not unusual to find claw machines that boast expensive prizes, such as video games or consoles.

In this case, it’s often worth it to spend a decent amount of money to win.

However, when playing for less expensive prizes, you must know the value of the prize you’re after. 

After all, you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars trying to win a prize that’s only worth $10 or $20 if you buy it yourself.

Because of how challenging these games can be, it’s often easy to get carried away and spend more money than you should.

Know When To Quit

On that note, it’s also crucial that you know when to quit. Different machines have different difficulty levels, which means that while some claw machines might be easy to win, others might be virtually impossible to beat.

If you find yourself getting mad, frustrated, addicted, or spending too much money, it’s probably time to walk away.

UFO Catcher and other claw games are meant to be fun. And while there’s nothing wrong with tackling a challenge, know that there are many fun and productive ways to spend your time and money.

Play With Friends And Make It Fun

Because of their challenging nature, crane games and claw machines are the perfect group activity for you and a bunch of your friends.

Rather than playing on your own, make it a group outing by getting together with a few friends to try and win that big prize.

Taking turns ensures you won’t be the only one getting frustrated at playing against a machine. This will also allow you to split the cost between you and whoever joins you in your quest for crane game supremacy.

Befriend Your Local Game Center Staff

Finally, another great tip is to make friends with your local game center staff.

These people often have inside access to tips or information on how the game is set up. Therefore, by befriending them, you might unlock the secret to winning that big prize.

Additionally, staff might be able to let you practice for free (but probably without winning any prizes), or they can sometimes reset the machine for you if you ever get stuck.

Regardless, making friends at the arcade is never a bad idea!

Crane Games, Claw Machines, And UFO Catcher – Japan’s Favorite Arcade Games

No matter what you know them as crane games offer a skill-intensive way to win prizes and have fun. And the best part is that you can often win expensive prizes.

That is, of course, if you have the right skills to win.

Frequently Asked Questions About UFO Catcher And Other Crane Games

Now that you know how to tilt the odds of success in your favor, let’s review some of the most frequently asked questions we hear about UFO Catcher machines.

What are crane games called in Japan?

Crane games come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes. However, the classic crane game’s most prevalent version is UFO Catcher. Still, you’ll often find similar machines built by different manufacturers, which might all have other names.

Is it possible to win at a claw machine? Are claw machines rigged?

While you’ve probably suspected that claw machines are rigged, they’re not. These machines typically have a range of settings and features that their owners can tweak to make them easier or more challenging. But the fact remains that it is possible to win at even the most challenging claw machines. But first, you need to develop the skills and that perfect touch!

Who invented the first claw machines?

While Sega’s UFO Catcher is one of the most popular versions of the claw machine, a man named William Bartlett invented this famous contraption. Bartlett developed the original designs in 1893. However, it wasn’t until the mid-1920s that claw machines made their public debut.

Are there any secret tips or tricks to winning at claw machines?

No, there aren’t any secret tips or tricks to help you win. While we’d love to sit here and tell you that there’s a secret cheat code you can input to win, you’re better off learning how these machines work and practicing your skills as much as possible.