After an unprecedented boom in two years of pandemic-enforced lockdown, the mobile gaming industry is having a tough 2022. In the US, consumer spending on mobile games fell nearly 10 percent in the first half of the year, according to a recent report by the app Researcher’s Sensor Tower.
I was intrigued to learn from the report that a game I’d never heard of is one of the few actually growing right now. clawee is not from one of the top mobile game studios like Supercell or King. It doesn’t have stunning graphics or familiar characters. Still, it generated $16.5 million in revenue from US gamers in the first half of the year, Sensor Tower estimates, making it the top mobile title in the “arcade” genre.
I discovered that quickly clawee is really a genre of its own. There are countless retro-style “arcade” games that evoke nostalgia for the slot machines of the 1970’s and 1980’s. but clawee brings a real real life arcade to your phone.
The game’s developer, Israel-based Gigantic, operates a warehouse full of hundreds of claw-grabbing machines, each with a mechanical arm that reaches down into a jumble of stuffed animals, keyrings and other prizes. These are wired to high-speed internet connections that allow users to control the claws remotely. A live video feed shows you what, if anything, you can pull out. if you win clawee even delivers the physical item to your home. If you don’t want to play yourself, you can watch others play as if you were in the arcade.
Is this a happy return to the end-of-the-pier game? Or a sign of the end times for innovation? Curious about the appeal of the game, I gave it a try. On the second try, I won a cuddly “lucky cat” key ring. What luck! Or not. A few friends also won their first clawee Price suspiciously easy, which isn’t a sensation that’s probably familiar to anyone who’s played the fiendishly difficult grabber games in an arcade.
Despite the promise of “free shipping”, claiming my prize meant paying £3.49 a week to “send as many prizes as you like” or joining the Clawee Club for £7.99 a month to get one Obtain piles of virtual coins needed to play and play a chance to win “exclusive prizes”. Gigantic insists clawee is not a gamble and argues that skill is required with the two button presses allowed in each grab attempt. Sensor Tower estimates that gamers worldwide have spent nearly $100 million on the app to date.
Investors seem to believe in its long-term potential: Gigantic raised $7 million in venture capital this summer claweeThe creators of , argue that they have invented a new genre of connected reality games that fuse bits and atoms. “It bridges the gap between reality and virtual reality,” Gigantic CEO Ron Brightman told Israeli business newspaper Calcalist.
The complexity of building such a system is beyond question. It’s non-trivial to instantly move a mechanical arm when you’re tapping a touchscreen thousands of times a day thousands of miles away. But after the most frenetic decade of tech investment in history, with hundreds of billions of dollars poured into startups around the world, it’s hard not to look clawee and wonder is that all?
Many of the most lucrative “free-to-play” mobile games borrow their business model from Japanese “gacha” machines, which dispense capsules with toys inside. Apps have gotten creative by encouraging players to purchase “loot boxes” containing mystery items to aid in game progression. Critics say these can hardly be distinguished from gambling. An app that combines digital loot boxes with real-world gacha machines is as inevitable as it is depressing.
Tim Bradshaw is the FT’s global tech correspondent
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